The author, Kyra Laubacher

Antonio Anacan, Courtesy #instaballet

My First In-Theater Performance as a Pro Dancer Included Masks and Social Distancing—and It Was Exhilarating

This is one of a series of articles following one young dancer as she starts her career in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two months into my professional career—and eight months after the coronavirus shutdown forced theaters to close and dancers to train virtually from home—I finally feel like I'm back in shape. Throughout October, Eugene Ballet, where I am an aspirant, provided morning company classes, and it was glorious. Even though we were broken up into pods, wearing masks and sanitizing the room after every class, I deeply appreciated our studio time. Each weekday from 9 am to 10:30 am, we practiced in one of two studios with our fellow pod-mates, gradually getting to know each other better and relishing each other's company (even while staying 6 feet apart).

The classes had amped up in difficulty, as well, pushing us to break out of the "maintenance mode" we had been operating in since the beginning of quarantine. One particular adagio exercise included a full promenade in attitude derrière en relevé (yikes!). But as frustrated as I was trying to rise to the level of difficulty at hand, with time I felt that incredible feeling I'd been craving for so long: improvement.

Wearing a red and lack plaid shirt, jean shorts and pointe shoes, Kyra Laubacher stands on a rooftop and does a parallel pass\u00e9 with her left, pushing her arms forward with flexed hands.

Antonio Anacan, Courtesy #instaballet

Our season technically begins November 22. So when Eugene Ballet announced plans for a combined in-theater and livestreamed fundraiser program, Home Is Where the Art Is, for October 31, I couldn't wait to get into rehearsals. Along with five other company members, I was cast in a new work, In Place, created by our resident choreographer Suzanne Haag. Set to music by Yann Tiersen, the ballet took what we'd experienced in pandemic life—denial, distress, isolation, anger, absurdity and the comfort and community provided by others—and transformed it into a series of group numbers, duets and solos. I'd never danced in a work commenting on the here-and-now, and certainly not one about the social implications of a worldwide pandemic. It seemed fitting for In Place to be my first ballet with Eugene Ballet, the company that had given me my first professional contract despite the most contrary of circumstances.

Home Is Where the Art Is was designed as a fundraiser program separate from our regular season, with proceeds benefiting the construction of Eugene Ballet's new Midtown Arts Center, opening in early 2021. Split between a small, socially distanced live audience and online viewers, the program marked the company's first attempt to broadcast a live onstage performance. It would also be the first performance at Eugene's Hult Center for the Performing Arts since March. In short, this had to be a success—not only artistically and fiscally, but to prove both organizations' resiliency and preparedness to continue performing safely.

After two and a half weeks of in-studio rehearsals, we took the program to the Hult for spacing and tech runs. Each of us had been completing health checks, wearing masks, sanitizing and distancing for quite some time, so those policies were easy to integrate into backstage procedures. Newer safety precautions included extreme divisions of dancers between dressing rooms (I felt so spoiled—my dressing-room mates and I each had about seven mirrors' worth of space!), hallway traffic patterns designated for company members and stagehands, and marked "safe zones" backstage for dancers who needed to catch their breath, sans mask. And while I've used foundation to pancake my pointe shoes and bodice elastics before, for this performance I had to also pancake the white elastics of my costume's cherry-red face mask to blend in with my jawline. Yet I was much too excited about finally setting foot onstage to really pay attention to the odd novelty of what I was doing.

A male and female dancer face each other onstage wearing red socks, gloves and a masks. The woman, in a red leotard, stands with her feet apart and her arms wide and hands flexed while the man, in a black leotard, lunges toward her on his left foot.

Laubacher with fellow Eugene Ballet dancer Antonio Lopez in Suzanne Haag's In Place.

Courtesy Laubacher

And that excitement was justified. When I first looked out into the empty theater before onstage warm-up class, my world stopped for a moment. Here was the crux of my reality: the culmination of my first professional onstage performance, the months spent desperately wanting to be back in the theater and the sheer uncanniness of pandemic life. I felt a wave of adrenaline, awe and nerves inside me. But as I set my bag down, took my spot at the barre and surveyed the lights, curtains, wings and marley floor, I couldn't ignore that I also felt at home.

And when I finally took my first step onstage with my fellow company members during Saturday night's performance, everything seemed surreal. The mixture of distinct newness and comforting familiarity rocked my system with a feeling I'd never experienced before, and one I don't know I'll ever feel to that extent again. I could sense it from my fellow dancers, too—every wide eye, deep breath and anxious jitter carried a special weight. After all the months of dancing at home, waiting anxiously and struggling to get back in shape, we had made it back to the stage together. We stood in front of an audience that reached beyond the theater walls, and I took my first professional bow in a state of absolute wonderment. This was, for many reasons, the performance of a lifetime.

Latest Posts

Maria Kochetkova. Darian Volkova, Courtesy Kochetkova

Maria Kochetkova on How COVID-19 Affected Her Freelance Career, and Her New Home at Finnish National Ballet

When international star Maria Kochetkova embarked on a freelance career three years ago, she never envisioned how a global pandemic would affect it. In 2018, the Russian-born ballerina left the security of San Francisco Ballet, a company she called home for more than a decade, for the globe-trotting life of a guest star. Before the pandemic, Kochetkova managed her own performing schedule and was busier than ever, enjoying artistic freedom and expanding her creative horizons. This all changed in March 2020, when she saw her booming career—and her jet-setting lifestyle—change almost overnight.

After months of uncertainty, Kochetkova landed at Finnish National Ballet, where she is a principal dancer for the 2020–21 season. Pointe spoke with her about her time during the quarantine and what helped her to get through it, her new life in Helsinki, and what keeps her busy and motivated these days.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
DTH's Alexandra Hutchinson and Derek Brockington work out with trainer Lily Overmyer at Studio IX. Photo by Joel Prouty, Courtesy Hutchinson.

Working Out With DTH’s Alexandra Hutchinson

Despite major pandemic shutdowns in New York City, Alexandra Hutchinson has been HIIT-ing her stride. Between company class with Dance Theater of Harlem and projects like the viral video "Dancing Through Harlem"—which she co-directed with roommate and fellow DTH dancer Derek Brockington—Hutchinson has still found time to cross-train. She shares her motivation behind her killer high-intensity interval training at Studio IX on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

As Ballet Looks Toward Its Future, Let's Talk About Its Troubling Emotional Demands

As a ballet student, I distinctively remember being told that to survive ballet as a profession, one must be exceptionally thick-skinned and resilient. I always assumed it was because of the physically demanding nature of ballet: long rehearsal hours, challenging and stressful performances, and physical pain.

It wasn't until I joined a ballet company that I learned the true meaning behind those words: that the reason one needs thick skin is not because of the physical demands, but because of the unfair and unnecessary emotional demands.

Undoubtedly, emotional and physical strength go hand in hand to some extent. But the kind of emotional demand I am talking about here is different; it is not the strength one finds in oneself in moments of fatigue or unwillingness. It is the strength one must have when being bullied, humiliated, screamed at, manipulated or harassed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks