Lourdes Lopez, Chase Swatosh and Hannah Fischer in rehearsals for George Balanchine's The Nutcracker® in the Park. Photo by Alexander Izilieav, courtesy Miami City Ballet

What It’s Like to Join a New Company During a Global Pandemic

Starting a new job in any industry right now is intimidating. But in dance, where government restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis have made traditional classes, rehearsals and performances difficult if not impossible, it's particularly challenging. Many dancers transitioning into new companies this season have not had the start they were expecting.

Hannah Fischer is one such dancer. Formerly a first soloist at National Ballet of Canada, Fischer auditioned for Miami City Ballet back in January on the advice of her mentor and former New York City Ballet principal Merrill Ashley. "It's such a short career, so it's good to grow as an artist and experience different cultures, cities and repertoire," she says.


Through the audition process, Fischer fell in love with the company and its familial atmosphere. "I was invited to watch rehearsals and was enamored with the caliber of the company's dancing, but also their passion and love," she says. "The way they work in the studio is so respectful. Every class was thoughtful, clear and quite hard, too."

After being offered the position of principal soloist, Fischer moved from her long-time home of Toronto to Miami in June, ready to start rehearsals in August. Her relocation, however, was short-lived. "The COVID-19 infections were really scary in Florida at that time, so nothing was allowed to open," she says. The company decided to start work in November instead, so she returned to Canada to be with family until then.

Fischer and her partner rehearse an arabesque in a studio, both wearing masks

Chase Swatosh and Hannah Fischer in rehearsals for George Balanchine's The Nutcracker® in the Park.

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Fischer admits that it's daunting to uproot her career at such a precarious time. "I've had the security that I know I have a job, but the whole dance world is in crisis," she says. "It isn't a matter of if you have a job or not, it is more a question of whether this art form will survive the pandemic."

Despite this uncertainty, Fischer thinks that the lockdown has given her an opportunity to reflect. "Knowing I was leaving my home and starting in a new place forced me to question what it is about this career that makes me happy, especially considering I was faced with the prospect of the industry collapsing and not being able to do the thing I'd trained for my whole life," she says.

Fischer has realized that the thing she values the most is dancing itself: "The physicality of it, the community of it, the joy of being surrounded by good people in environments where there's no politics or hierarchy."

Fischer recently moved back down to Florida for the second time, ready to start rehearsals for MCB's first post-outbreak, outdoor performance of The Nutcracker this December. Although she can't shake hands with or hug any of her new colleagues, she's started to get a feel for the studio and the other company members in class. She also recently began rehearsals for George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. "I hadn't 'balletically' touched anybody for seven months!"

The fact that MCB is working towards a live performance is quite a novelty at a time when companies around the world are canceling their programs. The significance is not lost on Fischer. "We're so lucky here with the weather. I don't know many other places in the world where people would be able to perform outside at this time of year," she says, adding that her friends at National Ballet of Canada performed only one show before the country had its second wave. Earlier this month, the company announced it was canceling the rest of the 2020–21 season. "My heart goes out to them. To be able to perform in real time is as good as it gets. Knowing I'll be onstage in December is everything."

This being said, MCB still can't perform to its usual capacity, and has online premieres of digital works lined up alongside its outdoor performances. "We have to keep this art form alive. That's not negotiable for me. The dance world needs to come together to figure out the best way to keep dance relevant in 2020," says Fischer. "But endgame, to eventually be able to perform with MCB in its full capacity will be a dream come true."

This story is part of a week-long series guest edited for Dance Magazine by choreographer Kyle Abraham.

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

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December 2020