A! Magazine for the Arts

Dancers on their way to peform in the park

Dancers on their way to peform in the park

Bristol Ballet dancers adapt to a changing world

August 25, 2020

It was supposed to be a spring production that involved a birthday party, an evil sorcerer, fairies and a “happily ever after” ending. Bristol Ballet’s planned production of “Sleeping Beauty” had challenging choreography and dancers who were ready to accept the challenge. They were just over midway through their rehearsals when the pandemic reached alarming proportions and the governor closed nonessential businesses. Bristol Ballet’s artistic director had already made a recommendation to the board of directors to close the businesses one day prior to Governor Northam’s mandate.

Rather than let go of the passion and dreams the dancers had, the instructors started online classes two days after the shutdown. Everyone (including the youngest students) learned to “Zoom” and adapted to the classes from their living rooms or bedrooms. The scenery was interesting.

There were lots of pets that roamed through during the classes, some wanting to stand right next to the dancers while they took class. Siblings, pets, parents, furniture, toys, scratched hardwood ?oors — all kinds of distractions to challenge the new way of taking class. But everyone did hang in there, hoping for a relief from the virus and ultimately having the show go on.”

More time passed, and - of course - the pandemic raged on as well. The production was rescheduled from May 9 to June 6. Dancers still faithfully took class regularly and held out hope for the performance. Two graduating seniors were particularly concerned; it was to be their last performance at Bristol Ballet with their peers before they went to college this fall. Alas, the production just was not meant to be. Businesses in Virginia were only opened June 5, one day prior to the rescheduled date of June 6, and all of the choreography had not been set. Many of the costumes were never delivered due to global shutdowns and inability to get supplies or other items. I gave the sad news to the dancers in mid-May, and they all decided to stay on Zoom through the end of May to ?nish out the year.

But what could be done to help the company members in particular to have their farewell performance with their peers? Options were investigated from rescheduling yet again, to amphitheaters, to theater rental for only a few people, to a backyard performance on a freshly poured concrete base for a barn. It was ?nally decided to take solos and duets that the company members had already learned, tweak them for social distancing, and present them for people at the City of Bristol’s Cumberland Park.

With three weeks to rehearse and try on costumes, redo anything that needed to be, and learn how to navigate in the studio under the new physical distancing guidelines, the dancers faithfully worked each morning.

Finally, the day arrived for the outdoor performance. It rained during warmup in the studio. The outdoor stage was partially covered, but the audience would be exposed to the weather. The dancers changed into their costumes at the studio and were prepared to walk to the park if the rain stopped. It did. Armed with masks, tutus and tennis shoes, they walked the few blocks and took the stage. Audience members were armed with umbrellas and lawn chairs, staying in their own family groups. The dancers were beautiful and pulled off a wonderful performance for an unforgettable end to the 2020 season.

As the world continues to present uncertainties, the staff at Bristol Ballet is determined to keep the arts alive. Summer videos of past performances were offered to the public. Teachers’ meetings, webinars and ?nding articles about reopening have been diligently studied. Studio ?oors have been taped to help even the youngest students know how to stay 10 feet apart, and class schedules have been adjusted to make up for the limited class sizes due to the distancing requirements. Adjustments have been made so that students will not share dressing rooms, props and equipment. Strict protocols for entering and exiting have been established, and classes in different studios will not begin or end simultaneously in order to keep traffc ?ow light. Parents are appreciative of the efforts and feel comforted by the efforts that the staff have gone to so that the students are protected.

Classes will go on in person as long as businesses are allowed to remain open, and other options are available for those who aren’t comfortable venturing out just yet. Bristol Ballet has purchased equipment to help make any different options smoother and more professional, so that students get the best possible training. Registration is ongoing by appointment, which can be made on our, or by calling the studio at 276-669-6051 and leaving a voice mail.

In the new (but hopefully temporary) world of isolation, quarantine, and cancelled performances, Bristol Ballet’s staff and supporters are working hard, thinking outside the box, and doing everything possible to keep the arts alive for the students and the community. We love to dance.