When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, life for dancers like Mica Bernas came to a screeching halt.
“Right before the lockdown we actually were on tour. We were in Washington,” Bernas said. “Who knew that that was going to be our last performance until I don’t know when.”
Their company, Mark Morris Dance Group, has managed to keep its dancers employed, even after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of performances and tours for the foreseeable future. Still, the dancers have had to adjust to some uncomfortable realities -- like taking class at home and rehearsing remotely.
“I have so many bruises from, you know, hitting the corner of the bed or the dresser,” Bernas said.
It’s been quite the adjustment for the eponymous dancer, choreographer, and artistic director Mark Morris, as well.
“It's a disaster, it's a wreck. You know the performing arts department of the arts is always sort of at the back of the drawer, and dance more than anything,” he said.
Even as his company celebrates its 40th year, Morris has had to learn how to choreograph for the webcam, instead of the stage. It isn't his favorite way to work.
“It's so devoid of kinesthetic power and depth and you can't hear people breathing and there's no effort, you can't see effort. So that's a weird thing. It sort of sterilizes the image,” Morris said.
In spite of his reservations, Morris has immersed himself into choreographing what he’s calling videodances, and announced the company’s first-ever digital season to mark the company’s anniversary. It features seven months of events, screenings, and digital performances in celebration of both Morris classics like “The Hard Nut” and “Dido and Aeneas,” and of new videodances.
The School at the Brooklyn-based Mark Morris Dance Center has also pivoted to offering most classes online, and also offers a select few outside together with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Mark Morris Dance Group Executive Director Nancy Umanoff said the online classes may be here to stay.
“Normally, our classes in New York City reach about 600 people a week, and now we are reaching thousands around the world,” she said.
Mark Morris Dance Group is just one of several high-profile dance companies nationwide, from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to American Ballet Theatre, that are adapting to new and sometimes uncomfortable ways of operating amid the coronavirus pandemic. And although their dancers are anxious to get back out on stage, until that’s possible the artists are finding new ways to bring dance to their audiences.