For the first time in six months, dancers from the Royal Ballet are back on stage this weekend for a socially distanced charity gala which organisers hope will be “a catalyst” to get more shows up and running again.
The event – which is being held in the grounds of Athelhampton House in Dorset – has been organised by professional dancer Meaghan Grace Hinkis, who hopes others will follow her lead.
“I think there needs to be some amount of leadership in terms of saying ‘okay let’s do this, it’s okay, it’s safe, we can proceed’.”
Practicing pirouettes in lockdown hasn’t been the easiest for her Royal Ballet colleagues.
“Back in March we were in the middle of a run of Swan Lake. Our normal day would run from class at 9.30am through to rehearsals up until 5.30pm and then a show at 7.30pm, and that was pretty much every day, up to seven shows a week,” says Hinkis.
“It went from so much to absolutely nothing and I think a lot of people felt lost, it was a really scary time for us, it still is.
“There’s no end in sight for us really, so to have these two shows gives us a little glimmer of hope.”
Organising the two coronavirus-safe performances has meant ensuring there’s enough space for the audience to socially distance outside. For dancers it’s also meant, in order to perform together, taking COVID-19 tests two or three times a week.
“We prick our finger, do the test, make sure we’re okay to rehearse together and even with that we’re rehearsing with masks on,” Hinkis says.
In order to make it work, the gala will mainly feature solos or couples that live together. With limits on how close professional dancers from different households should now get, being in a couple certainly makes things easier.
For the first time in her career, Royal Ballet soloist Romany Pajdak is dancing with her real-life partner this weekend, choreographer and dancer Dane Hurst.
As Hurst explains: “Even though Romany is a classical dancer and I’m a contemporary dancer… it just made sense for us to make a duet together. It’s worked out because there was no way, at the moment, that you could find two different dancers coming together to make a dance like this, being in the same space as much.”
Despite having her partner to train with at home, Pajdak says the reality is that most dancers have struggled to stay in the same shape.
“In all honesty, [we’re] not the same level of fitness at all. You can keep the same level of tone, and we have been able to keep active, but getting the same hours in terms of what your body needs, the stamina, I haven’t been able to replicate it at home.”
At an unbelievably challenging time for the arts, with theatre closures and productions scrapped, furloughed dancers are frustrated.
Hurst says: “When they’re talking about theatres opening in 2021 you kind of think ‘oh gosh, life can be so different in a year’s time, is my body going to maintain its shape and how will it be when I get back?’ There are so many questions…”