By Cori Wilbur
May 15, 2021
Right before the pandemic hit, Scout Forsythe, a professional dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and native San Diegan, had just found a new groove with ballet. For a lot of us, we were just starting to sort things out and feel good right before facing this extremely weird year.
Starting this past March, ABT partnered with Segerstrom Center for the Arts to conceive a “safe bubble” for 18 company dancers to rehearse and perform for live audiences. Uniting in Movement, showcased three visionary works by Jessica Lang, Lauren Lovette and Darrel Grand Moultrie. This residency, which concluded at the end of April, took caution and precision to execute, but really drove home just how much artists thrive on others’ energy.
ABT, located in New York, a hotspot for covid at the onslaught of the pandemic, obviously has been shut to normal dance schedules since the start. Forsythe recalls being in the middle of rehearsal for Swan Lake when the dance company got the news that the studio would be closing the next day, presumably for a month or two. Forsythe packed up her apartment and flew back to Southern California immediately.
Dancers truly united in movement this past year – Zoom classes and social media allowed for some training to continue despite social distancing. “Humans crave connection,” Forsythe continued. “Being scared to hug a family member, to me, is just unnatural.”
However, she admitted that overcoming “the paranoia of being next to somebody” will be one of the hardest pandemic-caused phobias to overcome as we adapt back into studios, offices, and normal routine affairs.
In order to share a dance space, ABT dancers and choreographers went through great lengths to ensure each others’ safety. Two week quarantines before travel, rental of an entire hotel floor and regular covid tests were required to bring this rehearsal and residency into fruition.
For the event, Jessica Lang created Let Me Sing Forever More, an upbeat, jazz-ballet hybrid piece set to the works of Tony Bennett. Lauren Lovette’s La Folia Variations (which I caught a glimpse of a rehearsal for via Zoom capabilities) was devised around the Francesco Geminiani composition.
Forsythe herself was in the third piece, Indestructible Light, choreographed by Darrel Grand Moultrie–a dynamic ensemble set to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Neal Hefti and Billy Strayhorn which saluted the resolve of the artists during times of adversity.
Moultrie is known in the dance world for his vibrant spirit and thrilling arrangements. “I feel like I needed someone [like Moultrie] to keep that fire burning,” the dancer extolled.
Initially, dancers rehearsed spread out, masks on, for the first two weeks. “It was hard not being able to run and hug your friends,” Forsythe commented. However, when I spoke to her, she said they were now in phase three: no positive covid tests and that masks in rehearsals were no longer required.
“I cannot even tell you, the energy shift that happened when everybody took their masks off,” she said. “It was kind of surreal.”
At one moment during that rehearsal, Forsythe recalls stepping outside for fresh air, and turning around to the awe-inspiring site of her friends and peers dancing and smiling. “I thought to myself: we are so beyond lucky.”
Although ABT dancers have had to go through greater lengths to be together, Forsythe denoted that the “experience [was] completely worth it.”
For better or for worse, this year sparked necessary changes and resets for the art community; some fell out of love with their craft, some affirmed their love for it. In one way or another, goals were redefined and set in place.
Most often, dancers dance to perform for an audience, to entertain and bring joy. What ABT just set forth, Forsythe affirmed, is a performance first and foremost, for the dancers themselves.
Albeit, having at least a handful of people clapping made a world of a difference for all of the artists involved.
Uniting in Movement was an imperative entry in the journal of the pandemic but more importantly, a declaration of love and appreciation for life and the ability to dance.
ABT’s ultimate hope is that they will be able to return for this Fall season. Forsythe and I concurred that the tentative first show will be “like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”