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.

Marketing Assistant Maris Antolin interviewed Company dancers and real-life couple Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan and Kyle Davis remotely about their return to the studios including the balance between video chat and in-person classes and rehearsals, revisiting Kyle’s piece Sylvia, and their hopes for PNB’s upcoming Dance Happens Everywhere digital season.

Transitioning to the Studios

Although dancers are relegated to a smaller area when they take class with their pods, in rehearsals Sarah-Gabrielle and Kyle often get a full studio to themselves with a rehearsal director keeping safe distance.

While at home, Sarah-Gabrielle and Kyle practice their jumps regularly to keep their legs, calves, ankles, and feet strong, but moving in a larger space is now reactivating all the little muscles that aren’t used when jumping and dancing in one spot. They’ll also be focusing on balancing and turning. “When you’re in a small space, you learn to focus on points that are very near to you and you use those focal points for your balance. And then when you’re in a large space, you discover that your balance is completely off,” noted Kyle. “Standing on one leg was so much harder than we thought it was going to be in a big open space.”

Rehearsals & Sylvia

Choreographer Jessica Lang is creating a new piece for PNB, and dancers are working in person (masked and distanced) with Lang and her husband, Kanji Segawa, as well as through Zoom. Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan is learning the new piece as a cover and often dances by herself in a studio on a Zoom call with Lang and the other dancers learning the work in a different studio.

“When learning choreography [over Zoom], it doesn’t always click what side they’re doing,” says Sarah-Gabrielle. “Having to reverse everything gets really exhausting mentally.”

Kyle and Sarah-Gabrielle are also currently working on Kyle’s pas de deux, Sylvia. Sylvia was originally choreographed for Next Step in 2012 for then Professional Division students Christian Poppe (now a PNB company dancer) and Jahna Frantziskonis (now a soloist with San Francisco Ballet), and was performed again in 2014. With the guidance of Rehearsal Director, Otto Neubert, archival footage of the past performances, and Kyle’s own notes, Kyle and Sarah-Gabrielle are learning this piece that Kyle calls, “Not for your average advanced students.”

“[Sylvia] is probably the hardest piece that I have yet to do in my career, which is something for five months off, coming back and jumping into that, but it’s been a really nice challenge. And I think we’re more eager than ever. So what better time to be doing something like this.”

Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan

Sarah-Gabrielle & Kyle’s hopes for the upcoming season

Sarah-Gabrielle and Kyle are excited about the possibilities of reaching a larger audience with PNB’s Dance Happens Everywhere digital season. “We got to watch so many companies during the quarantine because of media,” says Kyle. “And it was great. You know, you cook dinner, you can make yourself a beverage, and you just sit down…” (“In your pajamas,” Sarah-Gabrielle adds.) “And it’s not just Seattle anymore,” Sarah-Gabrielle continues. “My mom can watch our shows from Philadelphia.”

Sarah-Gabrielle is, “Hoping we can still connect with our audience and even though it’s a different format or a different way of doing so, I hope that we can still build the same feelings that they would have when they were seeing us live. I hope we can keep that.”

Sarah-Gabrielle and Kyle both mentioned enjoying interacting more with donors and audiences lately. Even though the personal interactions are through screens, the dancers are more than names and headshots in the programs and bodies dancing onstage. As Sarah-Gabrielle put it, “I think this time has humanized us in a way because we do have to speak far more often. For so long we were just the quiet dancers, and now we’re like, ‘This is our voice and this is my name and it’s nice to meet you.’”

Interviewed & written by Maris Antolin.

Featured photo: Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan in Kyle Davis’ A Dark and Lonely Space. ©Angela Sterling.