Royal Ballet leaps out of lockdown with online extravaganza

Dancers perform at The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage during a livestreamed performance at the Royal Opera House in London, Britain October 8, 2020. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

LONDON – The Royal Ballet, Britain’s largest ballet company, leaps back into action on Friday after seven months of COVID-19 gloom with an extravaganza that mixes classics such as Romeo and Juliet and Don Quixote with playful modern dance.

Restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus have battered the performing arts across the globe: theatres and concert halls have lain empty for months, and many musicians, actors and dancers have been stuck at home.

In a three-hour live-streamed performance from the Royal Opera House in central London, around 70 dancers will bound from Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and Don Quixote towards a finale of Kenneth MacMillan’s wild Elite Syncopations.

The last major ballet they performed was Swan Lake on March 12, just days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson shuttered the British economy and told the country to stay home.

“It’s like seven months of pent-up energy, excitement to develop further,” Marcelino Sambé, a principal dancer from Portugal, told Reuters. 

“This is what we did all that training for – to perform, to share this art. And to not have been doing that for so long, it really causes a lot of distress, really, and it’s incredible that we get to be back on this glorious stage,” he said.

COVID-19 has dealt a devastating blow to ballet and other performing arts, which also draw custom to London’s once-thriving restaurants and bars that now lie silent or closed.

“Frankly, it really is a really bad situation for the Opera House,” said Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet. “We have to be performing. We’ve lost, I think, three in every five pounds because we’re not performing.”

O’Hare said precautions had been taken across the production – from costume fitting to social distancing backstage and dancing couples working only together.

For dancers who need to keep fit and perfect complicated fouettes, practice during the pandemic has been difficult. They are, though, hungry to get on stage.

“It is probably the longest time, other than injuries, that dancers may have had, that we’ve all been away from our daily routine and our training as we know it and performing on stage,” said Anna Rose O’Sullivan, first soloist.

“All of our classes were via Zoom. So we were looking at a laptop and, you know, the postman would walk by and think, that’s what she was doing in there, while I was doing my daily class and training.”

The Royal Opera House will also use the event to see how it can get audiences back into live performances: up to 500 people will attend the event – mostly family members, key workers, students and other supporters.

“The fact that we’ve been away from it for so long has made us hungry and more resilient and appreciate it as well – what we do and how much we enjoy performing,” O’Sullivan said.


By Hanna Rantala and Guy Faulconbridge

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