When the pandemic hit and performing arts organizations were forced to cancel or postpone performances, Boston Ballet was on the verge of opening its “Carmen” program. The decision was made to move performances to the end of August. However, the company just announced that’s off the table as well, part of “ongoing efforts to prioritize the safety of our audiences and artists.”
However, choreographer Helen Pickett, whose “Petal” and “Tsukiyo” were to have been featured on the program, isn’t taking all the uncertainty of the moment lying down. She’s created a new trio of video dances for three Boston Ballet performers called “Home Studies,” now hosted on the company’s website. “I saw an abyss as far as the future of being able to choreograph, because all my work has been canceled at least until next spring,” she says. “I woke up one morning and thought: I need to be creative. This is the way I’m going to find myself.”
Pickett reached out to three dancers with whom she has worked closely in the past, who she says “could finish my choreographic sentences.” “Home Studies” features two duets for principal dancers Lia Cirio and Paul Craig framing a gorgeous solo for charismatic company artist My’Kal Stromile, whose long articulate limbs vividly etch striking shapes in a small curtained room. The first duet is a playful romp involving a puffy sofa, and the final contemplative duet features tight serpentine partnering and an undercurrent of melancholy. The original music is by London-based ballet, film, and television composer Peter Salem, who created scores for two of Pickett’s full-length ballets. Boston Ballet gave the project a landing site and promotional support. “It’s really a generous work from the heart,” says Pickett. “Everyone donated their time because we all wanted to do this.”
Created via Zoom over a period of two weeks, the project offered a welcome challenge for the dancers, currently furloughed until Sept. 14 and unable to take daily studio classes. “I had to really hone in on my technique and creative artistry, two muscles that had not been flexed in quite some time,” says Stromile. “It has been difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and this project allowed me to spark a new light, even inside of the parameters of a global pandemic.”
“It offered a chance to get back on a routine, have a project to work toward,” adds Craig. “I found myself immediately happy. As dancers, we really do crave this constant creating. I think our brains are wired for it.”
He and Cirio, close friends and quarantine buddies who live down the street from one another in Jamaica Plain, alternated apartments for rehearsals. For Cirio, a union representative for Boston Ballet’s dancers, it was a break from the stress of daily meetings. “It felt like an escape,” she says. “I was ecstatic.” She says the process was easy, albeit a bit trial and error as they had to figure out new ways of working. With Pickett transmitting ideas through a computer screen, Cirio says, “We had to be even more aware of details and pay extra attention, and I think that will translate to my live work in the studio.”
For the filming, cinematographer and frequent Boston Ballet videographer Ernesto Galan brought the dancers into his studio, where he created special environments to reflect the concepts of “home.” Pickett drove from Philadelphia and back for the day of filming. The 6½-hour shoot involved special lighting and multiple camera angles, including crane shot sequences filmed from above and close-ups that Pickett says add “an emotional quality and a kind of tangibility.” And yes, everyone wore masks except while performing.
“Home Studies” is the first part of Pickett’s planned triptych of filmed dances involving professional artists from around the world. She maintains that creativity coming out of isolation doesn’t have to be insular. “We can be together as a community even in perceived isolation. We managed to do a work together as an ensemble with a shared idea in a totally collaborative way, and these beautiful pieces of art are not a single effort but a product of ‘we’ and togetherness. There is trust and intimacy in making things together.”
To watch “Home Studies,” go to https://bostonballet.widencollective.com/portals/fhdiimwk/HelenPickettChoreography
Karen Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.