Surrounded by snow and ice, against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline and the East River, members of a dance group launched into their ballet exercises using a handrail as a makeshift barre.
With the coronavirus still a major threat in New York, and the city’s theaters and venues closed with no return date yet set, some musicians, dancers, and actors are doing their best to continue rehearsing, training, and performing as outdoors, despite winter conditions. .
At this week’s Phoebe Berglund Dance Troupe (PBDT) class, dressed in matching hats, boots, double coats, ballet skirts, and embroidered face masks, professional dancers braved the cold temperatures to train and rehearse a new job on the pier. from Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
Before the pandemic, they trained at the Baryshnikov Center for the Arts in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. But with the venue closed due to the coronavirus, the group has been training outdoors weekly since August, regardless of the weather.
“The waves are crashing, it’s really beautiful,” said choreographer and artist Phoebe Berglund, who wears sealskin pants and a fur hat to keep warm. “The preparations for this weekly meeting are crazy. I have to pay attention to the tides, the wind, the temperature, the lunar cycles, all that. “
Berglund, who was working on a piece for Sadler’s Wells theater in London when the pandemic struck, said she spent the first months of the pandemic working in isolation in her apartment, but found it difficult to connect with dancers at Zoom. For many in the group, weekly rehearsals are their only social interaction.
“When there is so much uncertainty in the world and with our future, it means a lot to me and the dancers that we know we are going to meet, we know that we are going to dance outdoors, we know that this will happen once a week.”
Berglund, who has held artist residencies at New York institutions such as MoMA PS1 and Storm King, said that with so many art spaces closed or no live performances, it’s a huge challenge for performers.
“That’s why we think, ‘Well, we don’t have institutions, we have to build our own institution. So what can we do to keep going? ‘”
They work towards seasonal performances, with music specially composed by musician Joseph Johnson. The choreography changes with the seasons to keep them moving in cold weather.
Johnson, 39, said he has seen many outdoor community performances in Queens of “people sick of being at home, going out and playing together.”
Artists, he added, are trying to find ways to adapt to the pandemic. “I haven’t really seen less culture, it’s just different.”
Despite the proliferation of live broadcasts and remote online presentations and a $ 15 billion federal grant fund for indoor venues across the country, the future of New York’s performance spaces remains uncertain.
Charlotte St Martin, president of the Broadway League, said she hoped Broadway could reopen in the fall, but it would. “They depend on the governor and the technology and security and protection protocols that are available at the time.”
Until November, jazz bassist Alexander Claffy co-conducted an outdoor session at Terremoto Coffee in Chelsea. During the winter, he has continued to perform outdoors and in restaurant windows, as well as on live broadcasts, such as the Keystone Korner in Baltimore and the Smalls jazz club in New York.
“There are so many resources online, but when you’re playing in that little window with some people on the street, people really stop and listen and they’re really in the moment because everyone’s sick of looking at a 12-inch screen,” Claffy said. . 28, who wears gloves and three pairs of socks to play outside.
During the summer, outdoor performances sprang up all over New York, in parks, streets, rooftops, and front doors. Almost a year after the pandemic, with the arrival of spring, outdoor entertainment is expected to increase.
Claffy said: “I have a feeling it will be amazing and there will be all kinds of music outside. And the joy that the musicians are experiencing together right now when they are playing is like nothing. The music just explodes, it’s amazing, because we’re used to playing every night and now we play once a week if we’re lucky. “
Music and dance also offer much needed liberation for those who don’t do it for a living. Documentary editor and producer Joanne Nerenberg, 51, started Dance Walk, a weekly community dance around Prospect Park in Brooklyn, in 2015. But since the pandemic it has taken on a new meaning.
“Moving with other bodies, it definitely feels different and people are very grateful to have that experience that they feel they are missing right now, ”he said.
Caitlin Grace McDonnell, 51, writing teacher and attending poet, said: “People are very isolated and dancing is a great way to be with people.”
She added: “There’s been a real movement in Brooklyn for people playing music on their porches and people coming together to do that or do theater. “
Initiatives aimed at boosting New York’s live entertainment scene include NY PopsUp, a festival of hundreds of performances from February 20 to September, featuring artists such as Q-Tip, Amy Schumer, Hugh Jackman, Billy Porter and Patti. Smith. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed tax credits for New York City theater and music productions. Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio last week announced Open Culture NYC, an initiative to allow ticketed performances on some city streets.
Ballet teacher Kat Wildish, 61, has been teaching weekly classes attended by professionals, including Broadway stars, and recreational dancers in Central Park every Sunday since April. He even has a battery-operated piano for 33-year-old Sean Pallatroni, who accompanies a class of about 20 students live.
Last week they met during a snowstorm. “It’s just beautiful with all the trees with the snow on the branches and it was also beautiful to dance outside … you can’t really point your feet in snow boots, but we tried to do the best possible lines,” Wildish said.
The pandemic, he said, has been a great adjustment for performers to maintain their training and continue to earn a living, often through teaching.
“Unemployment doesn’t pay rent in New York, so they have to find ways… we try to stay as positive as possible because there is a lot of depression in the countryside itself. That we have no theaters to go to, no studios to go to, very few studios. “
They often attract spectators during classes. Later this year, Wildish hopes to hold performances as an outdoor section of Swan Lake. She hopes the pandemic will help make culture more accessible.
“Everyone is out of work and it is necessary that we bring that art back to the city so that everyone knows that this is what we have here, that it has not moved, it is not somewhere else, it is still here,” he said. .
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism