NBC Boston to air Boston's beloved holiday ballet. The company also plans six virtual programs beginning Nov. 21; in-person events at the Opera House won't happen until next May.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to add the date of a televised performance of "The Nutcracker."
On March 11th, the Boston Ballet dancers were on stage at Citizens Bank Opera House in full costume and makeup for the dress rehearsal of Jorma Elo’s “Carmen,” with the musicians of the Boston Ballet orchestra seated in the pit. The following afternoon, just hours before opening night, Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen walked onto the stage to announce that the show — and the two weekend run — were canceled due to the threat of the deadly novel coronavirus.
That same day, Margaret Tracey, director of the Boston Ballet School, sent her young students home because she feared a possible exposure to the virus. Within 24 hours, the school was officially closed. Tracey thought classes would start up again “in a few weeks,” she recalled. Nissinen commented that “everything fell apart in March.” No one knew that the dancers of the Boston Ballet would remain off stage for the rest of the 2019-2020 season and far into the next.Want news like this sent straight to your inbox? Head over to MetroWestDailyNews.com to sign up for Entertainment Headlines and make sure you never miss a thing. You pick the news you want, we deliver.
Given the enormous toll COVID-19 took over the past six months on the dance, theater and music worlds - and future uncertainty - it is both amazing and admirable that the Boston Ballet will launch its 57th season this month, including the re-opening of the Boston Ballet School. Although live performances will not be staged until May 2021, a free film showing of “The Nutcracker” will air Nov. 28 on NBC Boston.
After the March shut-down, Nissinen escaped to his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and Tracey and her husband, Russell Kaiser, assistant artistic director, retreated to their house in Newton. The company’s executive director, Meredith Max Hodges, remained in town with her family, including a new baby and a 2-year-old. Despite the distance, company leaders worked together over Zoom and conference calls to devise a way forward.
The Boston Ballet will welcome back 60 members of the company and BBII, the second troupe, to its South End studio on Sept. 21. To be sure, the dancers will come together in different ways, wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart for training and rehearsals, following regulations for health and safety. The public programs have been altered as well but, according to Nissinen, “We will be creating again. We had 400 possible scenarios and now we have a whole plan for the rest of the season in place.”
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Hodges who is a graduate of Harvard’s college and business school, has headed the company's administration for the past six years. The budget, which had expanded to over $35 million, has been cut to $22 million. To offset lost revenue because of smaller classes at the school and fewer ticket and subscription sales, “$15 million will be raised from philanthropy. Our board, and audiences, subscribers and donors have been very generous,” Hodges said.
During the spring, the school quickly moved classes. A virtual summer session for 175 students from the United States was held for five weeks, with several students joining from Europe and Asia. Classes begin again in the South End, Newton and Marblehead - in-person and virtually - for the Children’s Program on Sept. 24 and the Classical Ballet Program on Oct. 1.
“The students have a choice. We will be hybrid with a teacher and cameras in the studio but the professional program at Walnut Hill School (in Natick) is opening virtually,” Tracey said. The safety precautions for the company will apply to all classes.
Although the annual month-long run of “The Nutcracker," the city’s beloved holiday tradition, has been canceled, the company will present a free, one-hour version on NBC Boston on Nov. 28, with encore viewings on NECN and Telemundo (dates to be announced), narrated in English and in Spanish.
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“I did not think it fair for Boston to go without ‘Nutcracker,' " Nissinen said.
The telecast has been edited from an archival film of the 2019 dress rehearsal, with the cast of company dancers and children from the school in Robert Perdziola’s sumptuous costumes on his elaborate sets. The Boston Ballet orchestra will play Tchaikovsky’s score.
In place of the fall and winter seasons announced before the coronavirus shut-down, Boston Ballet will produce its first-ever virtual season, titled “BB@yourhome.” Six programs begin with “Forsythe Elements” Nov. 19-29, led by choreographer William Forsythe. Live-captured excerpts from his works will be performed by dancers in the studio.
The series continues Dec. 17-27 with newly choreographed ballets set to Duke Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite.” Four more programs Jan. 21 through April 25, 2021 are available for paid subscriptions of $180 (per computer). "We hope that people will buy more than one subscription, as donations to the company,” Nissinen says.
And with fingers crossed, the company plans to produce a month of in-person performances for audiences at 50% capacity in the Opera House during the month of May: “off the chART” (May 6-16) and “ChoreograpHER” (May 20-30). The programs will be shortened in length, minus intermissions, for the health and safety of performers and audiences.
“off the chART” features the company premiere of Forsythe’s “New Suite,” a collection of pas de deux from his earlier works, and a world premiere by Stephen Galloway, former creative movement director for The Rolling Stones. He and Mick Jagger began talking about a choreographic collaboration 15 years ago.
“ChoreograpHER” will include five world premieres by women dance makers including Tiler Peck, Claudia Schreier, Shantell Martin, Boston Ballet principal Dancer Lia Cirio, and Melissa Toogood. “Five of the six choreographers are women; three of the six are black,” Nissinen says.
The Boston Ballet’s goals for the 2020-2021 season include “delivering arts and inspiration safely to our viewers and broader audiences than before, implementing health and safety for our dancers and all our personnel, and finding new ways of being creative and collaborative together, despite the concerns,” according to Hodges.
Nissinen thinks that “even when we are back on stage, some of the digital programming will remain. I hope this will be the hard year and we’ll go back to some sort of normal for next season.”
For more information about the Boston Ballet's 57th season, visit bostonballet.org.