Arts & Entertainment, Features

Boston Ballet keeps dancing with virtual ‘[email protected]’ program

Attending a show of the acclaimed Boston Ballet was a favorite, classy night-out for Bostonians prior to the pandemic. Now, through the “[email protected]” program, ballet lovers have a new take-home experience.

The Boston Ballet is offering a streamed “Look Back, Focus Forward” performance and a monthly at-home studio program to virtual audiences this year in place of its usual in-person productions. LAURYN ALLEN/ DFP FILE

While nearly all live performances are on hold, [email protected] gives new audiences the opportunity to discover dancers’ talent and be entertained — at a time when the industry demands creativity.

The studio program, which started in November and ends in April, runs a new hour-long program each month. The “Look Back, Focus Forward” performance joined in its first ever virtual season Jan. 21, and will be available until the end of the month.

The event kicked off the Ballet’s 2021 year with a virtual journey through the Ballet’s rich past and the excitement of the dancers’ futures.

January’s virtual performance included memorable performances from the company’s past, footage of the dancers on tour and intimate conversations with the performers. It also features ballets from Russian choreographer, Leonid Yakobson.

Jill Goddard, director of public relations and communications at the Boston Ballet, said the virtual experience, while not ideal, has been a very rewarding way to keep dancing.

“We’re really happy,” Goddard said. “Obviously we’d much rather be in person in the theater, but … we’ve been able to adapt to this model.”

Goddard said the Ballet has a taskforce dedicated to making sure dancers are brought back to the studio in a safe way, with necessary COVID-19 protocols.

“We’ve been very fortunate that all of our dancers have been able to return safely,” Goddard said. “We haven’t had any instances of COVID in the studios.”

Though the financial challenges of the pandemic are significant, given that the majority of its profits come from ticket sales, the Ballet has survived because of the generosity of its donors and patrons, Goaddard said.

Virtual entertainment has allowed the Ballet to make up some of the money it has lost by offering a 2021 subscription to all four monthly programs. On its website, viewers can find a free preview with six short videos.

Goddard said the virtual program has also allowed the Ballet to reach a broader audience.

“The advantage to [email protected] is it’s more accessible than ever before,” she said. “There are people who just physically can never come to the theater, so now there’s programs available to them, which is great.”

Additionally, the program’s format allows the Ballet to incorporate audience feedback as the season goes on, whereas in a normal year the program would be more fully formed.

“We are able to say ‘Okay, our audience is telling us they want longer clips, closer shots, less talking, more dancing,’” Goddard said, “and we’re able to, in real time, incorporate that feedback to make the program as enjoyable as possible.”

She added the leadership team is discussing and considering continuing digital performances post-pandemic.

Tyson Ali Clark, of Somerville, joined the Ballet in 2017. He said one of the elements he looks forward to at the Ballet is working with new and old choreographers.

He describes the dances as “very versatile.”

“We’re doing all different types of ballets,” Clark said. “You’re getting a mix of all styles and ballets.”

For Clark, the best part about the [email protected] series is being able to watch it with his family, instead of only seeing them once the performance is over.

“The whole time that we’re performing, we always see them after the show,” Clark said. “It was really great to see their expressions [and] reactions as I’m dancing.”

Professionals outside of the Ballet recognize the company’s strides during the pandemic, including Micki Taylor-Pinney, the director of the Boston University Dance Program.

“I applaud Boston Ballet’s efforts to bring their dancers back into the studio,” Taylor-Pinney wrote in an email, “to give new choreographers an opportunity to make work, and to find ways to reach audiences, the established and the uninitiated, using social media platforms.”

Taylor-Pinney wrote that the pandemic has had a large impact on the dance community — which she has seen personally at BU — and it requires redefining, like [email protected]

“The loss of personal connection, instructor to student, student to student, performer to audience, has been felt physically, emotionally, and monetarily,” Taylor-Pinney wrote. “We’d had to look for what is possible and what we can re-work to keep us all dancing.”

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