“The dancer is dying and her arms move with the fluid lightness of a bird on its valedictory flight. Her ebbing life is set to the plaintive score of Saint-Saëns’ The Swan, rendered in the rich, layered music of a cello. ”
This virtual performance may well be a dramatization of the plight of ballet dancers worldwide. The pandemic has resulted in canceled rehearsals and performances, and the closure of theaters. Dancers have been left with no means of support and are struggling to pay for life’s basic necessities.
In an effort to address their situation, a fundraising effort, “Swans for Relief,” has brought artists together, each dancing the iconic “Le Cygne” in their own private spaces.
American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland is the preeminent face of “Swans for Relief” since the launch on May 6. She has been promoting the effort that aims to generate financial assistance for dancers who can no longer depend on a paycheck for food and rent. Copeland, the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer in the 75-year-old company, in an online interview, acknowledged Joseph Phillips as the man who broached the project to her.
Phillips, known as the golden boy of ballet for having won more gold medals from prestigious international ballet competitions than any other American male dancer, got the idea while viewing an online performance of cellists playing the “Dying Swan” together.
Phillips thought, “Why don’t we do this with ballet dancers?” and mentioned it to Ballet Philippines (BP) president Kathleen Liechtenstein, who had sent him the video. Phillips recently joined BP as development officer for international desk and as a guest artist.
The project was born two hours after. He reached out to Copeland, who bought into the idea.
“Originally, I thought we could do this with four or five dancers,” Phillips said during an online interview. “When I told Misty, she said we’ll ask more dancers and see how many we get. It ended up with everyone wanting to do it. People were actually writing us and saying they wanted to be part of it.”
‘We are family’
Copeland and Phillips belie perceptions that dancers are fierce rivals.
“Ballet isn’t all competitive and cutthroat,” said Copeland. “We really are family.” She also talked about the difficulties of others and how hard it was to see the challenges of the younger dancers.
Phillips added: “Everybody is a bit anxious and just sad because as a dancer, you’re so used to being in a studio every single day of your life. I think especially younger dancers feel like it’s all passing by because the first five to six years are just so important in becoming who you want to be and developing who you will be in the dance world.”“We need art in our lives,” Copeland said. “Whenever we’re in times like this, it’s a natural thing to gravitate toward dance and music because it’s healing.”
In a separate release, she said: “Art brings people together to provide a beautiful escape, and ballet in particular is a very unifying experience both on and off the stage, filled with history and imagination.
“The theater thrives on people coming together to experience a performance. Because of the coronavirus, the livelihood and careers of dancers are in jeopardy, and this will continue to have massive effects even after we start to reopen our cities.”
Copeland did all the coordination with the artists while Phillips worked on the submitted clips, editing everything seamlessly into the final video.
“I had to do it because we dance on the music,” said Phillips. “You have to know the steps, the sequence.”
The result was uploaded online and brings together established dancers with younger artists performing to the accompaniment of world-renowned cellist Wade Davis.
Performers include Phillips’ wife Denise Parungao and Jemima Reyes, both from BP.—CONTRIBUTED INQ
The virtual performance can be viewed at www.GoFundMe.com/SwansForRelief.
All donations will be distributed to the artists’ respective dance companies or other arts/dance-based relief efforts.