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Photo: Patrick Frenette.
October 27, 2020
ABT has created “ballet bubbles” in various locations of New York State to safely gather dancers and choreographers in a quarantined setting in order to create new works.

“I found that working in this bubble after months of not being able to perform with ABT was extremely fulfilling and inspiring.”

By Anabel Katsnelson

From September 21–October 26, ABT dancers Anabel Katsnelson, Betsy McBride, Duncan McIlwaine, Erica Lall, Jacob Clerico, and Melvin Lawovi, along with Director of Repertoire Carlos Lopez and choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, created the first ballet bubble at PS21 in Chatham, New York. The group lived together on the grounds of the performance space, set in the foothills of the Berkshires, for five weeks to rehearse and film a new ballet under strict safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SideBarre spoke to Anabel about the unique opportunity and her experience there.

Anabel Katsnelson, Erica Lall, and Betsy McBride at the PS21 theater. Photo courtesy Katsnelson.
Anabel Katsnelson, Erica Lall, and Betsy McBride at the PS21 theater. Photo courtesy Katsnelson.

How did you feel rehearsing and performing again after months of lockdown?

It was truly a pleasure to dance in a theater after spending months taking “quarantine class” at home on my little square of marley from Harlequin floors. It felt so freeing to take up space and do big jumps across the floor! Rehearsing and creating a new work delighted and challenged me in so many ways; I really tried to soak it all in. The first couple of weeks were physically difficult as far as getting back into dancing shape, but by the end of the project, I felt like I had surpassed where I was as a dancer even pre-covid.

What were the grounds of PS21 like and what did you do there during downtime?

The grounds of PS21 were gorgeous, and we were lucky enough to be there for peak fall foliage! We rehearsed at the on-site theater, just a short walk from the house we all stayed in. I loved being able to go apple picking on my five-minute breaks and take long walks around the grounds in my downtime. There was an animal sanctuary next to the house with pigs and goats! In our downtime at the house we cooked together, watched ballet videos, tie-dyed, celebrated birthdays, sang karaoke, and had dance parties!

How was your experience working and living with the same group of people?

Anabel Katsnelson with Darrell Grand Moultrie rehearsing his new work at PS21 in Chatham, New York. Photo: Carlos Lopez.
Anabel Katsnelson with Darrell Grand Moultrie rehearsing his new work at PS21 in Chatham, New York. Photo: Carlos Lopez.

The incredible pod group made the experience so special! Of course, all of us dancers knew each other before the project, but living together for five weeks bonded us all in so many ways. Carlos Lopez, the Director of Repertoire, taught classes for us, organized events for us, rehearsed us, took care of all of our safety protocols, and motivated us every day!

It was inspiring to watch ballets together and have open conversations about our artistic aspirations in a setting outside of the studio. Our choreographer, Darrell Grand Moultrie, also stayed in the same house and got to know each one of us! I think the living situation added a human aspect to the piece. Darrell became acquainted with our personalities and urged us to remain true to ourselves in our dancing.

What was it like working with Darrell Grand Moultrie for the first time?

Anabel Katsnelson gets a leg up at the PS21 theater. Photo courtesy Katsnelson.
Anabel Katsnelson gets a leg up at the PS21 theater. Photo courtesy Katsnelson.

Working with Darrell was incredible! From the get-go, he had a great eye and was able to assess each dancer’s strengths and weaknesses. He was passionate about not only creating an awesome piece, but also ensuring that the process was transformative and impactful. What I learned during these weeks helped me grow as an artist and will stick with me for the rest of my career!

Darrell chose Duke Ellington music for his new work, which will premiere at ABT’s virtual gala on November 23. How was it dancing to jazz music rather than classical piano or orchestra?

I loved dancing to Duke Ellington! It felt great to dance to familiar music while still maintaining a classical base. In this case, the music really dictated the movement. The piece came together seamlessly because the choreography fit the phrasing of the music so well.

Any other reflections from lockdown or the bubble?

I found that working in this bubble after months of not performing with ABT was extremely fulfilling and inspiring. I cannot wait to see the final result at ABT’s virtual gala on November 23!

Anabel Katsnelson is a member of the corps de ballet. She joined ABT in 2016. Follow her on Instagram @anabel_katsnelson.