Dancing with myself: Ballet stars stay on their toes in virus lockdown

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Dancing with myself: Ballet stars stay on their toes in virus lockdown
Cassandra Trenary and James Whiteside, both from American Ballet Theater dance a rumba on stage with the band Margi and the Dapper Dots during Midsummer Night Swing at Damrosch Park, at Lincoln Center in New York, June 30, 2017. The open-air dance party, now in its 29th season, runs through mid-July, and the theme on this night was ballroom. Julieta Cervantes/The New York Times.

by Rana Moussaoui

PARIS (AFP).- Ballet stars are determined they will not be bowed into playing the dying swan to the coronavirus.

From using their sofas as a barre, keeping up their classes by video conference, or posting stretching tutorials on Instagram, dancers from some of the world's top companies are not letting the lay up caused by the virus erode the iron discipline they need to keep in peak physical form.

The stars of the American Ballet Theatre Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside -- known for their jokey relationship -- have posted a video of them using a kitchen worktop as a stand-in barre, while Russian Vadim Muntagirov, a principal dancer of the Royal Ballet in London, has thrilled fans with a video of himself pirouetting in his living room.

Others are giving still more humorous insights into their changed daily stay-at-home routines, with Iana Salenko, star of the Staatsballett Berlin, doing her pointes holding her baby, or the former Paris Opera stalwart Isabelle Guerin doing her ironing on tippy toe.

Ballet dancers grow up with a salutary warning about keeping in peak condition ringing in their ears. "When I miss a class one day, I notice it. The second day the teacher notices it. And the third, the public can see it."

So what happens when dancers might effectively be laid up for weeks or months on end?

"We all have the same fear of wasting away physically," Hugo Marchand, the star dancer of the Paris Opera told AFP.

Every day at 11 am since the French government ordered people to stay at home on Tuesday, he and seven of his colleagues have been hooking up for a video-conferenced "collective barre practice" with the former star dancer and coach Florence Clerc.

"Ballet dancers have a lot of self-discipline but we always need a teacher to motivate us and give us little steers," said the dancer, who left Paris for the South of France just before the country was put into lockdown.

"We do the exercises she tells us to do while holding a sideboard or sofa. We can hear the energy the others are putting into it, and every chat and joke. It does us all good," said Marchand.

But the video link-ups have their limits. "You can't do jumps or pirouettes on the tiles or floorboards of a little apartment" -- the risk of injury is just too great, he added.

The star finishes off his virtual class with stretches, press-ups and abdominal exercises.

For dancers -- used to strict discipline from a tender age and hours of classes even on performance days -- being stuck alone at home "is difficult to live with".

"Just like high-level athletes, our instruments are our bodies. For us training is a physical need just like eating or sleeping," Marchand said.

Fear of injury
Many are wondering how they will readapt when the lockdown finally ends.

"To avoid injuries, dancers certainly shouldn't go back too quickly into the studio," said teacher and former Paris Opera dancer Arnaud Dreyfus.

"It's a bit like after maternity leave or the summer holidays, you have to go slowly," he added.

Dreyfus has closed his Paris dance studio but has been posting exercises every day on Facebook for both professional and amateur dancers to follow.

As well as young dancers from the Paris Opera School -- the "little rats" as they are known -- his followers also include performers at La Scala in Milan and dancers in the Netherlands and Belgium.

"I give the same course I do in the studio with indications and corrections. Of course it can be a little bit cold because we are used to seeing the dancers refine the movement live in front of us," Dreyfus said.

Dance companies are also organising themselves, with "90 directors of companies from the Bolshoi to the Royal Ballet creating a WhatsApp group" to share information, Kader Belarbi of the Capitole in Toulouse told AFP.

"Everyone has the same worry: training the dancers and when will we start again," said Belarbi, who is making a barre video with his wife Laure Muret on their terrace.

"Over the long haul even if everyone trains at home, it won't be enough," said Belarbi, who was in the middle of creating a piece based around the French artist Toulouse-Lautrec when the virus lockdown struck.

© Agence France-Presse

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