From the restaurant industry to the performing arts, the pandemic has changed the way we do business. And although the new contactless approach has its benefits, there can still be a disconnect between the producer and consumer. To close the divide between audience members and performers, the Cincinnati Ballet is offering free digital showings of its The Kaplan New Works Series February 25–28 and March 5–7 on the ballet’s website.
The Kaplan New Works Series consists of five world premieres by choreographers Dana Genshaft and Helen Pickett, as well as by Cincinnati Ballet’s Principal Dancer Melissa Gelfin De-Poli, Corps de Ballet Dancer Taylor Carrasco, and Resident Choreographer Jennifer Archibald.
“It’s exciting to have dance in a new archival format,” Archibald says. “To have dance on film and be able to have shows exposed to everyone around the world and not necessarily people who live down the street is a whole different level of exposure for us as artists.”
Archibald’s Pursuit will be one of the five works presented digitally. Pursuit is a play on the fearlessness and sexual power of madams in the 19th century. “I was asked to do a work about the power of women. I wanted to investigate the women back in time that were the ‘madams of the night’ and how they were the true feminists,” Archibald says. “The play of power and sexuality and the play of power on a financial level was really interesting to me. I took a twist on the women’s suffrage movement and wanted to show something a little bit edgier.”
In 2017, Cincinnati Ballet’s Artistic Director Victoria Morgan appointed Archibald as Resident Choreographer, making her the first woman and woman of color to fill the position. Creating work for the 2020–2021 season looked different for Archibald than it had in years prior.
Although Archibald says that digital performances create a new level of exposure for artists like her, the pandemic has also created a barrier between choreographers and dancers. “Choreographing through COVID has definitely been challenging for a lot of choreographers,” she says. “Many ballet companies are turning their live theater shows into film. For me, I feel disconnected from the dancers. My ability to be able to look at details and nuances stylistically is difficult to see through Zoom. Transmitting energy between myself and the dancers is a very real aspect of my work.”
Because Pursuit was choreographed through video streaming in consideration for Archibald and the dancers’ health, Archibald says it was important for her to go to Cincinnati to see the performance live before it was filmed. “There are a lot of extra things that are involved in the process,” she says. “When I was live in the studio, you could really see some of the details that were lost through Zoom. I had to do some recovery when I had my last moments in the studio with the dancers.”