Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, faces a new stranger. It’s a fear she never had. And it emphasizes them.
“I just hope they don’t close us at the last minute,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, she wondered what it was like to run a ballet company in London during the Blitz. Against the odds of a pandemic, the company will be unveiling its revamped production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker this month. Usually, Ms. Lopez said, her worries would be more like: will the costumes be ready? Will an injured dancer recover in time to perform?
Now she is thinking about the backstage choreography of the crew and the dancers, since masks are not worn during performances. “We have to make sure that nobody is in this wing when they leave,” she said. “We have to find out what to do with masks until the last moment.”
“The Nutcracker” is more than a popular vacation staple. For ballet companies across the country, it’s a financial lifeline that supports the repertoire for the rest of the year. This year, most of the productions have been relegated to virtual offerings, but Miami has something that some other cities like New York don’t have: warm weather on the holidays.
The company’s production of the 1954 classic by Balanchine already shows an abundance of colors and warmth. In 2017 it was redesigned in Miami with designs and costumes by Isabel and Ruben Toledo and projections by Wendall K. Harrington. (Details include dazzling pastel dots on the Sugarplum Fairy’s tutu and a pineapple throne.)
And now it is being overhauled again for the outdoors. The ballet, titled “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker in the Park,” is performed outside in Downtown Doral Park and features a combination of live action and new digital animation by Ms. Harrington and new artwork by Mr. Toledo. (Isabel, the fashion designer who created her imaginative costumes, died last year.)
The Miami City Ballet’s production, as Ms. Lopez noted, is a real community effort. “Think of a hospital, a government agency, a real estate investment firm, and a ballet firm that somehow come to the table,” she said. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought of it.”
She hadn’t planned this to happen. “It’s not because I’m a visionary,” said Ms. Lopez. “It was just opportunities that came up and, frankly, they came from a ‘What can we do? ‘It’s so dark out there and it’s our – or mine – responsibility to figure something out for the dancers and the audience. “
It was Ms. Harrington who suggested to Ms. Lopez over the summer that the company present a “Nutcracker”. Their idea was to beam it on electronic billboards in Florida. “It would be for the people because I’m an old hippie,” said Ms. Harrington. “Needless to say, it wasn’t possible because it would have been free.”
But she insisted. “I mean, I’m not like the biggest fan of ‘The Nutcracker’ in the world, but I know about its healing effects,” she said. “And now we need a little Christmas, as the song says.”
When she heard they could use an outside space, things started to come together. The Doral Park, where the ballet is performed, is part of a mixed-use development by Codina Partners, whose executive director is Ana-Marie Codina Barlick, a former president of the Miami City Ballet Board. “We have a large residential component,” said Ms. Codina Barlick. “So we’re literally giving them a unit to wash tights with a washer and dryer between shows.”
The company has partnered with a health partner, Baptist Health South Florida, and adheres to a rigorous testing and safety protocol. Masked spectators sit in socially distant pods, each of which offers space for up to four people. The break has been shortened to five minutes – more of a break – and the idea is to get people in and out efficiently.
Ms. Lopez attributed early action the Miami City Ballet organization took when the coronavirus forced a shutdown in March. A Covid Task Force was quickly formed, which resulted in an industrial hygienist being hired to examine the studios for safety.
“They gave us an 82-page report,” she said. “The nice thing about it is that they were able to use the room dimensions and the calculations from the air flow to determine how many dancers, students or individuals can safely train in a studio or in an office.”
Ms. Lopez was able to hold the school’s summer course for five weeks in July – a personal indoor program for 100 students. “We bit our nails because Florida was a fiery state in July,” she said. “And we haven’t had a single case in those five weeks. We sent the staff home. You couldn’t get into the building if you weren’t part of the school or faculty.
“And so there was a real feeling that we could do this, that we knew how to do it safely in the building. That’s how it really started. “
As Downtown Doral Park became available, Ms. Harrington refocused her thinking. The new idea was to recreate the ballet with additional projections to compensate for fewer dancers on stage. The roles of children, who normally play a prominent role in Act 1, have been scaled back significantly. Together with Marie and the Prince, Act 2 shows eight children in the variant “Hoops or the Candy Cane”. and eight polichinelles emerging from under Mother Ginger’s skirt.
“I had to look through the ballet and figure out how to continue storytelling without the number of people you want on the party scene and fight scene and try to glue it all together,” Ms. Harrington said. “I recorded the scenery and incorporated it into projections.”
A big change is an overture after Act 2 instead of the small children who normally play angels. To do this, she created a trip from the snow scene that ends Act 1 to the beach “because it’s Miami,” Ms. Harrington said. “I wanted to do this for the show anyway because I’m distracted by Act 2. I am a theater person. I always try to connect the dots. “
She was always amazed at the sudden change in environment, from the snow scene in Act 1 to the tropical candy land in Act 2. “It was snowy and now there’s a pineapple on stage,” she said. “How did you get there? I’m confused! Look, it’s the Nutcracker too – it’s very 19th century in its style. And we updated it with Ruben and Isabel’s beautiful designs. So it was mine.” Reach to fill the gaps. “
For this outdoor version, Mr. Toledo “built some new frames,” she said. “It’s a little trippy. Ruben made a gorgeous watercolor beach. “
In his pictures, said Mr Toledo, Marie and the Prince “float south on a flock of migratory birds that form a magical, spinning spiral vortex tunnel that turns into angels, orchids, tropical fruits, dolphins and more,” he added ” Deliver us to the soft, sandy front of Miami Beach. “
Rehearsals took place in the mornings and afternoons to prepare for the dancers’ performance. For security reasons, the 50-person company was split into two parts. But before anything started, Ms. Lopez suggested the idea to the dancers and said to them: “I can only do this if I have all of you support, because we are all responsible for one another. So think about it. ‘But they – and dancers everywhere – understand that time is not their friend. “
The director Katia Carranza, who will dance the Sugarplum Fairy, will not lose that. The pandemic has given her a new sense of gratitude for her job. “We value three things in being in the studios and rehearsing and having these experiences,” she said. “I know we may feel like we’ve lost a year of dancing, but I try to take it like I’ve learned other things. I have the opportunity to teach online. I have the opportunity to be with myself. We have to see it that way. “
Of course, changes in thinking are necessary at the moment. Ms. Lopez said she had no idea what Balanchine, who she danced for with the New York Ballet, would think of her outdoor version of his classic. “I would hope he says, ‘Good for you: you give hope to your dancers, you bring hope to people for Christmas, you make it as safe as possible.'”
But it is Mrs. Toledo who is really on her mind. Last December, Ms. Lopez visited a memorial to her in New York. The program was tied with a piece of red string. Mrs Lopez kept it in her office. “When that ‘nutcracker’ happened I opened the door and some papers flew out of my office and one of them was the one with the red string,” she said. “I figured I just need something from her, so I wrapped this red cord around my wrist. In all honesty, the idea of being able to do this for her is another driving force for me, more than Balanchine. “
It is clear that this is more than just another show. Ms. Harrington, who lives in Washingtonville, NY, cancels her Christmas plans with her family. She won’t have enough time to quarantine after her trip to Miami.
However, since it was primarily her idea, she said she was fine “taking one for the team”. And the way she sees it, dance is the body.
“It’s in the room with it,” she said. “So I felt this could be a thrill. I hope i am right. I believe in theater and the arts like other people believe in God, and I just need that to happen. I didn’t care if I did. I only needed it to happen. “