Zooming into Company Class
May 21, 2020
Company Class is a dancer’s daily ritual – starting every morning at the barre with a trusted teacher at the helm of the studio, a skilled accompanist at the piano and a purpose-built space made for dance is how they begin every day of their careers. Now, with the entire organization working from home, The National Ballet of Canada has moved Company Class online. A dancer, teacher, Pianist and Stage Manager explain how the National Ballet, with the help of Zoom, patience and a bit of marley dance floor, is recreating Company Class from home.
Genevieve Penn Nabity, Corps de Ballet member
We're very fortunate to have a class provided to us through the company – it’s intimate, familiar and gives the dancers a schedule and sense of routine to keep us motivated during these challenging times. We've been taking class with our regular teachers, guest teachers from around the world and some of our peers. We start with barre for an hour and then move on to port de bras, tendu and adagio combinations in the centre – space permitting, of course! After that, we have one to two petite allegro combinations and, to finish off, we do a reverence. This is sometimes followed by a short pointe class filled with relevé drills and pointe work exercises. Right now, my at-home set up is in my family dining room. I push the table all the way to the wall and end up having a substantial amount of space for both barre and centre work.
It has been so important to replicate Company Class online because it puts it into perspective that we’re not alone in this situation. It’s hard to remember at times but when I see everyone’s faces and hear their voices, it’s really reassuring, especially when the future seems so unclear. It's my favorite part of the day. I feel accomplished, mentally stimulated and happy knowing that we are all in this together as a company.
Xiao Nan Yu, Former Principal Dancer and Guest Teacher
I’ve had to modify my teaching style a bit to suit online classes. Barre is not a challenge but for centre work, I try to incorporate fewer travelling steps and just focus on controlling muscle strength. I’ve also simplified exercises and try not to do anything too fancy. I've found that our online classes are also more visual – once the exercise starts and the music begins, the dancers might miss my instructions so I give them the exercise and a few key points that I would like to see beforehand to ensure I’m not talking on top of the music.
We are working with professionals, they know what they’re supposed to do. Dancers are so used to having a schedule, so to have Company Class online really gives them something to look forward to. It also instils a sense of unity and community. There are so many ballet classes being offered online right now but the National Ballet is the dancers’ home base. Dancers are welcome to take other classes but we want them to know that there’s always something for them at home and that we are here for them.
Andrei Straeliev, Pianist
I have a lot of experience playing for Company Class but I have definitely experienced a learning curve with online classes. At first, I wasn't sure if live accompaniment would even work for online classes due to a possible time lag and the potential for poor sound quality. However, after playing my first class, I realized that it is not that different from when we are in the studio – the teacher sets the exercise, demonstrates the tempo and on we go! Although I haven't had to change my accompaniment style much to suit online classes, I am consciously trying not to play anything overly complicated with too many notes or with complex rhythms, just in case there is sound distortion and it becomes hard to hear the beat.
Although our sound online is not of a comparable quality to what we produce playing a grand piano in a rehearsal studio, there are many advantages to having pianists play for online classes. Compared to recorded music, we provide much more nuanced accompaniment to match the exact character, length and tempo of each exercise.
Jeff Morris, Stage Manager
Online Company Classes are ‘hosted’ by myself, Stage Manager Liliane Stilwell and Associate, Artistic Scheduling Andreea Olteanu. It is the responsibility of the host to login to Zoom for the entirety of each class to ensure that it runs smoothly from a technical standpoint. We monitor the chat function, test and provide feedback on the pianist’s audio levels and manage the interface.
Fairly early on, the dancers requested some scraps of flooring and we were able to find some marley for them to take home. Barney Bayliss, Interim Director of Production, and I cut the marley into approximately 6’ by 5’ pieces, labelled them for each dancer and left them with some dance floor tape at The Walter Carsen Centre for safe pickup. For dancers who are out-of-town, the company offered to purchase commercial flooring that’s typically used to line showers, which acts as a pretty good stand-in for a dance floor. I've heard from a number of dancers that the floor has provided a level of familiarity and comfort. If the marley gives them a little patch of home, it’s great that we were able to provide it.