How New York City Ballet Took On the Pandemic
4 min read
fairly easy
Michael Schulman writes about the company, which, with its season—including "The Nutcracker"—cancelled, created a video series that asks, What can dance, so dependent on bodies sharing space, become in the age of social distancing?
The company tried to turn the page. In February of last year, it announced that Jonathan Stafford, a ballet master who'd been appointed as the interim head, would assume artistic leadership, with Wendy Whelan, a former star ballerina, overseeing programming and commissions as the associate director. Whelan, the first woman to hold a permanent artistic leadership position at the ballet, went on a listening tour of the hundred company members, "trying to let them know that I see them as more than just a body," she told me. She was eager to bring in more contemporary choreographers, especially women and people of color. At the start of this year, she was busy commissioning future pieces by such choreographers as Miller, Jamar Roberts, Pam Tanowitz, and Sidra Bell, who was to be the first Black woman to choreograph for the company.

Plans changed. In March, as the coronavirus spread and N.Y.C.B. projected that cancelling its spring season meant the loss of eight million dollars, it committed to paying its employees through May. The dancers retreated to their apartments or went home to live with their parents, keenly aware that ballet careers don't last forever. Whelan, whose husband has a heart condition, moved with him to their house upstate. She figured that the company would be back by winter, a lucrative time that includes the cash cow "The Nutcracker." "We felt a little lucky," she said.

By June, it was clear that there would be no fall season, no "Nutcracker." Like the Met, the company made taped performances available for streaming, so that audiences could catch up on "Ballo…
Michael Schulman
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