Why is this interesting? - The Home Ballet Edition

On dance, quarantine, and the re-making of traditions

Mark Slavonia (MJS) is the spouse of a retired ballet dancer and an enthusiastic audience member who claps at the wrong time. He posts other things that are interesting on his website and Twitter.

Mark here. Before COVID-19, ballet had almost no culture of training and practicing at home. As the world shelters in place, ballet dancers have been forced to rapidly create new ways to stay in shape on their own, often in small living spaces. These emerging online classes and performances are breaking down some of ballet’s rigid traditions and making the art form accessible to audiences in new ways. 

San Francisco Ballet’s Mathilde Froustey training on her balcony

Why is this interesting? 

Ballet is a proudly traditional art, and its traditions are communal. The ritual of taking a class in a studio filled with other dancers, a pianist, and a teacher giving combinations in French, is universal and allows dancers to transition quickly from company to company around the world. 

As dancers and ballet organizations around the world face lockdown and shelter-in-place orders, performances, rehearsals, and classes have been canceled, and dancers are scrambling to adjust. Many ballet schools swiftly moved to online classes, and the dancers are setting up makeshift practice areas in their homes. 

This may have a longer-run effect of opening up the often-closed and impersonal world of traditional ballet. The digital rights and sharing policies of ballet are notoriously strict and challenging. Creators chafe at their inability to share their work or their process. But now, ballet dancers who had only trained in the studio are building their own spaces and filming their work for teaching or sharing. Ballet companies that previously didn’t want to undercut their live performances are streaming full ballets online for viewers. 

Before the lockdown, few professional dancers had ever considered a home setup. Almost none had a ballet barre or a section of dance flooring. Ballet dancers tend to be young people living far away from family, often in another country, isolated in small apartments in dense urban areas. The unique footwear used in ballet means that a dancer’s feet start to lose their ability to do complicated pointe work after only a few days of inactivity, and ballet floors are specialized equipment. 

The feet of a ballerina (again, Mathilde Froustey, shown above)

Remote ballet class offers a glimpse into the world of these artists. The daily ritual has been transformed: rather than taking instruction from the same teachers every day, online classes can be hosted by a diverse mix of the world’s best ballet teachers. Instead of being available only to professional company members, some of the best classes are now open for the public to join. San Francisco Ballet’s professional classes are streaming to the public for free three times a week. Many of these new online classes are recorded and archived for use at any time.

The new world of online ballet class has a few early standouts. One of the first classes to emerge was organized by San Francisco Ballet’s Diego Cruz. His Worldwide Ballet Class already attracts several hundred professional dancers as well as enthusiastic amateurs every day. It features a lineup of some of ballet’s most prominent teachers, many of whom had never taught open online classes before. New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck comes from a family of ballet teachers and streams her daily class on Instagram Live.

In addition to opening up class, ballet companies are also releasing their film archives to stream performances that are usually fiercely guarded. This can involve complicated legal, contractual, and intellectual property rights, but progress is already being made. New York City Ballet posted this wonderful video of Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Christopher Wheeldon’s “This Bitter Earth”. San Francisco Ballet is presenting a new ballet to stream for free each week.

Many institutions are likely to emerge transformed from the coronavirus crisis. Although the performing arts are particularly hard-hit, traditional forms like ballet are developing new tools and using new technology that may endure and make them stronger after this crisis has lifted. (MJS)

Zoom of the Day

Worldwide Ballet Class on Zoom, 10:00 am Saturday, April 11, 2020 (MJS)

Quick Links
Dancers’ social media feeds are suddenly full of beautiful short clips of the world’s best ballet dancers training and dancing at home. Here are some good ones to get started: 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Mark (MJS)


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