The Miami City Ballet begins its season opener on Friday, February 11 after flipping and canceling one of them during the pandemic Nutcracker performances in December.
Swan LakeComposed in 1875 by Tchaikovsky, it will be the largest production in the history of the Miami City Ballet and the North American premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s staging.
“It will be very enriching for us,” says Nathalia Arthja, a principal dancer who plays in the Odette/Odile production. “It’s quite a victory that we’re performing this very special classical ballet in what feels like a war zone.”
And it was a war zone.
As the coronavirus spread worldwide in March 2020, the company sent its dancers home just as it prepared to open the final program of the season. Don Quixote. The following season (2020-21) was subsequently scrapped and revised to be performed outdoors and online. Up until last summer, most of the company’s classes and rehearsals were held virtually.
“Dancing between the kitchen and the living room wasn’t ideal,” says Arthja. “My neighbor said she felt like she knew ballet because she could hear my classes every day.”
The dancers weren’t the only ones affected. At first, the costume department was busy making masks for dancers, donors, and community organizations like Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
“Looking back on that time is dizzy, but it really made us feel like we were doing something relevant and important,” says costume director Eleanor Wolfe. “It kept us busy until we could get back to the costumes.”
Wolfe’s staff — four seamstresses and a wardrobe master — were temporarily laid off for about two months in the summer of 2020. But by the following September, they had already started work Swan Lake Costumes designed by Jérôme Kaplan. There are over 200.
“This is by far the largest production the Miami City Ballet has ever done,” notes Wolfe. The cast consists of more than 50 dancers, including company members, students and extras. “It’s honestly the biggest production we’ve done could to do.”
Wolfe says her favorite costumes are white swan costumes.
“There’s a moment where they all run in a circle the size of the stage. I call it the Swan Hurricane,” she says. “It’s just a beautiful set.”
With the excitement of starting a personal season comes a certain level of uncertainty.
The company returned home and personally to the Arsht Center The Nutcracker in December but canceled its December 26 performance after a production member tested positive. Some rehearsals for Swan Lake Early January was also canceled due to cases among dancers.
“It’s difficult to navigate here,” says Amber Dorsky, the company’s director of public relations and communications. “Hosting a gig is already filled with stress and last minute cast changes, injuries or stage disruptions. Add to that the worry of our dancers getting sick and it’s an extra challenge. What we want more than anything is to be able to perform confidently.”
Although the dancers are tested daily, have to be vaccinated and remain masked during rehearsals, Arthja says the virus is always on their minds.
“Every time I walk in after the weekend, I think will i be positive“, she says. “There’s a whole layer that we think about that the audience might not think about. It adds a layer of stress.”
On top of that, says Arthja Swan Lake is the most challenging role she has ever played, technically and emotionally.
“With every step you show an emotion. Dancing is part of acting,” she explains. “We hope audiences will feel the excitement and joy of this tough ballet. We hope it moves as much as we do when we dance it.”
The Miami City Ballet Swan Lake. 7:30 p.m. Friday, February 11 and Saturday, February 12 and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, February 12 and Sunday, February 13 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; asshtcenter.org. Tickets range from $37 to $120.