Like many places around the world, the dancers of The Norwegian National Ballet were acutely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown; being confined to limited contact with others and to doing virtual classes at home via online delivery. During this time, thoughts about, and interest in, meeting some of the people who were (and perhaps always have been) most isolated were growing among a number of the dancers in the company. Members of artistic and administrative leadership were also working hard to find a way to reach out to people in isolation. Many people within different branches of Norwegian National Ballet have already contributed time and information over the years to reach out to various members of the community who might not be able to easily see an in-house performance, but this was generally done on an ad-hoc basis with the support of the company.
Faced with a completely new reality, the company met the opportunity to prioritize this “new” audience with lightning speed as restrictions began to ease. The project “The National Ballet is Coming” started visiting places such as skilled nursing homes, senior centres and rehabilitation centres in a way that would safeguard the health of both the audience and the visiting professionals. Stage director Marit Moum Aune developed the concept of a small travelling performance on an outdoor stage that (ideally), accommodates both outdoor seating for up to 50 people as well as sight lines from balconies or windows for those who are unable to come outside.
Technicians are first out to set up the small outdoor stage and are followed by a bus with a small group of performers. Norwegian National Ballet director Ingrid Lorentzen serves as host for a short performance of excerpts from both the classical and modern repertory and more recent performances have included a B-boy as guest dancer, bringing in both more variety and other members of the Norwegian dance sector. The overwhelmingly positive response from residents, their relatives and healthcare workers alike proved that dance can, indeed, touch people in a time when we are physically distanced. (Note: Dancers in the performances who dance closely are dancers who share the same living quarters.)
Since the first performance May 8, the teams of dancers have visited dozens of locations in the Oslo area and are currently preparing to tour other parts of the country to bring this wonderful experience to even more people. The project has moved both these special audiences and the professionals that have met them in a completely new arena. This is a very special initiative that brings social and artistic engagement to some of those who have been even more affected by social isolation than usual during the pandemic. One would hope that it will prove to be a project that can live on and grow, even when the happy day comes when the restrictions we have faced are behind us.
Photo credit: Norwegian National Opera and Ballet/Eric Berg