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.

Company dancers have returned to the PNB studios at The Phelps Center! Dancers Elle Macy and Dylan Wald are adjusting to the new normal of small pods of dancers, masked and physically distant classes and rehearsals, and dancing in spaces made for dance again.

On staying active at home & transitioning back into the studios

Elle and Dylan are both high-energy extroverts. They lament about the abrupt transition from dancing six hours per day to living with the stay-at-home order and only taking class, doing physical therapy, or cross training in their small apartment. Elle says when the stay-at-home order began she and Dylan were, “those people who were taking Zoom classes immediately and were trying to keep in super great shape.” The two of them kept up a weekly routine of ballet classes for almost a month before becoming disenchanted by doing ballet in their carpeted living room with their dog, Siggy, jumping on them. “It wasn’t an escape from anything,” Elle concludes. “Dance has always been and is this kind of escape from reality. And the reality was so real when we were in our small space when everything had to be done there.”

Along with taking classes and cross-training in their apartment, Dylan and Elle filled their time with as many projects as possible to avoid sitting around. “We’re very active people,” explains Dylan. “I mean, there were projects, I did school, we learned how to drive, we moved. We just piled on our life and we still had downtime too. We still sat around and watched Netflix. And it was like, ah, I feel like we’re doing so much but I still feel like we’re not doing anything.” 

Dylan and Elle are excited to be “doing ballet in spaces made for ballet” again, however there are difficulties to being back in a place that is familiar that now has different rules. “You think you’re going to go back and you’re going to get the rhythm of it again. And then at every turn there’s different landmarks in the way.” Dancers aren’t allowed to come in and out of the studios unnecessarily and are currently not allowed to use the company dressing rooms and lockers. “So you come prepared in your dance clothes underneath your outfit,” says Elle. “It feels like we’re almost back in a Summer Course kind of thing. So we have all of our warm ups on top of our clothes and you’re just walking down the street.”

It seems all the dancers are missing the social interactions that usually occur in the PNB hallways. “We see our friends in the studio and we just want to talk to them and we just miss them so much,” says Dylan. “The company has 50 dancers and to whittle it down to four, I feel like we’re missing so many personalities.” Elle continues Dylan’s thought and adds, “There’s so many personalities, and it’s such an ecosystem. And to see people pass by and just get a wave is very weird.”

Working with Jessica Lang & the rehearsal process

Choreographer Jessica Lang is creating a new piece for PNB. Dylan has worked with Lang on her two past pieces for PNB, The Calling and Her Door to the Sky, and is excited to be working with her on something new. “The nice thing about coming back to a new work is that we don’t have this idea of what it needs to look like or what it should look like,” he says. Elle adds, “And [Jessica Lang and husband and collaborator Kanji Segawa] have expectations as any choreographer would and they have things that they want to see done, but they’ve been very understanding with us having so much time off and that things don’t just snap back right away.”

Lang’s new work is for eight dancers which means the rehearsal process is spread across two pods of dancers. Because of the five-person limit on each studio, Lang works with one pod of dancers in the morning and the second pod in the afternoon. Each group learns different choreography that will be put together when the piece is filmed for PNB’s digital season. Elle called the rehearsal process “a shuffling of cards.” One rehearsal scenario Elle described is; pianist Christina Siemens plays live on the mezzanine level that overlooks the studios, while Lang directs dancers from her taped-off half circle at the front of the studio, while Lang’s husband Kanji Segawa observes rehearsal from another room on the mezzanine level. 

While the rehearsal process is following the strict safety guidelines, neither Dylan nor Elle feel it will result in a disjointed result. “Rehearsals are socially distant but [Lang]’s made this work that’s very distant but very connected,” comments Dylan. “I mean, it doesn’t look like we’re just solo dancers dancing in our own little frame. She makes it look like we’re really really integrated with other people in a way that we feel safe doing.”

Elle & Dylan’s hopes & goals for the season

Elle’s non-ballet related goal is to take her driving test and get her driver’s license. One of Dylan and Elle’s many quarantine activities was to take the time to get their learner’s permits to practice driving and get their licenses. 

As for the ballet season, both dancers are grateful for the new slower schedule and the opportunity to focus on taking care of their bodies. Dylan and Elle are both working with physical therapists on rehabbing injuries and working on getting strong enough for the six-hours-of-dance per day schedule they were used to pre-pandemic. “It’s a nice reprieve without the daunting fact of taking a year off and missing out on everything that happens for the year,” says Elle. 

Last, Dylan and Elle are looking forward to bringing PNB’s Dance Happens Everywhere digital season to life and the future of PNB. “It’s a weird benefit of everything that’s going on,” says Elle. “Maybe we will become more accessible to a wider audience with this virtual content.”

Interviewed & written by Maris Antolin.
Featured photo: Elle Macy & Dylan Wald in Jessica Lang’s Her Door to the Sky in 2015. Photo © Angela Sterling.