Considering all of the health restrictions and schedule changes that shaped the Fall and the first part of the Winter Term, the SPS Ballet Company had a wonderfully successful start to the year. A virtual Family Weekend performance was well-received, and a reimagined Nutcracker Act II was broadcast on five different occasions to viewers around the globe. However, the lack of live audiences was something always on the minds of Director of Dance Kate Lydon and her troupe. “When it's gone, you realize just how much the audience gives you and how much you give the audience,” admits Lydon. “You just can’t replicate it.”
Knowing that the tradition of packing guests into the Dance Building for the Winter Term performance wasn’t an option, Lydon suggested a pair of socially-distanced shows in Memorial Hall. Once the community emerged from the precautionary “red zone” upon returning to campus in late January, the idea was approved, and the dancers quickly got to work prepping for the relocated shows.
Just days into rehearsals, the Ballet Company welcomed guest artist Deborah Wingert, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, a current faculty member at Julliard, and stager with the prestigious Balanchine Trust. Last winter, Lydon had secured the rights to produce one of the Trust’s world-renown Balanchine pieces, only to see the project stall, as the organization refused to stage any of its works via Zoom. Wingert revitalized that effort this winter when she was given special permission to teach the Balanchine technique and stage sections of ballets with the SPS company. Dance co-captain Marco Lorenzo-Giguere ’21 shares that “while it was difficult to properly learn the style of Balanchine via Zoom, the combined effort of Ms. Wingert, Ms. Lydon, and (assistant director) Ms. Peix made the experience both informative and exciting.”
“Rehearsing and performing Balanchine’s choreography was definitely a surreal experience,” agrees fellow dance captain AnnaClare Sung ’21. “I’ve always admired and felt inspired by his works, but never thought I’d be able to perform them, so having this opportunity was very special.”
The winter program opened with a ballet class warm-up where Lydon decided to open the house 30 minutes prior to curtain and give the community a behind-the-scenes look at the process of producing such special work. The company then receded backstage and performed the remaining program, comprised of three student-choreographed pieces developed for Family Weekend, and a work staged last year by visiting artist Ethan Stiefel. Throughout the performances, there was a palpable joy within the company. “I was thrilled to finally be able to perform for a live audience,” notes dance co-captain Ella Kulicki ’21. “One of my favorite parts of ballet is the excitement of being on stage.”
Over in the New Space, student directors Margaret Pirozzolo ’21 and Eddie Ferrell ’21 were busy rehearsing their peers as part of the “Director’s Series” productions. Following a successful fall production of the play “Love and Information,” Theatre Director Chris Briante was happy to see his role shift for the Winter Term. “I opened the theatre doors and said ‘I’m in my office if you need me,’” notes Briante. “I would wander in a couple of times during rehearsal and observe, but Margaret and Eddie handled themselves beautifully.”
The two plays produced during the Winter Term, entitled “Out of Order” and “A Tale of Two Spectators,” covered starkly different subject matter. The former, penned by Pirozzolo herself, is the story of a convenience store clerk, his friend, and his girlfriend with the clerk navigating how to handle an unfortunate bathroom incident. “I started writing my play this past summer after my dad told me I should write a play about poop,” notes Pirozzolo. “The writing process didn't really end until the first show, given that we were always changing the script during the rehearsal process.”
“A Tale of Two Spectators,” written by professional playwright Peter Manod, and directed by Ferrell, featured a cast of just two and brought the audience to a park bench where two strangers with binoculars sat watching their spouses have an extramarital affair. “SPS theatre has taught me to become more confident in myself as a student and actor,” said Ferrell in his director’s note.
The original intent was to have all five student-directed productions, auditioned and cast in mid-November, happen during the Winter Term. However, over Winter Break, Briante learned that three of the five directors would be distance learners for the entirety of the Winter Term, with one remaining off-campus through the end of the school year. “I wanted to make sure our students who were distance learning in the Winter were not punished because of COVID,” said Briante. “They very much earned the opportunity to direct.”
A reconfigured spring theatre program will feature two student-directed, one-act plays, with a third being directed by Briante. A musical revue had been slated as the spring performance, but Briante, who still felt funny about producing a masked musical, wanted to make sure all student directors had the opportunity to share their pieces with the community.