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Ballet dancers find a safe place at Silver Bay

Ballet dancers find a safe place at Silver Bay

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HAGUE — One of the world’s best-known and most-celebrated ballet companies, American Ballet Theatre, has been holding residencies since last fall at Silver Bay conference center, practicing and filming works in a bubble of isolation and safety modeled on last year’s NBA bubble.

The ballet company set up several bubbles at rural locations within driving distance of its home in New York City, sending a handful of dancers along with a small staff to each spot.

Silver Bay had hosted a performance by the company in 2019, so after the pandemic shut down the company’s regular touring and performance schedule, it was targeted as a place where dancers could live and work free of contact with the outside world.

“I think ABT was making the best out of a less than ideal situation,” said Steve Tamm, Silver Bay CEO.

In late September, the company sent seven dancers, two choreographers and one staff member to Silver Bay. They lived in cottages and worked in the dining hall, where a conference room had been converted to a dance space with the installation of a special floor.

At first, the dancers practiced and rehearsed separately, wearing masks and staying apart. But by the second week, after a couple of negative COVID tests each, they were able to take the masks off and work on new pieces in the close contact that dancing requires.

“Last year, most of our tours were canceled, everything,” said Kyle Pickles, the company’s associate general manager. “We’re set up to perform on stage. ... What do you do when no one can allow that to happen? How do you actually do the thing you’re set up to do?

“The dancers couldn’t even practice,” he said. “All of our work is partner work. People are within each other’s space.”

That first week in September, dancers were trying to get back into performance shape after spending weeks working out in their living rooms and kitchens — sometimes alone, sometimes with encouragement from an online instructor, Pickles said.

At the end of the residency, the new works were performed and filmed for online screening at the company’s annual fall gala, which was held virtually.

“It did go well, we made it to the end,” Pickles said. “Human nature made it hard. You were finally dancing again on a dance floor with space, and you can move around.

“I think there was this interplay of, ‘I want to be safe, I want this to happen, these are my friends,’” he added. “We had to remind people, ‘You can’t let your guard down, if someone gets sick with COVID, this whole thing gets shut down.”

No one got sick, and more residencies followed — the company is now on its fourth at Silver Bay, with the entire junior corps, about 15 dancers, staying at the center. This one is probably the company’s last pandemic residency on Lake George.

“It has been a great partnership with them. Ideally, we won’t have to go back,” Pickles said.

But “if you have to be stuck,” then Silver Bay was a beautiful place to do it, he said.

Pickles himself spent a five-week residency in January and February at the center.

“I was really the only one who could leave,” he said.

It was the first time he had visited the region, but he didn’t have the chance to do anything touristy. Instead, he made snack runs to the Walmart in Ticonderoga and picked up a few pizzas in Ti, too.

Pickles lives in New York, which is coming back to life, he said. At the height of the pandemic last spring, the city had an eerie feeling — “it reminded me of a movie set” — with avenues empty that were usually congested.

“It’s coming back,” he said of the city. “It’s going to be back eventually to what it was.”

American Ballet Theatre will be back on stage, too, perhaps as soon as this fall, touring the country and the world, thanks in part to a few sojourns at Silver Bay.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

@trafficstatic.

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