March 1st was the last time that 18 year old KJ Takahashi would step into the David H. Koch theatre for his rehearsals before the quarantines began. New York City Ballet, like all theatre companies, would close their doors soon after the initial reports of the covid-19 outbreak in New York City. Three months and two consecutively cancelled ballet seasons later, Takahashi is still uncertain of when he will be back in the studios working on his double assemblies (pronounced “ah-som-blay”),which he says is one of his favorite tricks.
For dancers, this stagnant period is significant. Assuming they have not been injured, most dancers haven’t taken more than a week or two off from training in years. Three months poses significant threats to dancers’ overall strength, flexibility, and stamina. Aside from being out of shape physically, the current outlook for enjoying theatre performances this year is grim, but not impossible. One challenge theatres face is arranging seating in a way that conforms to current social distancing protocol. Theatres will address the need for safety by removing seats to create gaps between audience members, and by requiring their guests to wear masks.
Where many athletes have off seasons, dancers do not. Oftentimes dancers have summer commitments, “gigs” across the globe, which offer exposure to new regions and an extra payday for these artists. For dancers, the thought of being out of shape is frightening. It cannot be equated to taking a few days off from lifting weights. In fact, the process of regaining ballet coordination can take weeks of class and rehearsal. The nature of the art form calls for a specific regime and supporting muscle memory. Without it, a dancer’s technique can degrade. For example, in female ballet technique, being on pointe requires ankle and foot strength that can only truly be maintained by taking classes and rigorous rehearsals. In male technique, the immense amount of coordination and strength necessary to perform the basic movements cannot be practiced outside of a ballet studio. These “tricks” as they are commonly referred to, require ample space and a proper dance surface, a floor covering made of vinyl, called marley.
When the prospects of returning to the studios dimmed, the New York City Ballet came to the rescue of its dancers, Mr. Takahashi explained. They sent 4×4 patches of marley to any company member who needed one, this way they could train safely and maintain some remnant of their ballet specific coordination and muscles.
For many dancers, the desire to return to in- person classes has been overwhelming. Mr. Takahashi says he cannot wait to get back to his classes and rehearsals. When I asked him which aspects of his job he misses most he replied
“I miss being in the studios with my coworkers. The environment cannot truly be recreated, there’s this energy vibrating throughout the studio that I feed off of, and that energy is what I miss most.”
Due to continued concerns of covid-19, the New York City Ballet recently announced that it would cancel both the upcoming fall season and their hallmark production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, a major source of funding for the company. The company’s focus has shifted towards January 2021 for a proper return to performances at their Lincoln Center home. This will be the first time in the company’s history that it will not perform the Nutcracker since it premiered the ballet in 1954. Last year alone, the Nutcracker took in $15.3 million in ticket sales, and was responsible for $35 million in total revenue. Without this source of funding, the company predicts it will be forced to tap into its endowment to keep the company afloat financially.
In the meantime, Mr. Takahashi tells me that he is looking forward to returning to rehearsals safely and cannot wait to see the creative ways in which his company will work around the issues that lie ahead.
If you like this article, check out our podcast episodes: Marjorie Gubelmann – Turn Your Passion Into Your Job and Elatia Abate – Embracing Change with Futurism
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