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Coronavirus interruption keeps ballet on their toes

Adjustments, flexibility the key to next season


Michele DeVinney

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 26, 2020

In some ways the last few months have been new and strange at Fort Wayne Ballet, but in other ways it has been business as usual.

Like everyone else, they saw their 2019-20 season end abruptly just before their spring performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, their annual collaborative effort with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

But in spite of some challenges, Indiana’s premier ballet company was able to proceed with their summer intensive program, which brings dancers from around the country to Fort Wayne for training with the ballet’s faculty. Their Youth Company camp, additional training for the ballet’s young corps of dancers, also went off without a hitch.

Making it possible

But as they prepare for the upcoming season of performances, they remain flexible which they hope will allow them to present the season they’ve had planned all along, even if some changes are required to make that possible.

“We have to make some accommodations in terms of the size of the audience to allow for social distancing,” said Karen Gibbons-Brown, artistic director of Fort Wayne Ballet for almost 25 years. “We also realize that things can change instantly. Last spring taught us that. So we have plans, but we’re ready to pivot for the sake of our students and our company dancers if things should change.”

One advantage to come of the current state of affairs is that many organizations, including the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, have taken their performances to other venues. This opens the calendar for Fort Wayne Ballet to change dates and add performances since social distancing dramatically alters the available seating for any shows held at the Arts United Center, home stage for the ballet.

“For our fall production of Dracula, we had wanted to stage it for Halloween,” Gibbons-Brown said. “Those dates weren’t available for us, but now they are, so we’ve moved those performances from the first weekend of October until the end of the month. Typically we only do two performances of our fall show, but we’re looking at having two each day instead.”

Ballet with some bite

Dracula, an original production choreographed by faculty member and director of outreach Tracy Tritz, has been in the works for some time.

The audience that enjoyed last fall’s performances got a sneak peek at what promises to be a haunting and passionate production.

Gibbons-Brown is toying with the idea of a late-night performance to coincide with the dark mood of the piece. But performance times are among the many things in limbo as proper cleaning of the venue is required between performances for the safety of the dancers and the audience.

“We’ve been able to move to Halloween and to give choreographer Tracy Tritz more time to work on the piece,” Gibbons-Brown said. “So it really has been a win-win for us.

“Now the repertory performance we had planned for late October has been moved to the beginning of the month where Dracula was scheduled to be.”

Preparing for the big show

Of course the big production each year is the annual staging of the Fort Wayne tradition, The Nutcracker. Auditions for that are scheduled for Sept. 13.

The details are still being worked on to allow for smaller groups and social distancing, and the ballet’s three smaller studios may be used to allow for some separation during auditions.

Details for the performances are still somewhat fluid, allowing the ballet to continue to pivot as fall reports on the virus develop.

“I think the fact that we did have our summer intensive program and our Youth Company camp gave us some opportunities to do some things and see what worked,” Gibbons-Brown said. “Each time we learned something new and were able to carry that forward, so I think that’s been an advantage for us over some who just had to shutdown everything over the summer.”

Looking to the new year

For now, the ballet is moving forward as if life returns to normal for the second half of their season.

“We’re hoping that by spring things may look a bit different, so we’re planning for that for the time being. We’ll have Love Notes again in February, and in March we’ll be doing Sleeping Beauty with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

“We have two more repertory performances in April and May. The first one is dancer-driven. One of our dancers said something to me once, and it really stuck with me. She said ‘We’re more than just The Nutcracker, and there are more things we want to say with our dance than that.’ So these performances are completely dancer-driven and in the dancers’ voice — the choreography, the casting, the costuming, the set.

“Then in May we’ll have a show that’s community driven, giving audiences who have seen our previous repertory performances a chance to vote to choose the three pieces we’ll be bringing back.”

Also returning is the popular Family Series, kicking off in October with Snow White, a performance featuring the ballet’s pre-professionals and trainees. The Fort Wayne Ballet Youth Company will perform the second Family Series production, Charlotte’s Web, in February as well as the May performances of Peter Rabbit, bumped back after cancellation last May.

Some other ballet traditions, like the Sugar Plum Parties which follow matinee performances of The Nutcracker, are still up in the air, as are showtimes which will allow ample time for sanitizing the venues between performances.

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