Posted on March 31, 2021
It isn’t unusual to feel reflective at the start of a new year, but as winter 2020 turns into spring 2021, I’m feeling more pensive than I have in recent years. I’ve written before in the pages of Dancing Times about how lucky I am to be living a dancing life that, though adapted, is quietly trundling along. Whilst my job at Sarasota Ballet has given me more solace than I could have imagined, there are hard questions that remain, present in all our lives: Where will we be in another 12 months, and will our impulse to return to normality be satisfied? I’m also wondering how fundamental changes in the political sphere will impact the creative industries?
On January 1, the UK began fully to separate from the European Union. I’m trying to find ways to express the dislocation I feel about this – I haven’t been home in over a year due to the global public health crisis, so it’s understandable why I feel a little unanchored. Troublingly, the anxieties I felt when the Brexit vote was determined in 2016 still haven’t subsided. I’m not the only one feeling all-at-sea; voices from across the arts are expressing concern. A BBC News report in mid-February highlighted the huge difficulty UK artists will now have working in Europe thanks to cumbersome VISA requirements, with lighting designer Paule Constable speaking of the relegation of creative talent in the UK. Talk of protecting British identity inundated the airwaves five years ago, but now it seems that products, ideas and perspectives from the UK may disappear from the rest of the continent. Who can say what cross-fertilisations are now forever lost?
I don’t want to be reductive, but for this dancer, the symbolism of the Brexit movement only reveals the close-mindedness of its promoters. Journalist Peter Gumbel engagingly explained his own feelings towards the event in an article published in the New York Times entitled “Britain has lost itself”. Gumbel writes of two complimentary identities, British and European, something I always felt I had. Older friends assert I’ve been conditioned to think this because I knew nothing else as a child.
An ocean apart, the US welcomed the new Biden/Harris administration on January 20 after unprecedented scenes of insurrection in the preceding weeks. Instead of lamenting the state of her nation, poet Amanda Gorman appeared as a ray of defiance, pulling back the curtain on Inauguration Day when she recited her poem, The Hill We Climb.
“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew,
That even as we hurt, we hoped,
That even as we tired, we tried…”
What seemed remarkable to me was her directness. In rhythmic splendour, Gorman confronted the troubling issue of Donald Trump’s final weeks – the delaying of the democratic process – and resolved it with the resolute line: “history has its eyes on us”. It was a moment that sang with intention for the future, with Gorman inviting us to remember “love is our legacy, and there is always light, if we’re brave enough to be it.”
As it is now a year since COVID-19 altered everything, I marvel at the way in which the cultural sector has pivoted to provide digital offerings that speak of the pragmatism of creative artists. I will strive to take a sense of buoyancy with me into my future dancing years. Not being able to perform left me feeling heavy, but now I’m dancing again, I don’t want to take anything for granted.
Though I’m yearning for the hum of a full theatre auditorium, 2021 will not see us return to normality. I’m predicting the continuation of small-scale projects as the world navigates the vaccine roll-out. We will continue with the innovative outreach provisions cultural institutions have used during the pandemic to educate existing audiences, as well as entice new ones, but we also understand that nothing can really replicate the live experience. I’m hoping for exciting programming choices from ballet companies around the world as we go into 2022 – will we see vibrant revivals of cherished works and new choreography filled with vigor as a response to the strange period we’ve just lived through? I’m also predicting an assertive stance from our industry, demonstrating what we value and validating why dance is an important art form.
Pictured: Daniel Pratt and Anna Pellegrino in Sarasota Ballet’s production of Paul Taylor’s Company B. Photograph by Frank Atura.