When Colorado Ballet’s company dancers walked into the Lone Tree Arts Center last Thursday, it was the first time they had set foot in a theatre in over a year.
“We all got a little teary eyed about it,” said Gil Boggs, the company’s artistic director, “and very emotional, that we were able to walk into a theater and do what it is that we do.”
They were there for a rehearsal of Through It All, the company’s first live performance since March of last year. It’s a mix of classical and contemporary works performed for a limited in-person audience — 137 patrons in a 500-seat venue — as well as a virtual one.
Boggs said the show was named to represent this last, difficult year: Through It All, as in, “We’re trying to get through it all.” The journey to a live performance hadn’t been easy for the company. Last fall, Colorado Ballet made the difficult decision to furlough its dancers and has had to delay its season multiple times.
Through all of the uncertainty, Colorado Ballet’s dancers kept dancing.
Ballet is an athletic art form, so much so that dancers have to stay in impeccable shape even during the offseason. For principal dancer Yosvani Ramos, the off-season started in March of last year and didn’t end until January 2021, when the furloughs ended. In the interim, Ramos had to find creative ways to stay in dancing shape. He rented a studio space, and practiced there.
There were further complications. His left ankle had been bothering him for a few years, echoes of countless ankle sprains from over his 32-year career.
“Injuries are part of this job that we do,” Ramos said. “As dancers, we never want to take time off.”
Instead, when he sprained his ankle, he’d maybe take a few days off before he inevitably had to dance. He’d take anti-inflammatories, wrap his ankle, warm it up really well, and perform.
In early December, Ramos underwent an arthroscopic procedure, his third ankle surgery in four years. Previously, he’d torn his Achilles tendon and his meniscus.
“Everybody at the hospital knows me,” he said. “The trainers, the doctors and nurses.”
Such injuries are common in ballet, considering the athleticism of the artform. And it can be difficult to get back to dancing, to build back strength in the muscles.
“You have to start from the beginning and rebuild everything again,” Ramos said. Luckily, he knows the score by now. “I become so efficient at recovering from a surgery.”
The company began rehearsing for Through It All in January via Zoom, to allow time to get everyone tested for COVID and to make a safety protocol plan for in-person rehearsals.
After a couple of weeks of trying to teach ballet choreography over Zoom (“It is miserable,” Boggs said), they moved into Colorado Ballet’s rehearsal studio. It was the first time they’d had the chance to dance together since last March.
“The building just came to life,” Boggs said. “Everybody was excited to be back to work. They were excited about rehearsals, the opportunity to perform.”
That’s not to say it was a big family reunion. To enforce social distancing, the company split the dancers into three performance pods, each of which rehearsed in a different studio and learned choreography from a different ballet master. The dancers were asked to stay strictly in their own group of about ten and not interact with anyone from the other pods.
“The first couple of days, people struggled not saying hi to each other and not wanting to talk to each other,” Boggs said. “There was just great excitement.”
Even within the pods, only some dancers were allowed to dance together. To maintain social distance between the performers, all of Through It All‘s acts will be either solos or pas de deux (duets) between dancers who live together. A surprising number of dancers do live together. Boggs said a lot of company performers are dating and that about six couples will dance together in the show.
Ramos initially was not placed in a pair. His usual dance partner, he said, had young children, and was reluctant to expose herself and her family by extension to an entire pod of dancers. In February, the company arranged for her to come back to work and to dance with Ramos in their own isolated pod.
They started rehearsing together in February. Ramos said it was the first time he’d danced with a partner in over a year. Because they knew each other so well, it wasn’t hard to get back into it, like riding a bicycle, he said.
Still, Ramos hadn’t lifted anyone in over a year. He’d lifted weights, but it wasn’t the same as dancing for eight to ten minutes, running around and throwing a person in the air. He said it took some time before he could lift his partner with the ease he did before COVID and that his back was sore for a few weeks.
“When you don’t exercise for a while and you go back to the gym, the first few days you’re gonna be in pain,” Ramos said. “Everything’s gonna hurt. It was kind of the same.”
Now, Ramos feels ready and excited to perform. It’s been four months since his ankle surgery and he feels almost back to normal. He said he’s grateful for the opportunity to dance before a live audience again.
“Never take anything for granted, because it can just be gone like that,” Ramos said. “I know this because of all the injuries and I’ve had. I have had injuries that could have been career-ending. So I’m always very grateful for everything.”
Boggs said it’s exciting for the company to get to perform in front of a live audience, even if it’s a smaller one than they’re accustomed to.
“It’s going to be very emotional for everybody, he said. “This is what we all train for, as dancers, and it’s what we rehearse for, and what we live for, is to perform.”
Through It All runs Saturdays and Sundays, April 10-18. Tickets can be found on Colorado Ballet’s website.