After about five months away, PNB has begun slowly welcoming dancers back into our studios at the Phelps Center. Safety is paramount. PNB is following local health and safety mandates, consulting public health advisors and partnering with AGMA (dancers’ union) on strict return-to-work protocols including screening measures, timed entry into the building, dancers divided up into pods made of four to five dancers each, and everyone in the building wearing masks made by our very own costume shop.

Dancers are allowed to come into the building 30 minutes ahead of their class or rehearsal times. Before entering, dancers complete a screening made up of five health-related questions on their phones, and wait for any one in front of them to fully enter the building and go into their assigned studio. Each pod of dancers has a “lounge” (like the PNB School library or the PNB conference room) where they can take breaks and warm up and stretch if a studio is occupied.

Now that there are dancers back in the studios daily company class has started back up. But it looks a little different these days. Teachers, dancers, and accompanists are all in the same building, but they are separated into the various studios. The teacher and pianist are in one room and broadcast morning class to the pods of dancers in each of the six studios over Zoom. For class each studio is divided into four quadrants by the moveable ballet barres to give each dancer (or couple of dancers if they live together) space to stay physically distant from their pod members.

Though PNB dancers can see each other and dance in the same room as their friends and coworkers, many are missing the socializing that comes with being back at work. “I feel like it’s almost harder being able to see everyone and not being able to give hugs,” says Juliet Prine. “It was especially hard the first day we saw everyone.” Even though the company is together over Zoom for class the feeling isn’t the same as class before the pandemic. “Even in our pods, we can’t just go up to each other and talk. We’re shouting to each other,” adds Amanda Morgan.

The biggest transition in returning to the studio is getting used to how much more space the dancers have to use when dancing. Travelling across the floor and taking up all of the space available is a huge part of staging, choreographing, and performing works. When dancing and taking class at home dancers can’t move too far one way or the other without hitting a wall or running into things in their houses.

For rehearsals, it’s a mix of in person and over Zoom by PNB’s Rehearsal Directors. While physically in the studios, choreographers and Rehearsal Directors have their working areas at the front of the room delineated on the floor in tape, dancers keep their distance from each other, and everyone in the room is masked.

Choreographer Jessica Lang is creating a new work for PNB this season, and rehearsals happen in various forms. There are dancers learning the work in the room, while others are on Zoom from other PNB studios, and even more dancers Zoom calling into rehearsals from home. Whereas the opposite is true for rehearsals for George Balanchine’s Emeralds. Rehearsal Director Anne Dabrowski calls in to Emeralds rehearsals from home while dancers Leta Biasucci and Elizabeth Murphy dance in the PNB studios.

PNB dancers and artistic staff are working hard and staying safe while putting together our Dance Happens Everywhere digital season. “It is a very focused time now,” says Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan. “It’s strange and a little sad but I think we’re all just grateful to be back in the studio.”

Interviewed & written by Maris Antolin.
Featured photo courtesy of Cecilia Iliesiu.