The Royal Ballet School and five other international schools work with Didy Veldman to explore theme of physical restriction

David Mead

The Royal Ballet 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 experiencing confinement and limited possibilities for contact and space. This new, as yet untitled project, led by choreographer Didy Veldman, 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.

Didy VeldmanPhoto courtesy The Royal Ballet School
Didy Veldman
Photo courtesy The Royal Ballet School

One of the project’s inspirations is JS Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. 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 and are presently in 23 different countries, posing significant logistical challenges. Groups have been formed based on the students’ 13 time zones.

Dancers on screen, the Didy Veldman ProjectPhoto The Royal Ballet School
Dancers on screen, the Didy Veldman Project
Photo The Royal Ballet School

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.

Christopher Powney, artistic director of The Royal Ballet School explains that the project began as a simple idea to help his own students maintain their creativity and motivation during lockdown by tackling a creative project that explored their new circumstances. From there, Veldman’s idea took root and other schools were invited to join.

Veldman says, “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.”

The pieces will be developed during the coming weeks and students will film themselves, periodically submitting their own footage for more detailed input. The way in which the project will be presented or performed is still unknown, but no doubt the right platform will emerge.