In this time of confinement, distancing and many health safety precautions it is difficult to know what the future of Ballet will be. Ballet is an art form that is passed down in person from generation to generation.
I reached out to a few of my friends in the professional ballet world from around the country to get their opinions and learn their plans for recovery.
I started with American Ballet Theatre (the national company for the US) and their official school, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York. My long time friend Kevin McKenzie (Director of ABT) has had to cancel ABT performances for an unknown length of time. Cynthia Harvey (the JKO School Director) told me that the school and NY University –Steinheardt Program changed to Zoom classes in mid-March and enlisted their National Training Curriculum experts to teach the ABT Company dancers the tools they need to become teachers. They plan to continue virtual classes until Phase Four of the Recovery Plan. Cynthia views this time with optimism: “ We know that uncertainty can lead us to new ways of creativity and will help us to better approach new challenges in the future.”
My good friend, Alaine Haubert, is the Director of the ABT William J. Gillespie School in Costa Mesa, California. That school is preparing for their end of the year recital on Zoom and will then close for the summer. Her feelings are similar to Cynthia’s regarding creativity and reopening in Phase Four. However Aliane’s school is housed in the Segerstrom Center For The Arts and therefore may not be allowed to open until the actual venue is able to open. Alaine said: “ I will be happy to be able to start classes again in the Fall in any form, virtual or live. “
Virginia Johnson, the Director of the Dance Theater of Harlem (and my best friend of over 50 years) like Alaine plans to open the DTH School when the NY public schools open in Phase Four. The DTH company had to cancel their NY season and have no firm date as to when they will be able to reschedule. The company dancers meet through Zoom and are helping to teach the DTH school online classes. Virginia said: “ I like to think that ballet connects us. It is one of those human experiences that lifts the spirit and makes you believe and gives you lightness in a dark world.”
The Washington School of Ballet is the school where I trained and the home of the Washington Ballet. The company postponed performances of Swan Lake until May of 2021. Their school classes are being held online, and they will hold their summer Ballet Intensives in June and July online. They do not have a definite date to reopen the school or the company.
The Yvonne Chouteau School is the school of the Oklahoma City Ballet. SNB has a collaborative relationship with the company through their Director, Robert Mills. OCB has had to cancel performances due to COVID 19, and the school is presenting classes online including two of their three summer ballet intensives in June and July. They are hopeful that they will be in Phase Four and able to reopen by the end of July.
My friend Lisa Slagle owns and directs one of the top ballet schools in the country in Coppell, Texas. They have been doing Zoom classes since mid March and plan to re-open in June in phases starting with the older students. They will begin with hybrid classes (some students attending in the studio and some attending online.) Parents will not be allowed inside, and strict rules will be in place regarding wearing masks in the lobby/bathroom areas and staying 6 feet apart at all times. Lisa told me: “ This year I celebrated being a studio owner for 20 years. I would say it has been the most challenging time I have ever experienced!”
I have been in ballet since birth and have taught ballet for 48 years. I have to agree that this has been a life changing experience. We have had to postpone all SNB (Spring and Summer) performances, and the SNB Academy has been presenting Zoom classes since mid March. The Company is meeting regularly for classes and rehearsals and will present a virtual performance in July for Artown, and the Academy will continue Zoom classes and present a virtual Summer Ballet Intensive and Ballet Summer Camp for young ones in July. Like most of the top ballet schools in the country (for safety reasons), the SNB Academy plans to survive this time and re-open in Phase Four of the Recovery Plan when the public schools in the area reopen.
As my dear friend, Virginia Johnson, put it: “We WILL be back. We MUST!”
For information on the SNB Company and Academy visit www.sierranevadaballet.org.
Photos courtesy of ABT William J. Gillespie School