The COVID-19 pandemic brought on terrifying unknowns for everyone, but many artists found themselves possibly losing their livelihoods in the shift towards isolation.
Series of shutdowns only posed questions without clear answers: How can we continue to live with our lives on pause? Especially for artists whose jobs are to interact with the world and find inspiration in people, the pandemic felt stifling.
The confusion on how to move forward affected many professional artistic companies, including Ballet West.
Known as one of the top 10 Ballet Companies in America, the Salt Lake City-based dance company documented their experience working through COVID-19 times in the docuseries “In The Balance: Ballet For A Lost Year.”
In the nine-episode series, the show highlights some of the dancers’ personal stories, the meaning behind the show’s choreography and the intricacies of putting on a COVID-19 ballet show, a decision made by Adam Sklute, the artistic director of Ballet West.
In the pandemic, a niche opened for creative generation like this, and with cases in Utah spiking at alarming rates, Ballet West needed to both take the safety precautions seriously and continue to spread their message to audiences.
The docuseries explores this duality — we see dancers mask up in practice, the added pressure from getting sick accompanying the anxieties of being perfect.
Exploring “A Lost Year”
The docuseries, directed by Diana Whitten and Tyler Measom, amplifies the struggles of being a professional ballet dancer and breaking through stereotypes that reside within the art form.
While beauty standards and gender and race stereotypes hold power in ballet, the Salt Lake City company showcases a diversity that is changing the workspace for all dancers.
One company member, Kat, spoke to this in episode four as a black woman in a whitewashed industry. Whether it’s being overlooked for lead roles or struggling with smaller things, like the right shade of tights for performances, Kat faces discrimination within her profession but continues to dance with purpose.
Along with the self-pressure of the ballet world, the docuseries leans into how members of the dance company cope with the loss of income and life in isolation.
Beckanne and Chase, ballet dancers highlighted in episode three, discuss the financial hardships that coincide with not being able to dance. Company members tell their stories of money problems, love, opportunities and new realizations about themselves — the troubling times bring on both inspiration and heartbreak.
Responding to the World
Part of the docuseries revolves around putting on a safe production in 2020, its importance expressed by choreographer Jennifer Archibald, founder and artistic director for the Arch Dance Company, and Nicolo Fonte, the resident choreographer for Ballet West.
As much of dance and art is about interpretation and entertainment, the two choreographers wanted to convey an abstract perspective of what was going on in the world with COVID-19 and other headline news, including the presidential election. Whether it was to help with trauma and coping with loss, everyone was hurting and needed some normalcy.
With practices and rehearsals, the big show is the focus of the last few episodes of the series, touching on the nerves and anticipation for the event.
Archibald returns for the rehearsals leading up to the show; technical elements, props and lighting are handled with social distancing procedures in place, and everyone faces the fact that the show can be canceled at any point amid the pandemic.
The last episode came together beautifully as the company seamlessly put on the choreography from Archibald called “Tides,” and Fonte’s work of “Faraway Close.” It was a beautiful finale to the series, and a crown jewel of Ballet West’s work.
As things begin to reopen, Ballet West will return to live and in-person performances this October, starting with the production of “Dracula.” Other productions will include “The Nutcracker,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Glass Pieces” and “The Little Mermaid.”
In the meantime, all episodes of “In the Balance: Ballet for a Lost Year” are available to stream on their website. Ticket sales and dates can also be found here.