Dance pervades our entire lives. From classical ballet on stage, to hip-hop dancers appearing on our favourite music videos. A life without dancing is impossible to conceive – So how is the dancing world preventing its own death during this pandemic?
By Andrew Cook
A prancing pair of lovers were gliding gracefully across the stage. Hand in hand, gazing into each others eyes, the motion of their entwined bodies declares their feelings for one another as they glide together as one. This could be any show from BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, to the widely acclaimed Swan Lake from English National Ballet.
Yet no one has enjoyed these live performances for quite some time.
Dance companies and schools across the entire world have been placed in an impossible situation. In an Art form so concentrated on physicality, and filled with complex stories requiring multiple individuals, the world of dance has been under a blackout.
For many people, the love of dancing falls under two categories – the dancers, and the audiences.
For the audiences, life has been easier to bear. Of course nothing compares to the ambience of a dimly lit theatre. The live orchestra projecting out an eery, heart-breaking melody while dancers perform their hearts out among softly drifting clouds of dry ice. However, audiences have had the opportunities to enjoy their favourite shows via new mediums for months.
Directors, producers, and companies alike have launched a full-scale internet dispersal of performances. The Edinburgh Fringe, cancelled for the first time in 60 years, launched a cleverly adapted online streaming version. The Bolshoi Ballet company made six of their favourite recorded ballets available online. Andrew Lloyd Webber released a stage-filmed performance of one of his musicals every week.
The list continues endlessly. In the age of internet access, these companies have done what they can to fan the flames of interest in their chosen Arts – an incentive for audiences to return once social-distancing is no longer a concern. The fact remains that audiences have faced the lesser challenge – it is the Artists who are truly struggling.
Years of their lives spent in total training, the forging of a dancer is unbelievable. Regularly breaking their bodies apart for 10 hours a day, six days a week, in order to mould themselves into forms prepared for their careers.
Yet for the last months, dancers both professional and pre-professional have found themselves ejected from dancing studios and stuck under isolation in tiny apartments, with nothing of the physical activity they have become accustomed to for years. Left in ignorance of how long the situation will last, and dreading that moment they return back to work and face the consequences of going so long without leaping across a ballet studio.
It was then, that companies and schools alike, improvised, adapted, and overcame. For the well-being of dancers and students, something had to be done to maintain some semblance of normality. The Zoom ballet class was born.
Suddenly dancers were faced with a vast array of choices, all of which required a stable internet connection, and a little space. Using Zoom to host large meetings, professional dance companies and schools launched online classes, uniting hundreds of thousands of dancers across countries and borders.
The effect has been stunning.
Recognising the crisis within the dancing community, many celebrity dancers stepped up and hosted their own completely free online classes. James B Whiteside (American Ballet Theatre) hosted daily ballet classes in an effort to maintain dancers’ passion and enthusiasm. Posting live via Instagram stories, he inspired and coached dancers and students across continents, simply for love of his Art.
As the a wise man once said – ‘The show must go on’.
While the dancing world has been eager to get back to work, it has now been up to theatres and school far and wide to enforce safety measures for their employees and students.
Like penetrating Fort Knox, those dancers back at work and school have to enter layer by layer to minimise the risks. Not only are masks are an essential in the workplace, but temperatures and names are scanned and recorded on entry. Disinfectant-soaked sponge plates are used to clean all shoes that enter premises. Finally – a smorgasbord of disinfectant sprays, gels, and soaps abound through rooms.
Finally we have the dancing itself. Companies and schools are now training in different ways. Not only enforcing masks, but also ensuring social-distancing has changed a great number of things. The feasible number of dancers in every class has been severely reduced – while an organisational nightmare for administrators, dancers are relishing having greater personal space in spite of the restrictions of masks.
This method of training has born new inspirations for dance companies. With no end to these restrictions in the near future, companies have embraced their artistic sides, and created performances around their limitations.
Stuttgart Ballet launched their re-opening with a special adaptive performance. Creating a distanced trio for part of their show, the stunning trio of dancers coordinated and moved both as one single entity, and yet very much apart. Also featuring on the stage was a full duet, feasible because both dancers lived together.
Northern Macedonia’s Opera and Ballet created a brand new performance only for this pandemic. Renowned international choreographer Sasha Sagan created an outdoor performance for a dozen dancers. Masked, but in flowing costumes, these dancers were synchronised, yet never touching. Using disciplined timing and spacing, these artists kept social distance despite sweat, toil, and exertion. A dazzling display which formed a beautiful contrast of free movement and costume against the constriction of masks and space.
As we see the return of shows and classes, albeit in a somewhat restricted manner, audiences will be fighting for spaces in number-restricted auditoriums. Despite the long sabbatical for the Art world, the thirst for live performances has not run dry.
While the industry has taken an economic beating across the world, the burning enthusiasm and love for live entertainment among audiences and dancers can not be put out.
It is a fire that will not be quenched, merely altered.
Title Image – Bromance by the Barely Methodical Troupe. Read our feature article with Charlie Wheeller from the Barely Methodical Troupe here.