First Up: This Is Who We Are
A Conversation with Executive and Artistic Director Gen Horiuchi
By Valerie Miller
October 16, 2020
When Covid-19 emerged earlier this year, life as we knew it as performers and artists reliant on in-person connection and communication was turned upside-down. At moments the challenges seemed almost insurmountable. However, the outpouring of love and support from our donors, subscribers, students and families provided us with the courage and resources to forge ahead. SLB Artistic Director Gen Horiuchi worked tirelessly with the Board and staff to envision what might be possible this season. Following are some of Horiuchi’s thoughts about navigating the pandemic and creating art in our new reality.
VM: The dancers were furloughed two weeks prior to their contract ending. At that time, we didn’t know if we would have the resources to bring them back this fall, nor did we know if it would be safe to do so. What considerations went into your decision to bring the dancers back into the studios?
Horiuchi: First and foremost, we are so fortunate to live in an amazing city that values the arts. Without the support of the St. Louis community, we wouldn’t be here. So I am grateful beyond words for the support we continue to receive.
Ballet dancers must train on a continual basis in order to preserve their bodies and technique. During the stay-at-home period, before we knew what would be possible, I provided virtual company class weekly to maintain their training and also to encourage them to keep dancing. And it is also important to have a goal. After our campaign Dancers First launched with so many people willing to help us, we considered various financial and artistic scenarios and decided that we could bring the dancers back and start small with a virtual performance of solos and pas de deux. We decided to present streaming performances this fall and winter so that our dancers have something to look forward to and work on during the short term.
How are you protecting your company members?
In daily class and rehearsal we are following the CDC and St. Louis County guidelines. We temperature-check, adhere to social distancing and have only 3-6 dancers in a studio at a time; the rest Zoom in. We spread our classes and rehearsal times throughout the day and use all four studios. The dancers wear masks, even while rehearsing. It really isn’t easy. But that’s how dedicated our artists are to their art form.
What are the challenges of creating programming for the virtual space?
These elegant pieces will be filmed, and I certainly keep that in mind, but it doesn’t necessarily change my approach to the choreography. We are using three cameras to film This Is Who We Are, which allows for more angles, close-ups, and creative shots. My hope is to provide a sense of intimacy for the viewer. I am excited to see how the collaboration between choreographer, dancers and filmmaker evolves. Our videographer, Elliott Geolat, is also a dancer, and he and his partner Christopher Gibbs have been filming our performances for 10 years. They are both very knowledgeable about ballet performance.
How did you decide on the title, This Is Who We Are?
The pandemic has actually provided an opportunity to work one-on-one with the dancers and we have established such a wonderful trust and rapport! It’s been a luxury because usually we are working with larger ensembles. I have truly enjoyed and treasured our rehearsals. I think the dancers feel the same.
As I was contemplating this piece, I thought, what a wonderful opportunity to uncover the special individual movement and personal qualities embodied by our company members. We are including a smattering of interviews with the performers, so the audience will come away with a sense of who the dancers are – thus the title.
Finally, I have always wanted to create something to Bach’s French Suites and the music is perfectly suited to the concept of the piece.
Why is it important to present a season this year? With so many logistical and financial challenges, why not just take a year off?
Our Board, staff, supporters and dancers have worked very, very hard over many years to build support for ballet in St. Louis. We honor that dedication and so even when I wasn’t sure about the finances, I really didn’t give much thought to not having a season. I knew that somehow, we must keep moving forward and I had faith that the St. Louis community would come through. We are so grateful that has been the result! Even with no ticket sales in the near future, the support has made a season possible.
Also - this is our dancers’ livelihood! If we could not provide employment for these wonderful artists they would have likely gone to companies in other cities. That would have been a terrible loss for our city – Saint Louis Ballet dancers are an amazing resource for studios and schools throughout the metropolitan region.
When artists are faced with challenges, creativity is often the result – we are natural problem solvers. I also feel strongly that it is the responsibility of arts organizations to support their artists and their audiences to stay vital and relevant during difficult times. I especially want to thank our Board, led by President Tom Voss, for their faith in our organization’s ability to weather this crisis. And I hope everyone enjoys the new work!
This is Who We Are
Saturday, October 24, 2020 at 7:30 pm
Streaming until October 27th.
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