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How two ballet dancers have managed to avoid tyranny of distancing

Culture

It’s difficult enough to socially distance in any workplace environment, but spare a thought for Queensland Ballet’s dancers, whose craft depends on physical interaction.

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But as a couple who live together, Queensland Ballet dancers Lucy Green and Sam Packer – one of several couples at the company – have been able to keep in step with each other during lockdown.

Queensland Ballet is celebrating its 60th birthday this year, and although COVID-19 restrictions led the organisation to make the tough decision to cancel the planned 2020 season, it is celebrating the milestone with the premiere a new body of work – 60 Dancers, 60 Stories – online.

The initiative involves 60 dancers creating 60 separate videos on the theme of love, which are being unveiled at a rate of two a day throughout June on Queensland Ballet’s social media channels.

QB ballet master and project coordinator Matthew Lawrence described 60 Dancers, 60 Stories as a world-first project.

“A project of this scale, 60 new works, with multiple collaborations, both local and international – has never been attempted before, to this scale in a dance company,” Lawrence said. “It is an explosion of creativity, based around our push to survive as an organisation, intact, and connect with our audiences.”

He said it was a challenge for the dancers involved to create pieces from the confines of their homes or in outdoor environments “with no budget and limited resources at their disposal”.

“Most dancers, prior to this project, had never choreographed or filmed dance before, and their accomplishment is testament to the wonderful musical, choreographic, and editing mentors, who supported the dancers in producing some outstanding works of art.”

Green and Packer both said adjusting to life in lockdown had been difficult, with Green acknowledging that as dancers, they were used to “having a lot of really physical interaction with other people and also being on stage and interacting with an audience”.

“Having all of those things taken away at once was a bit of a shock,” she told InQueensland. “That’s the thing I really love about this project though, is that we’ve been given the opportunity to connect with our supporters again, and to work towards producing something.

“We’re so used to working towards performing, that’s kind of like the end product of what we do and it’s what keeps us going.”

Packer said the project had been a helpful distraction and was grateful it had given him something positive to focus on.

“It’s kind of helped us not think that we’ve been at home for three months, which has been great,” he said.

“It’s really helpful having these little projects, because then you don’t overthink things, you kind of just focus on what you need to do. I keep doing one thing at a time and making this film, and the next, and it’s been really good because work continues to keep us mentally and physically active.”

He said the most difficult aspects had been transitioning from working in “a 60 square metre studio, to our living room, which is about six square metres” and learning how to edit.

“You’re used to being able to do 10 steps going straight down the diagonal and you’ve still got room, whereas when you’re in your living room or outside you can only take a few steps but then you’ve got to retake it and go back and then do it again, so yeah,  it’s actually been quite a lot of editing work.”

“We’ve certainly been learning some new skills with this,” Green said, before conceding, “I mean, I’m terrible on a computer but Sam is getting very savvy with the technology.”

The first video Green and Packer have produced for 60 Dancers, 60 Stories is called Prelude, and it is based on a piece of music written by composer Peter Wilson, who happens to be one of Green’s oldest friends.

“He’s one of my oldest and dearest friends and he’s now living in London, so I don’t see him very often but he’s always been incredibly talented as a dancer, as a musician and as a composer now, and when I heard his piece of music on Facebook when he uploaded  I just fell in love with it.

“That kind of coincided with the projects being announced and the music really fitted the bill perfectly and I told me about projects and we without even me asking he volunteered his work which was really really generous of him.”

Since promising to “keep the magic alive” when it had to cancel performances due to COVID-19, Queensland Ballet has been receiving donations from many of its supporters, and during the month of June, an anonymous benefactor has offered to quadruple the total public donations the company receives.

“It’s absolutely amazing, we’re always astounded at some of the generosity of our donors,” Packer said. ” It just blows us away and it makes us feel so humbled that people really believe in what we do and really do want they keep the arts to live in Queensland and in Australia.”

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