Arts and Culture

The Louisville Ballet announced on Thursday that it won’t hold any in-person performances for its 2020-2021 season in light of the coronavirus, which continues to spread in Kentucky and across the country. 

Instead, the ballet company’s forthcoming season, titled the “Season of Illumination,” will be all virtual offerings, starting in mid-October with a new work created for the camera. 

“It became apparent pretty quickly that being in a crowd in a theater was not going to be something that was going to be safe or desirable for quite a while,” artistic director Robert Curran said. 

Curran was short on details about the first dance film of the ballet’s new season — the ballet will release more information on it by early September. He simply noted that these virtual performances will be different than sharing archived recordings of stage performances from previous seasons. 

“I think there is definitely a place for those kinds of recordings,” he said. “But I am interested in work that has a cinematic feel, work that is created specifically for film, for the digital stage.”

They’ll continue to keep some mystery around this season’s lineup, releasing details on each new film only a few weeks prior to its debut. Curran said by not announcing the entire season at once, they hope to create a similar excitement to that feeling people get anxiously awaiting a new season of their favorite series on a streaming platform like Netflix or Hulu. Curran thinks digital works will become a part of the ballet’s repertoire moving forward.

“Coming back onto the stage in the fall of 2021 is going to be super exciting, to be back where we belong,” Curran said. “But we will also have created this sparkling new platform that can run parallel to our stage performances enhancing every aspect of the production for our patrons.”

The ballet has partnered with KERTIS, a Louisville artists group, to create these virtual dance films. 

“If we can’t allow people to experience the ballet from inside an auditorium, we will re-imagine accessibility, performance and presentation,” KERTIS founder and president Stephen Kertis said in a release from the ballet. “This is an historic chance to engage with the challenges and opportunities of non-traditional physical (and emotional) space.”  

Each production will be available for a limited time and people can purchase virtual tickets to watch them on demand. 

Ballet Audiences Won’t Return To The Theater, But Dancers Will Return To The Studio

Curran said “The current plan is to record everything in our downtown studios in one controlled environment where we can… can put all of the necessary safety and hygiene precautions in place and protocols in place… and not expose anybody unnecessarily.” 

The Louisville Ballet dancers are expected to return to work Aug. 31, Curran said.

But a lot about the art form of dance puts dancers at high risk for a contagious respiratory virus, including the close-proximity nature of ballet and contemporary dance.

Companies in Europe, like the Dutch National Ballet in The Netherlands, have returned to their rehearsal studios with social distancing and disinfecting measures in place. And other European companies, such as the Ballet du Rhin in France, went back to work wearing face masks and splitting into smaller groups to mitigate potential spread of infections should a dancer contract the virus, the New York Times reported

Curran said he’s been keeping an eye on companies like these, as well as looking toward guidance from the national organization Dance/USA.

“We are watching how they adapt, what kind of precautions they put into place,” he said. “We are exploring every option that’s available to us in terms of cleaning the space regularly, we are exploring every option available to us for ventilation of the space.” 

The dance community more broadly is trying to understand what safety protocols will work best as dancers return.

Dance Docs, a podcast that features experts from the dance medical community, released an episode mid-May that looked at issues like social distancing and mask wearing in the dance environment. It offered suggestions such as changing out face coverings that become too sweaty, since a face mask “that is saturated in sweat is not going to do its job,” and to consider avoiding things like “forced breathing,” which is sometimes used in certain dance techniques and choreography, as well as reconfiguring the paths dancers travel as they move across the floor in a dance class or rehearsal. 

Curran said the Louisville Ballet is also considering keeping track of how long one group of dancers might be in the same space and they might move some rehearsals and filming outdoors, where, experts say, transmission of the virus can be reduced. 

The ballet will also do temperature and health screenings for anyone entering the building, asking them to self-submit that information, Curran said, adding that the ballet is open to working with dancers who might have already existing health conditions that would put them at higher risk or have concerns about going back into the studio. 

He said they’re still working out a lot of the details of both their mitigation plan and how to respond to exposure if an employee or dancer contracts the virus. That includes being cognizant of not stigmatizing infection so that people will be forthcoming about any signs of symptoms. 

“It’s about quickly responding to it, making sure that we are following any and all necessary steps to find out quickly and respond effectively and respectfully,” Curran said.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.