Of all the artists whose livelihoods have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, dancers have been among those hit hardest.
They depend on a live audience to do their work, of course, and most live paycheck to paycheck. As the months have gone by, dancers have worked hard to stay relevant, busy, in shape — and ready to jump back in when it’s safe again.
Enter Melanie Hamrick. The former ballerina at American Ballet Theatre — she retired in 2019 after 15 years in the company — has spent most of the year in Europe with her partner, Mick Jagger, and their 4-year-old son, Devereaux. She made a video in June featuring Royal Ballet dancers performing in empty streets to the recent Rolling Stones song “Living in a Ghost Town.” But she wanted to find a project that would employ not only dancers but the crews and technical staff that work with them.
The result is “A Night at the Ballet,” a free streaming event that premieres Thursday and was produced by Live Arts Global, founded by Hamrick and her partners, Christine Shevchenko (a principal dancer at ABT) and Joanna DeFelice. The event, filmed in a small New York theater, will treat ballet-starved fans to performances by dancers from America's top companies in excerpts of classical ballets like “Romeo and Juliet, “The Nutcracker” and “Don Quixote,” as well as contemporary gems like “After The Rain” by Christopher Wheeldon.
“Our mission is just to give work to dancers, stage crew, tech and lighting (people) — everyone ,” says Hamrick, “and find a way to keep the arts alive while giving people jobs at the same time. Also giving back to our audiences — we don’t want to lose our audiences."
“Art will always come back,” Hamrick says, “and dance will always come back. It’s just a waiting game.”
Hamrick sat down with The Associated Press over Zoom to discuss the project, her hopes for the dance world, and plans to expand “Porte Rouge” (Red Door ), the 2019 ballet she choreographed to Rolling Stones tunes with arrangements by Jagger.
Remarks have been edited for length and clarity.
AP: First, where have you been spending your pandemic months?
HAMRICK: I actually went for a quick trip to Europe — and then the world shut down. So I stayed in Europe the whole time because it’s important for me and my son, for us to stay together as a family, especially with the uncertain times. New York really had a hard time in the spring and I was sorry I wasn’t there to support my fellow New Yorkers, but also thankful I was able to have my son out in nature and the fresh air with his family.
AP: What gave you the idea for “A Night at the Ballet”?
HAMRICK: We did the “Ghost Light” video with dancers from Royal Ballet, and it was so nice to see them excited and smiling and having a project and a focus. But that was really just the dancers, and we thought, how can we help everybody in this live arts world? And I felt it would be really nice if we did some classical ballet. We miss that because it’s harder to do remotely. I’m excited to see the dancers' faces after running a pas de deux, or how excited the audience will be to see some of the classics they've been missing.
AP: Unlike some streaming events, you're not charging viewers.
HAMRICK: No. We’re going to stream to our web page or you can view it on YouTube. I thought it would be nice just to give something for free. Of course, donations are welcome, because that’s going to help the artists. Anything left will be distributed to different dancers' funds across the United States.
AP: It’s been such a difficult time for the dance world, and for the arts as a whole. American Ballet Theatre just had to cancel its 2021 spring season. How are your former colleagues doing?
HAMRICK: I’m so amazed and impressed that their spirits have stayed so high, and their work ethic. They're still giving themselves a ballet barre day in and day out, and doing everything they can. They’re staying strong and they’re ready. It’s going to come back. They’re keeping the faith. And I think that’s the best we can do right now. You could say, “Why should I give myself a ballet class today? It’s going to be months before I go back.” You can’t let that into your mind.
AP: Last year you said you were hoping to expand “Porte Rouge." Is that happening?
HAMRICK: We’re still working on developing that project. Like everyone in the world, we got put on pause. We took a step back and reevaluated. And hopefully this summer we’re going to do a residency and workshop (with plans for performances in fall of 2021). It's going to be about 70 to 80 minutes, maybe a bit longer, of not only Rolling Stones, but just classic songs that we love, intertwined with beautiful piano music.
AP: Mick helped you curate “Porte Rouge.” Will he be involved in the new version?
HAMRICK: I think he will. He loves music. He loves art, live shows, performing. So, I definitely think he’ll be a little bit involved.
AP: It seems we’re sort of getting to know dancers' personalities a little bit more during the pandemic, via social media especially. Is this a silver lining?
HAMRICK: I think it's amazing that we’re seeing the other side of dancers a bit because ballet has always been behind a gilded curtain, you know, this facade. And now as an audience member, you feel like you know them a little bit more. And I think it will actually help build an audience because we’re just in that world of social media and reality TV and all of that. And it’s nice for the dancers to feel like fans know them ... you feel like the audience is there supporting you.