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Christine Shevchenko dances in the American Ballet Theatre’s performance of “Giselle” at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. She is one of three people behind A Night at the Ballet, featuring top American dancers performing classical and contemporary ballet excerpts for a streaming audience. Photo: Getty Images

To keep dance alive amid lockdowns, a free streaming of ballet favourites has Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker excerpts, and more

  • Former ballerina Melanie Hamrick and friends treat ballet-starved fans to performances by dancers from top American companies of excerpts from classical ballets
  • Hamrick has spent most of the pandemic in Europe with her partner, Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, and their four-year-old son

Of all the artists whose livelihoods have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, dancers have been among those hit hardest.

They depend on a live audience to do their work, of course, and most live pay cheque to pay cheque. As the months have gone by, dancers have worked hard to stay relevant, busy, in shape – and ready to jump back in when it’s safe again.

Enter Melanie Hamrick. The former ballerina at American Ballet Theatre (ABT) – she retired in 2019 after 15 years in the company – has spent most of the year in Europe with her partner, Mick Jagger, and their four-year-old son, Devereaux.

She made a video in June featuring Royal Ballet dancers performing in empty streets to the recent Rolling Stones song Living in a Ghost Town. But she wanted to find a project that would employ not only dancers but the crews and technical staff that work with them.

Former ballerina Melanie Hamrick (right) with young dancers at the 2019 Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest ballet scholarship competition, in New York. Photo: AP

The result is A Night at the Ballet, a free streaming event that premieres on Thursday and was produced by Live Arts Global, founded by Hamrick and her partners, Christine Shevchenko (a principal dancer at ABT) and Joanna DeFelice.

The event, filmed in a small New York theatre, will treat ballet-starved fans to performances by dancers from America’s top companies in excerpts of classical ballets like Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker and Don Quixote, as well as contemporary gems like After The Rain by Christopher Wheeldon.

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“Our mission is just to give work to dancers, stage crew, tech and lighting [people] – everyone. And find a way to keep the arts alive while giving people jobs at the same time. Also giving back to our audiences – we don’t want to lose our audiences,” says Hamrick.

“Art will always come back, and dance will always come back. It’s just a waiting game.”

Hamrick discussed the project, and her hopes for the dance world, ahead of Thursday’s premiere.

Hamrick (left) and her partner Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones in London. Photo: J. Almasi/GC Images

Q: What gave you the idea for A Night at the Ballet?

Hamrick: We did the Ghost Light video with dancers from Royal Ballet, and it was so nice to see them excited and smiling and having a project and a focus. But that was really just the dancers, and we thought, how can we help everybody in this live arts world?

And I felt it would be really nice if we did some classical ballet. We miss that because it’s harder to do remotely. I’m excited to see the dancers’ faces after running a pas de deux, or how excited the audience will be to see some of the classics they’ve been missing.

Ballet dancer Christine Shevchenko is co-founder of Live Arts Global with Hamrick and Joanna DeFelice. Photo: FilmMagic

Q: Unlike some streaming events, you’re not charging viewers.

Hamrick: No. We’re going to stream to our web page or you can view it on YouTube. I thought it would be nice just to give something for free.

Of course, donations are welcome, because that’s going to help the artists. Anything left will be distributed to different dancers’ funds across the United States.

The Royal Ballet’s production of “Don Quixote” at The Royal Opera House in London. Photo: Corbis via Getty Images

Q: It’s been such a difficult time for the dance world, and for the arts as a whole. American Ballet Theatre just had to cancel its 2021 spring season. How are your former colleagues doing?

Hamrick: I’m so amazed and impressed that their spirits have stayed so high, and their work ethic. They’re still giving themselves a ballet barre day in and day out, and doing everything they can. They’re staying strong and they’re ready. It’s going to come back. They’re keeping the faith. And I think that’s the best we can do right now.

You could say, “Why should I give myself a ballet class today? It’s going to be months before I go back.” You can’t let that into your mind.

The American Ballet Theatre’s production of “Swan Lake” at the London Coliseum. Photo: Corbis via Getty Images

Q: It seems we’re sort of getting to know dancers’ personalities a little bit more during the pandemic, via social media especially. Is this a silver lining?

Hamrick: I think it’s amazing that we’re seeing the other side of dancers a bit because ballet has always been behind a gilded curtain, you know, this facade. And now as an audience member, you feel like you know them a little bit more. And I think it will actually help build an audience because we’re just in that world of social media and reality TV and all of that.

And it’s nice for the dancers to feel like fans know them … you feel like the audience is there supporting you.