Participating in summer intensive programs has long been critical to dancers' advancement—whether still refining their technique or gearing up to make the leap to pre-professional. But amid the coronavirus pandemic and the disruption it has had on dancers' training around the world (which for many has meant months long Zoom classes from home), there's a new level of importance placed on the specialized approach of a summer intensive. Yes, dancers are eager to get back to in-person training, but doing so in a safe environment is of the utmost importance.
Orlando Ballet School (the official school of Orlando Ballet) has been leading the way when it comes to developing successful COVID safety measures without compromising on the quality of training. Working with Orlando health officials, faculty members, and the dancers themselves, school director Phillip Broomhead proudly notes that Orlando Ballet School safely held its in-person summer intensive last year, while the company maintained its full 2020–21 season.
"As dancers, we've always said in the studio, 'You make it happen,'" says principal company and academy teacher Yan Chen, who has been with Orlando Ballet since 1993. "And that's exactly what we did during this pandemic—we figured it out and we made it happen." Here's how Orlando Ballet School created its COVID-safe intensive, and how dancers can still earn a spot for summer 2021.
"I have a couple of different schedules out for the summer because of COVID policies and procedures," explains Broomhead of Orlando Ballet School's commitment to adhering to CDC guidelines. Currently, the school has developed two in-person programs (a two-week and a five-week intensive for women and men), as well as a two-week virtual course for students ages 11 and up. Both in-person intensives follow the same format, with classes held from 10 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, and half days on Saturday.
"They'll have conditioning first, which is anything from Pilates to floor barre or Progressing Ballet Technique with the Bosu balls," says Broomhead, who notes that the staff will be working closely with students on an individual level to avoid injury as they readjust to in-person training. "We want to make this a welcoming place for dancers, and our goal is to be able to help as much as we can to get them back in the studio," adds Chen.
After classes in ballet technique and pointe (or men's class), students will work on a mix of classical solos and repertoire, pas de deux, and a lesson in either contemporary, modern, hip-hop, African or character dance.
"Last year we also started to do extracurricular lessons in costume design with the dancers," Broomhead says of the intensive's comprehensive offerings. "This year I'm expanding that to theatrical design, which includes the stage setting and lighting. There will also be a choreographic workshop element for any interested dancers," says Broomhead, who notes the importance of introducing dancers to every element of the ballet from a young age.
Courtesy Orlando Ballet School
World-Class Faculty and Facilities
In addition to Chen, who formerly danced with American Ballet Theatre and The Washington Ballet, Orlando Ballet's summer intensive includes full-time and guest faculty from companies all over the world, across various styles of dance—something that second company member Kenna Gold notes is particularly advantageous. "I really enjoyed all of my teachers," says Gold, who attended the intensive from 2018 to 2020.
The 2021 intensive faculty roster will also include choreographer and director Jorden Morris, who is a former principal dancer of Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Morris' Peter Pan was most recently performed by Orlando Ballet earlier this month, while performances of his Moulin Rouge took place last winter.
"If you're seeking a position either in the academy or the second company, it's a great way to get a feel for what the program is like," Gold adds. "My first summer, I learned some pieces of the company repertoire, which helped me see what they were looking for and what kind of rep you might do as a trainee or a second company member."
Broomhead notes that he and artistic director Robert Hill (formerly a principal with American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and The Royal Ballet) will be looking to invite dancers from this year's summer intensive into Orlando Ballet's trainee and second company programs.
Another highlight for the dancers (and Orlando Ballet's staff) is the newly constructed Harriet's Orlando Ballet Centre. Officially opened in January 2020, HOBC's spacious studios allow students to maintain proper distance from one another throughout class. It also allowed the faculty to get creative and hold a COVID-safe showcase for last summer's intensive students by transforming one of its studios into a theater—complete with wings. "Being able to move and travel in the studio after being confined to a living room for months was so liberating," Gold shares.
Courtesy Orlando Ballet School
CDC-Compliant COVID Regulations
Orlando Ballet Orlando Ballet was one of the first schools in the nation to be able to offer its summer intensive in person, and the school and company continue to work with Orlando health officials to ensure that their safety measures are in line with the CDC's latest guidelines. COVID testing is done weekly, and students are grouped according to their levels into pods that are then assigned one studio for the whole day.
"It starts with temperature checks before students even enter the building," says Broomhead, who notes that completing COVID safety questionnaires and wearing masks are also requirements. "When the students get to the studio, they'll find that it has been marked off around the room in six-feet increments, so they can put their bags down in one of those segments and go from there." Orlando Ballet's policies, which rely largely on the cooperation of the dancers, also include walking the hallways single-file and using hand sanitizer before and after class.
"The building is cleaned and sanitized multiple times throughout the day, so that makes us all feel very safe," shares Gold. "We even completed a full season at Orlando Ballet—obviously, it didn't look the same as it has in previous seasons, but we did every performance in a theater, and we all feel very grateful for that."
Orlando Ballet School will be accepting video audition submissions through May 15.