ROCHESTER, NY — The curtain rises up, applause roars, and the orchestra begins as dancers step onto the stage. All over the world theater performances have been put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rochester City Ballet is known for their extravagant performances especially around the holiday season. Every year the company puts on “The Nutcracker” starting around Thanksgiving, but this year the curtain will remain closed.
Every year hundreds of dancers audition to be a part of The Rochester City Ballet. Some travel from all over the world in hopes that they make it in. The audition process can be stressful and very time consuming according to 21-year-old Anna Stewart who auditioned in January.
“I started making my audition video in November of 2019 and it wasn’t ready until January of 2020. On top of making my audition video, I also flew to some auditions to attend in person.” Stewart said.
Stewart was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada and has been dancing since she was three.
“What I love most about ballet is that there is always something to work on. You can never be perfect but there is something about trying to attain perfection that makes me want to work that much harder and keeps the drive going.”
Stewart says she wasn’t nervous to move across the country to join the RCB, because traveling for ballet was normal to her.
“I am pretty used to moving around to follow my dream. I previously lived in Arizona for two years to attend Master Ballet Academy, and then I also moved to Minnesota for a year to dance professionally with the Minnesota Ballet. I was very excited to move here and dance within RCB.”
Click the image to view RCB’s promo video
When the pandemic began, the RCB’s plan was to perform “The Nutcracker” virtually. According to the company’s website, the performance was going to be streamed from Thanksgiving Day until Christmas Eve. However, after performing their first virtual show in October, the dancers were told that they would not be performing at all, not even virtually, until January 2021.
“When I heard about RCB shutting down until the New Year I was so sad because that meant we weren’t going to be able to do the Nutcracker that we’d worked so hard on. It also meant that I couldn’t be in the studio with the rest of the dancers anymore.” Stewart said.
Now Stewart and 15 other dancers are out of jobs and their dreams to dance with the RCB are being put on hold. Stewart explained that she didn’t want to go back home to Nevada and risk having to quarantine there and possibly not be allowed back into New York if the RCB opened up again.
“I feel that most of the dancers are also in the position as I am. It’s really hard to want to do what you love but unable to due to the circumstances. RCB has done a great job of accepting the COVID protocols and allowing us to come back and do as much as we can during these times and I’m so grateful for that.”
Luckily, Stewart is able to stay in Rochester and continue teaching ballet classes at various studios in the area. One of those studios is Platinum Dance Company in Henrietta. Rachel Telisky has owned Platinum for 12 years and explains how COVID-19 has affected dancers.
“Corona has really shook things up for the dance world and when I heard about the RCB shutting down my heart broke. Anna had already been teaching at my studio but I reached out to her and told her if she wanted to do private lessons with some of my kids or open up more classes for her to teach she is more than welcome to do so.” Telisky said.
“I’m so grateful for Rachel and everyone at Platinum for letting me still teach and dance even after the shutdown. I could not imagine not being able to dance even with a pandemic going on.” Steward added.
Holidays without dance is like cookies without milk, still great but missing something. The COVID-19 pandemic has put so many things on pause especially for dancers. But the Rochester City Ballet is set to take the stage this coming January where the curtain will rise again.