Many ballet lovers – both online fans and offline friends – have been voicing their resentment that ballet in Europe and America is either not permitted, or has to comply with social distancing requirements, yet in Russia the classics are being performed without modification and with social distancing rules applying only to the audience. It's not fair!
The reality of the situation is that many Russian dancers are being quarantined, as recent reports from St Petersburg, Moscow and Taipei confirm.
When The Inspired Traveller visited the Mariinsky Theatre recently, eight dancers were in isolation. First soloist, Renata Shakirova, said,
Obviously it's risky, but our life is a big risk these days. It's constant stress. Every morning, we wait for the tests, asking ourselves, “Who will get sick? Who will have to be isolated?” It's a tough time. We keep our spirits up and try to get through this crisis together, and there is nothing like the energy of the audience and the applause.
Since the Mariinsky reopened its doors during the summer, more than 40 dancers have been infected. Members of the company are tested every two weeks.
Ballet Director Yuri Fateev, says,
The dancers are more precise, smile more, and they appreciate the present moment more. They know that their situation is unique and that theatres are closing all over the world. Only in Russia are they still performing. The biggest risk for us is to stop everything because it is our life and our identity.
The Moscow Classical Ballet had its tour of Taiwan cancelled after it arrived in the country. The 52 dancers in the company landed in Taiwan on 29 November and were tested for Covid-19 the day after completing their mandatory quarantine: four of the company were positive.
As a result, the other 48 members were retested and it was found that another four had contracted the coronavirus. The remaining 44 who tested negative are under a second period of quarantine, and all the company's performances in Taiwan have been cancelled.
At the Bolshoi Theatre, 124 were quarantined for coronavirus at the end of October. Currently, about 100 Bolshoi employees are isolating.
Principal dancer Yekaterina Shipulina echoed the words of her colleague at the Mariinsky when she told CBC News:
It's incredibly difficult. We have this problem because we actually can't social distance. We have to take our masks off to perform and be shoulder to shoulder with our dance partners. But there's this term, ‘stage therapy' and that's what's happening now: We take energy from [the audience] and we give energy.
Tragically, being infected doesn't necessarily mean isolating for a couple of weeks: Alexander Vedernikov, the Musical Director and Principal Conductor of the Maikhailovsky Theatre, who previously held the same roles at the Bolshoi, died on 30 October due to Covid-19. The well-known conductor worked extensively in Italy, including at Teatro alla Scala.
Vladimir Kekhman, the Director General of the Maikhailovsky in St Petersburg, said,
We will never know if it was in the theatre that he was infected, but he had given his last show three weeks before his death.
Top photo: Igor Tsvirko in Spartacus, Bolshoi Ballet
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
Although I live in Canada, my family is originally from Moscow. And ballet is in my DNA. I have known it well for my whole life. A cousin of mine in Moscow, a writer and translator, Susanne Rosenberg was good friends with Maya Plisetskya, the ballerina and I have memorabilia from Maya to prove it along with seeing her perform many times live in New York and Toronto.
When I hear that dancer performers in Russia are getting ill and worse, I am left feeling very sad.
I would prefer going to watch ballet with the dancers wearing masks, to reduce risks. Most of the audience cannot see the faces anyways. Not an easy situation.
I pray you find the right answer.