I was able to see Ballet West present their first performance since March 2020 on the 7th of November, 2020. They performed two pieces that were choreographed during the shut down, and Twila Tharp’s iconic “Nine Sinatra Songs.”
The first two pieces were “Tides,” choreographed by Jennifer Archibald, and “Far Away Close,” choreographed by Nicolo Fonte. The first work was begun before the shut downs, and was changed to accommodate social distancing, and only used pas de duex work between couples of the same household.
Side note, I love that a few gay couples were openly and un-apologetically used in some of the pas de duex work. It was beautiful. Some may say this was a bold step for Salt Lake City. Others might simply say, its about time.
The second work was begun after the shut downs and is a direct expression of our condition as people and especially as artists during this time. Both pieces were breath taking.
The title piece, Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” used the same household couples guideline for safety. The company got special permission from Tharp herself to perform in masks.
Most of the masks throughout the performance were black, but a few were pink or blue to math the costumes in “Nine Sinatra Songs.”
Seeing dancers perform in masks was…crazy. I realized I was seeing history. So many companies have suspended all performing. I really admire Ballet West for going ahead with performing, despite this difficult restriction for athletes who depend so much on breath for execution and expression.
But seeing those masks onstage made me realize more than anything else has, that we are living in an time that will be remembered.
It was frightening. I got the feeling I’ve had from seeing photos of people who’s faces have been damaged by cancer or sever burns.
It was disorienting. Ballet West artists are SO good at using their faces, and I know so many of them personally from my work as an accompanist at the Academy. But I couldn’t rely on their faces to read the performance like I have been able to do in the past.
It was empowering. This company has fought to keep going despite illness, mandates, fear, and the drudgery of our collective constant stressed caused by this pandemic. Their bodies and eyes did the work that mouths, chins, and noses usually do: expressing emotion.
Here are some links that Ballet West put out for Nine Sinatra Songs:
I am preparing my own group of dancers to perform in a Christmas concert exactly a month from today. Our live audience will RSVP so they can have socially distanced seating. The program will be less than an hour long, and be available via Zoom. (email [email protected] if you’d like the code).
Here’s the thing. I don’t know if my dancers will be wearing masks. I am one of the performers, and I’m just not sure if we will do it. The concert is free and is happening completely from my own resources. I won’t be taking money from any one who might demand in return that we wear masks.
I have struggled just wearing a mask in class. About half way through center adagio I suddenly choke up and end up inhaling my mask as I gasp. Our material for the Christmas Concert is very cardio heavy. Lots of jumps etc.
So while there was something powerful and memorable in seeing my favorite company perform in masks, I don’t know yet if this is something I can ask myself and my little company (literally myself and three other dancers and a couple of guest musicians) to do.
In part because of the major politicization around the safety regulations, some people believe it is their right to NOT wear a mask. Some people believe local governments are justified in mandating masks and other actions to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.
I used to know which side I was on, but as I’ve seen Ballet West and Ballet West Academy and other dance schools, church groups and business fight to stay open and meeting in person by bending over backward to meet every new guideline and regulation, I’m not so sure any more.
I’ll post about our performance experience. My first one in the midst of the pandemic and only my second as a director and choreographer. I’ll let you know what role masks end up playing.