Even during a pandemic, I doubt that a pianist would send out a video link that encouraged us to watch him/her practice at home while wearing, say, a bathrobe. Would a soprano work on perfecting an aria from a fire escape? (I could, of course, be wrong.) Recently dance companies of all kinds and sizes have been posting links to works past and present. Immured out of the city, I could gorge on them—some at specific times, others whenever I like. The offerings may be free or the ensemble is in need of money.
I receive not only these gifts; something more homegrown appears in my inbox to remind me that a dancer’s instrument is her/his body. It needs a daily workout that may or may not reach the level of a sequence that in a classroom would involve traveling across the floor. Fortunately, stitching complexities in place is also part of a warm-up.
What has interested me right now, often touched me, and sometimes made me laugh are online videos in which dancers, sequestered in their homes (or near them), keep in shape. Perhaps a choreographer has taught part of a sequence to every member of a group, so that each new solitary soloist begins with the previous soloist’s final pose. Or the short film may simply be an anthology of clever steps. Their charm lies in how the game, witty, and dedicated performers interact with their locations. When did you last see a crackerjack dancer pirouetting in a deserted city street? When did you watch one toss off a high kick between her refrigerator and her stove?
For me, as perhaps for other viewers, how dancers live today is almost as intriguing as what they’re doing at any given moment to keep in shape. Some may have pushed their apartment’s furniture out of the way, while others may have a designated practice space. Carpets are rarely in evidence, just a few square feet of hardwood flooring or another smooth surface. The apartments may be spacious or so cramped that negotiations both daring and imaginative are involved in order for the dancer to avoid knocking a picture off the wall or kicking a chair. Behind one performer, your eye catches a reproduction of the Mona Lisa looking on from behind a bunch of other stuff. Someone’s shelves contain tiny ornaments that evade detection. Are those file cabinets piled up under the window? Is that laundry?
In cities all over the world, determined dancers also work in outdoor spaces: a concrete roof overlooking the city, a deserted street, a park, and more. Sometimes very small children skedaddle past or copy the dancer/mother diligently. Dogs appear. A dancer’s graceful arm movements may yield to more important business: she can hold a cat in her arms, out of the way of her busy feet. And you have to honor also the friend, husband, wife, parent, roommate, or lover who wields the camera or, more likely, the cell phone.
The point is this: these gifted people can’t not dance. Their instrument, the body, must be fed carefully, kept limber, kept strong. They must also sustain their minds and stay as happy as possible in this temporary “retirement.”
Maneuvering through the tricky landscape of videoland is often beyond me, but I’ve included two of the items I’ve watched.
Here you can see students (and some of the faculty) in the Dance Division headed by Stephen Pier at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, a conservatory for musical and performing arts. The film was made by the students (Perhaps you remember Pier from the José Limón Dance Company and Senior Artist Teacher Miki Orihara, who sent me the link, from her stellar performances in the Martha Graham Company and in her own choreography.)
Here’s another video, this one from Jessica Chen, who has performed and toured with numerous groups, as well as managing her own ensemble. “Dancing from a Distance” shows members of the J Chen Project keeping sane and imaginative.
I also enjoyed the video that accompanied Rachel Hosie’s article at insider.com about dancers in St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre. They stay calm and good-humored even if they’re freaking out just a bit, mostly in a kitchen—a dinner plate makes an acceptable fan; cutlery can be used as drumsticks; a dressed-for-winter guy can hoist his partner high while snow falls around them. (To see this video, you’ll have to go to YouTube and find either “Russian Ballet Group Performs Whilst Doing Covid Chores” or “Mikhailovsky Ballet at Home Whilst Doing Covid Chores.”)
Thanks to my son, who helped me when a link refused to transmit anything to my readers and photos refused to materialize. Or when insider.com’s gossip-happy site yielded nothing that excited me, beyond, oh yes, the vision of Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, and AudraMcDonald downing champagne while wearing white bathrobes and singing “Ladies Who Lunch” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. My pandemic fears had gone temporarily on hold.
Alas, scrolling down and down and down made me almost seasick, and the term “surfing” became more appropriate than usual. Watch out for the flotsam and jetsam. Enjoy the daffodils. Eyes ahead. We will get through this.