Planning a major gala during a global pandemic is no easy feat—but don't say that to Dame Darcey Bussell. In an amazingly short time, the former Royal Ballet principal and "Strictly Come Dancing" judge has curated a historic evening to support the dance industry in her home country. The British Ballet Charity Gala will bring eight major UK dance companies together for a live performance at London's Royal Albert Hall on June 3, before it is streamed in the UK, U.S. and Canada on June 18.
The event, hosted by Bussell and actor Ore Oduba, a "Strictly Come Dancing" winner, will feature performances by Ballet Black, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, New Adventures, Northern Ballet, Rambert, Scottish Ballet and The Royal Ballet—marking the first time all of them have performed together on the same program.
Bussell, concerned about the pandemic's domino effect on the dance industry, began planning the benefit back in January. "A lot of my friends said, 'Darcey, have you gone mad? This is going to be very challenging,' " she said during a joint Zoom interview with Oduba last month. "But I just felt that something had to be done. The government has been able to give recovery funds to a lot of companies, and they have pledged an awful lot of money, but it's not going to last, sadly. The pandemic will have a long-term effect on these companies."
Proceeds from both live and online ticket sales will be shared among the eight participating groups, with each also nominating a community dance company of their choice to receive a waterfall donation. The gala will benefit 19 organizations in all.
Dame Darcey Bussell
Courtesy Royal Academy of Dance
"This event couldn't happen under normal circumstances, because these companies are all busy with their own productions and tours," says Oduba. "But over the course of the last year we've all been able to find incredible collaboration and creativity during this pandemic."
Each company will perform a piece from its repertoire, accompanied by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, directed by Paul Murphy, Birmingham Royal Ballet's principal conductor. In true collaborative spirit, English National Ballet's technical team and The Royal Ballet's stage management will handle the show's production elements, while BalletBoyz Productions will be filming the gala for streaming.
Scottish Ballet in Helen Pickett's The Crucible
Jane Hobson, Courtesy British Ballet Charity Gala
The ballets on the program are being kept under wraps for now. "Just like the companies in America, everybody is in flux," says Bussell. "We didn't want to put the pressure on them, in case they need to make last-minute changes, so we're keeping the program repertoire quiet." To meet safety restrictions, every company has to be in their own pod. "We have to get 65 dancers on- and offstage." (The theater will be limited to 1,000 audience members, socially distanced.)
The dancers will then come together virtually for the gala's finale, which has been specially choreographed by Rambert dancers Simone Damberg Würtz and Daniel Davidson. "The collaboration happens with a film editor—with one piece of music and good timing, you can actually create something quite special," says Bussell.
New Adventures in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake
Johan Persson, Courtesy British Ballet Charity Gala
Oduba notes that the performance is an opportunity not only to raise money but also to get audiences excited about returning to live performances. "Darcey and the tight nucleus of people involved with this gala have poured their hearts into it, and you'll also see that during the show from each of the performers. Because we've been starved for the performing arts so long. And I think as things start opening up, this gala is a chance to whet the appetite on what we've missed and what we can look forward to, and how appreciative we are of this art form."
For more information on the June 3 live performance at Royal Albert Hall, click here. Access to the on-demand virtual performance begins June 18 (available through July 18); tickets are $27 and can be ordered here.