The COVID-19 pandemic isn't stopping the Fort Wayne Ballet from helping train a new generation of dancers with its Summer Intensive program.
The program is wrapping up its third of four weeks with students mostly ranging from 12 to 15. A few other students as old as 21 are auditioning to join the local organization.
Artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown says the Ballet wasn't sure it was going to be able to do the program this year because of the pandemic, but 42 students came to the city to learn from local and visiting instructors. She was able to travel around the country to audition dancers for the program before the pandemic hit the U.S.
The program usually takes up to 60 students but capacity was reduced this year. Gibbons-Brown says about three-quarters of students are usually from outside Fort Wayne, but this year only about one-third are from out of state.
Instead of students being housed in dormitories, they are being hosted by local professional dancers or staying with family members who traveled with them. Floors are marked to help people maintain social distance, and dancers and instructors are wearing masks. There are no partnered dances this year and the Ballet's rooms in Auer Center for Arts and Culture are being wiped down between each class.
Some students are also taking advantage of virtual classes if they were not able to be at the program in person.
Students take five classes a day Monday through Friday and one on Saturday. There are also several rehearsals each week. Classes include a variety of dance styles including ballet, jazz and modern, as well as other subjects such as history, nutrition and health.
Gibbons-Brown says programs like this are important because dancers can make tremendous progress.
“When you do summer study, quite often you can progress close to a year in that intensive situation,” she says.
Sometimes young dancers can also feel a bit isolated from their friends at school who maybe don't understand the commitment it takes, Gibbons-Brown says. This program helps them connect with people who enjoy dance as much as they do.
The students will perform a showcase at 10 a.m. July 31 at Arts United Center. Tickets start at $15 and are available at ArtTix.org or by calling 260-422-4226.
The showcase will include a variety of dance styles the students have been studying and sections of ballets such as Gerald Arpino's “Birthday Variations.”
Instructors for the Summer Intensive include Cameron Basden of the Gerald Arpino Foundation. As a repetitieur for the foundation, Basden is allowed to change the staging of “Birthday Variations” so dancers do not touch.
Other instructors include dancer Jane Lanier, choreographer David Ingram, Arpino Foundation repetitieur Kim Sagami and members of the Fort Wayne Ballet faculty.
The Ballet is the first group to use Arts United Center's theater for a public performance under new pandemic protocols. Gibbons-Brown says conversations about using the space have included traffic flow and ways to set up the backstage area to maintain safe distances. With social distancing restrictions for the audience, the theater will be able to seat up to 162 people. It has 660 seats at full capacity.
Gibbons-Brown is proud of the Ballet's Summer Intensive, which has gained national and international recognition.
“I really enjoy this program,” she says, adding that it gives students a look at what the life of a dancer is really like. “It's like a major dance camp, but it's a really professionally oriented program.”
As for what is ahead for the Ballet, Gibbons-Brown says the organization is determined to have a season and its company of dancers is eager to get started.
Details of the season will be announced in the weeks ahead. A kickoff event for the Ballet's 64th season is planned for 7 p.m. Aug. 27 at the outdoor pavilion at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Tickets are available at ArtTix.org.