Choreographer didy veldman

Royal Ballet School leads choreographic response to pandemic lockdown

Six international ballet schools are working with choreographer Didy Veldman to explore the theme of physical restriction in a project led by The Royal Ballet School.

The School has invited San Francisco Ballet School, Canada’s National Ballet School, Paris Opera Ballet School, The Royal Danish Ballet School and the Dutch National Ballet Academy to join them in a creative choreographic challenge for ballet students in lockdown.

Dancers all over the world are getting to grips with their new situation. Bodies with phenomenal physical abilities are confined, with limited possibilities for contact and space. This as yet untitled project creatively explores the possibilities within these restrictions, using video conferencing to bring together over 120 young dancers from six of the world’s top ballet schools.

One of the project’s inspirations is The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach. This set of preludes and fugues for keyboard was intended as a pedagogical exercise, giving keyboard players experience in working with the chords, scales and arpeggios in each key. Veldman hopes to translate the intricacies of these pieces into movement.

Dancers are working in six groups, each containing between 16 and 25 students from multiple schools, and they will have the opportunity to choreograph in collaboration with Veldman. The dancers are training in dramatically different environments, in 23 different countries from Denmark to Australia to the USA, posing major logistical challenges. Groups have been formed based on the students’ 13 time zones.

Challenges include the impact of time lag in working with music, finding universally available props, and working in small rehearsal spaces; in some cases, due to limited space, Veldman cannot see the full height of a dancer on one screen. Each group has a rehearsal director from one of the schools, who supports Veldman in correcting students, and a lead student, who helps to manage their group and can resolve technical issues during the sessions.

Didy veldman working with young dancers via video conferencing software.

Veldman said:

‘I am delighted that six leading international schools are excited by this experimental project. I look forward to going on a unique journey with young dancers all over the world, and hope that it gives us both a valuable creative experience and a powerful sense of the strength of the international ballet community. At a time when ballet students must be apart from each other, I am thrilled to offer a way to express both their separateness and their new relationship to the world at this time.’

Christopher Powney, Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet School, said:

‘This project began as a simple idea to help our students maintain their creativity and motivation during lockdown by tackling, in addition to their training, a creative project that explored their new circumstances. Didy Veldman’s idea took root and I was delighted to develop it with some outstanding, supportive international school directors, who shared a desire to maintain creativity in their programmes. We are in the middle of a global crisis and it seems natural that our response should be to join together. This collaboration is extremely positive considering our hugely challenging situation.’

The pieces will be developed during the coming weeks and students will film themselves, submitting their own footage for more detailed input. The way the project will be presented or performed is still unknown, and it is hoped that, through the creative process, the students will help Veldman find the right platform.

The project is sponsored by The Royal Ballet School’s Young Philanthropists.