Savannah Ballet Theatre took a hit this spring from the coronavirus.
In the third week of April with cases climbing, the ballet was rehearsing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. "We had to follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines (of no more than 10 people gathering.) "So we closed and cancelled the production," said Abby McCuen, the ballet’s director of advancement.
"They canceled us at the theater (the Lucas Theater which seats 1200 people.} "Everything was quarantining. We couldn’t do the season in May because we had no theater…Nothing was operational," said Suzanne Braddy, founder of the ballet company in 1998 and who now serves as its artistic director. The ballet is the only professional ballet company in Southeast Georgia.
With their rehearsals cancelled, the ballet’s ten company dancers have been taking You-Tube classes and working hard to stay in shape, Braddy said.. "You can do a lot to stay in shape," she said. "And they do their own work out."
But the ballet is now back on track, ballet officials said. Rehearsals for their traditional Christmas performance of The Nutcracker will begin in mid-September.
"This pandemic is not going to stop us," said Curt Bryant, president of the ballet’s board of directors. At Christmastime "we’ll be reworking some form of ‘The Nutcracker.’ We have a tradition of this. We’ve got to make it happen…Perhaps on a scaled down stage with two performances a day or three performances a day. And we’ll have to present a plan for social distancing. But we will make it happen."
At a board meeting this Saturday, members ironed out the plans for the ballet to meet CDC requirements, Bryant said Sunday. But for now he declined to explain the board’s decisions, saying he had to formulate a plan for their release with the ballet’s public relations spokeswoman, Lesley Francis, CEO and founder of Lesley Francis Public Relations.
One bright spot for the Savannah Ballet: This September, it is launching the Savannah Youth Ballet, a pre-professional program for young people ages 9-18, according to a news release from Francis’ agency. The youths will dance alongside professional dancers in full-length ballet productions such as The Nutcracker, The Little Mermaid, The Wizard of Oz and more, the news release said.
According to the release, the ballet will offer "a laser focus on discipline, classical technique and traditional ballet."
The young people will be encouraged to continue with their current studios, the press release said. . "We’re not trying to steal them away from their ballet studios," said Bryant.
The new ballet corps "is a one of a kind opportunity for young dancers in our region," said the ballet’s director of advancement Abby McCuen. "We’re trying to train the next generation of artists."
Artistic coordinator Rebecca Dugal is quoted in the press release as saying, "We are extremely excited to launch this new initiative as it demonstrates SBT’s commitment to excellence and inclusion, and serves our mission and the community simultaneously by giving dancers from across the region access to participation in professional level productions. She added, "We encourage young dancers to come out and audition to have the wonderful opportunity to further curate their talents. We put the safety of dancers and staff above all else, so we have ensured that the studio, which is large enough for social distancing will be sanitized regularly."
Braddy said the ballet was looking for young dancers who prize dancing above their many extracurricular activities like soccer. These days "most (youths) don’t dedicate themselves to one thing,." She said..
What she wants in a dancer with the new Youth Ballet , she said, is "children that know dance and are willing to learn. They will have to have some dance (background). They must be willing to take more time with it." than other activities, she said. The youth ballet "is s nice thing to have for kids willing to work harder," she added.
Auditions will be held Sunday, Aug. 23 at the studio on Whitemarsh Island, 115 Charlotte Road, from 1-2 p.m. for ages 9-13 and from 2-3 p.m. for ages 14-19. There is a $10 fee for auditions, the press release said.
Asked if youth dancers must wear masks, Braddy replied, "We will follow CDC guidelines as close to it as we can." According to CDC public affairs specialist, news media branch, Jasmine Reed, "contact your local authorities for any ordinance that might apply on wearing a mask in a dance studio." The CDC continues to say that masks are beneficial in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.