Britain’s Christmas ballet season is in jeopardy unless the government steps in to help dance companies ride out the coronavirus crisis, the artistic director of one of the country’s top ballet corps said.
The most stringent lockdown in peacetime history has left theatres, opera houses and ballet companies without an audience for months, while top ballerinas, used to up to 8 hours of training per day, have struggled to leap and twirl at home.
The English National Ballet, which recently moved to a new 93,000 square foot Bauhaus-style headquarters in east London, said it urgently needed state support to ensure the performing arts industry could survive.
“We have no income,” Tamara Rojo, 46, a prima ballerina who became artistic director of English National Ballet, told Reuters. “The creative industries and the performing arts bring billions to the economy, so we are not asking for help forever – just to get back to normal.
“Unless something happens soon, there will be no Christmas shows – Christmas will have to be cancelled,” said Rojo, a Spanish dancer who was famous for her dazzling fouettes.
The English National Ballet has furloughed 87% of its staff and asked people to take pay cuts of 20%.
With a 2-metre coronavirus social distancing rule, a 2,500-seat theatre can hold just 600 people. With a 1-metre rule, it can hold 900 people. At both levels, any production would be unprofitable.
“Performing to a very reduced audience doesn’t make financial sense, so unless there is support from government to do so it is going to be very difficult to have live performances for families at Christmas time,” said Rojo, who hopes to have a production of Nutcracker in December.
Rojo said the government should extend the furlough and job retention scheme for workers to prevent staff cuts across the industry, look at theatre tax relief and recapitalise the sector.
“We have used all of our capital, all of our reserves to survive this long,” said Rojo, who has been leading free ballet classes from her kitchen during the lockdown.
“It takes between 6 and 8 hours a day of training and rehearsal to be at your peak performance,” Rojo said. “But there is only so much you can do in your kitchen.”
She hopes to bring dancers back on July 6, but it will take 12 weeks for them to regain their strength.
Rojo had been planning to choreograph her first production – an adaptation of Raymonda.