For New York City Ballet dancers Emily Kikta and Peter Walker, this summer was supposed to be packed.
It was going to include a residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which would wrap up with their wedding in Saratoga Springs on June 20.
However, with COVID-19, all their plans changed. They had to postpone their wedding; the residency was canceled, along with the other classical residencies at SPAC, and it became clear that they might not be able to perform at all over the summer.
“Immediately our brains were like ‘Well, how can we fix that?’ ” Kikta said.
In previous years, the couple had led the choreography and production of the NYCB and SPAC dance videos. The short pieces were filmed all around the Capital Region and functioned as previews for the company’s residency. While there’s no residency this year, Walker and Kikta wanted to create the films as a way to continue dancing and to remind people of what’s happening at SPAC, both the positive and the negative.
They approached Elizabeth Sobol, the president and CEO of SPAC about the idea of not only including the NYCB but layering in music from the other resident companies that were scheduled to perform but won’t be able to, calling the series “SPAC Reimagined.” She gave the project her full support.
“The ballet videos that are going to be released are not only dancers from New York City Ballet at SPAC but it’s also paying homage to our musical resident companies that also won’t be able to be here this summer. It’s really a beautiful gesture,” Sobol said.
Walker and Kikta worked with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Philadelphia Orchestra to secure recordings, including two Beethoven pieces in honor of his 250th birthday.
The videos were all choreographed and filmed on SPAC’s grounds in early June. Seven dancers from the NYCB took part in the production and each tested negatively for COVID-19 beforehand. During filming, they also had to follow social distancing guidelines, which had a major impact on the choreography.
“There’s hardly any partnering. The only time dancers touch I think is when they are with their significant other. We have one other couple, so they partnered together briefly but mostly it’s solo dancing or dancing separated from each other,” Kikta said.
“The other thing too about this project is we decided to go with a longer format. As opposed to being 30-second long commercials, these are standalone art pieces. Each dance film is between three and four minutes,” Walker said.
They created four videos that juxtapose the beauty of the SPAC grounds, the classical music and the choreography with the emptiness of the amphitheater. There are joyful scenes of dancers leaping and running on the sunlight paths of SPAC mixed with melancholy scenes of dancers exploring the darkness of the theater.
“We’re not ignoring the fact that this is a tragedy that we have to be closed and it’s a huge hit to the arts industry. We didn’t want to ignore that and make just four beautiful dance videos that are uplifting. While we do want to uplift we also don’t want to gloss over the extreme impact this will have on the arts community. So it’s trying to balance both of those things,” Kikta said.
“We have these highly curated dance pieces to this glorious classical music and all of the pieces are highly choreographed. Then what we’re trying to create with the transitions is showing the backside of it, the juxtaposition of the empty theater, the dark hallways . . . [It’s] a little dose of reality,” Walker said.
The first video will be released on Tue., July 14, which was supposed to be the NYCB’s opening night. The others will follow on Thu., July 16, Tue., July 21 and Thu., July 23. There will also be a finale released on Sat., July 25 that connects all the films in the series.
To view them, visit SPAC or the NYCB on Facebook or Instagram.