“We were able to do it on their football field. Now that we know how to do this, we are looking forward to doing more outside performances."
“Normally in August we start to gear up for Peter and the Wolf, which we take to the schools so they can experience a ballet performance. Well, of course, no school, so no classes. And we couldn't rightfully ask the schools, ‘Hey, can we do a class via Zoom’ because they're already trying to get these kids just to participate. So, our outreach was put on hold.
We were still rehearsing, still acting like we were going to do Nutcracker. We were hoping, you know, by December it would be okay. We’ve always done our community performances of Nutcracker at a high school auditorium, on their stage.
It was a whole different Nutcracker than past years because we had to have a lot fewer dancers. We couldn't take any kids outside the program, so there were no auditions. Normally a few here or there step in and, you know, participate as well as some adults who play the adult parts. We could not have all of them this year so we only had three adults, our Drosselmeyer and the mother and father. So rehearsals continued, with everyone wearing masks.
By October it was pretty clear that we weren’t going to be able to do the performance in a school theater, as schools were likely to still be closed in December. Schools are normally our only option because they have the fly, they have a stage that is our size. Normally we have about 80 to 100 dancers participate in Nutcracker.
So I started looking for a place to do the performance. I called the city and they were going to let us do it at the fairgrounds. We had a few options to be outdoors, but we had to work through the logistics. We weren't able to do the fairgrounds or outside by the Civic Center because we didn't want to have to rent all the stuff needed for that. So we were able to do it at Yuma Catholic, on their football field.
The amount of work the dancers and choreographers had to put in to just make Nutcracker feasible was incredible. They were just rolling with choreography changing, everything changing. We had never done a performance outside on a football field in the middle of a pandemic. Choreography was challenging. A lot of ‘Oh well, that's not gonna work because now we would have to do this, this and this.’ They changed choreography daily until they got it to where they needed it to look best to present on the field, without a full stage. We couldn't have done it without our amazing artistic directors/choreographers Jon Cristofori, Kathleen Sinclair, and Emma Cong.
Normally we do five shows in a weekend. We usually start going to the theater at least a week in advance, doing a tech week and all kinds of dress rehearsals. Then, on Fridays usually we do a school performance where the schools come to the theater, then they get the theater experience. They get what it's like to watch a full ballet on stage. Of course we weren't able to do that this year because schools still aren't in session.
For the football field production at Yuma Catholic, we only had one day to do the dress rehearsal. Our dancers are very well trained and very well prepared, so they flew through that no problem. From the production side, it was simpler in a way because we didn’t have several sets and the usual number of props. We had to nix some things that we normally would do, like having snow falling and fog for the angels. But we had to lay a new floor, get tents, and find carpeting so the dancers did not mess up their shoes. So we had three days at Yuma Catholic. We did the laying the floor, then we did the rehearsal, and then we had the two days of performance.
We had to have an extremely limited audience, with masks and sanitizing social distancing all of it. And the football field production was very different than being in the theater, where we can use lighting and curtains and side stages to keep the magic going. The stage on the field in the sunshine was wide open, so the kind of magic we like to do wasn’t possible. We can’t dim the lights to move set pieces. The dancers can't hide behind the curtains and wait for their parts, they just have to stay on stage and stay in character the entire time waiting. One of the cool things, though, is that the football field’s jumbotron screen was on, which was really exciting.
The community said they enjoyed it very much and the dancers, their joy, could not be contained. You could see on the dancers’ faces that they had never been so happy dancing in their entire lives because they had been not able to perform for almost a whole year. They were so happy to be on stage again!
Now that we know how to do this, we are looking forward to doing more outside performances. We got a grant in 2020 to buy the sports court that goes underneath the dance floor so we can perform outside. Now we can bring performances to the community anywhere! Even in the dirt, if I leveled it out a little bit, and then put the floor on top so the dancers could dance.
And now, because of the grant, we can teach anywhere. Also, if the school wants to have the whole school come see Peter and the Wolf instead of just the number of kids they can put in the cafeteria or gym, we can perform for the whole school outside in the parking lot. There are so many different, new opportunities we can see!" - Jenn, Ballet Yuma #Arizona