• Jeanne Marie

The Balancing Act of Ballet Accessibility

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

One company's example of how an art form stays connected to its students, patrons, dancers, and communities in and after a global pandemic.

Entering into its 2020/21 season, Orlando Ballet has survived the COVID-19 quarantine, run its summer program, and announced its new season of creation, community, and attention to safety.

Opening its doors to its personal communities of students, faculty, and professional dancers while re-discovering available options for opening to the public, Robert Hill, Artistic Director, and Cheryl Collins, Interim CEO, discuss how the company plans to remain accessible to all its constituents while keeping safety side-by-side with the drive for creation.

The company was just a week away from opening a show, and their new building, Harriett's Orlando Ballet Centre, when the Coronavirus numbers began to spike, and the state went into lockdown.

"We had momentum on our side," says Collins as she explains how Hill, herself, and the staff of Orlando Ballet used the pent up performance energy to pivot from resolutely sitting at home, unable to perform, to researching and developing a plan for how the company might open back up.

After a week's dry run of just the staff in the building, a walk-through with a medical advisory team with whom the staff still communicates, and creating policies from practice, Orlando Ballet decided to move forward with their summer program.

With the building now accessible to students and staff, the next hurdle Hill and Collins discuss is making it accessible to the professional performers that create the main company of Orlando Ballet.

"Thank goodness for Zoom," says Hill. The artistic director stayed connected with his artists through the platform and remained realistic with them about the current situation.

"It's not gonna be like we're getting through this, and then it goes back." Says Hill, "It's gonna be a new way of living."

With dancers spread across the world, Hill explains that to stay connected, the company decided to create a virtual choreography competition called Dance Accelerator. Created and performed remotely, Dance Accelerator allowed the professional performers to choreograph ballet work and have their peers perform it from their homes, according to the Orlando Ballet website.

The digital performance served as an example of how the company might begin to use online platforms for productions to balance health concerns involving physical spaces due to the pandemic.

'I'll be really surprised if ever, ever, ever down the road, the idea of live performance, of dance concerts like this will ever be as satisfying on an electronic medium.' says Hill.

Working with Collins and the staff, Hill describes a new type of production inspired by previous performances done at The Abbey in downtown Orlando called Uncorked. The Uncorked productions created an intimate space where ballet goers could watch how choreography is created in real-time.

The 'mini-performances' inspired by Uncorked would take place in a Blackbox theater and could allow the public to return to Orlando Ballet with smaller audiences creating an increased control of safety procedures, according to Hill and Collins.

Finding a balance between digital and live performance, the team share that they hope to continue to explore the idea of 'mini-performances' as a compliment to larger shows, even when the Coronavirus becomes something of the past.

In the future, Collins and Hill describe an environment of attainability. Leaning into digital platforms like social media and podcasts such as Hill's current project, Barre Talk, the team hopes to create a one-ness with the Orlando community that values the uniqueness of Orlando Ballet as a company.

'So now, in this time, the pivot time, I have enjoyed watching the community be sort of fascinated by the boldness of our organization and leaning into what is possible and running with it.' Said Collins.

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