Dancing through lockdown

Every day at 10.30am, Monte-Carlo Ballet principal dancer Alessandra Tognoloni starts her morning quarantine class. She has a 1.5 square metre piece of linoleum to dance on – a gift from choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot.
“We don’t have the space in our homes, but just having a floor for the pointe shoes, so they do not slide and where we can do some exercises, makes a lot of difference,” Alessandra tells me from her home in Monaco. The Italian native has been a resident of the Principality now for 16 years. “It is really hard, of course, to do a job alone which you would normally do with other people. You also have to take care of yourself; you have to be the one who decides how much you need to do and how long you need to rest for, it is really difficult.”
This is the Monte-Carlo Ballet’s fifth week in lockdown. An average day for Alessandra now involves an early ballet class followed by a pointe shoes class from 11am to 1pm, yoga from 3pm to 6.30pm, then a Zoom cardio workout until 7.30pm.

It is impossible for dancers to complete a normal ballet class each day, so they focus on flexibility and staying fit – gym workouts, pilates, yoga, and pointe classes.
“The Monte-Carlo Ballet company has organised a pilates teacher on Zoom for us so everybody can connect every day for one hour. Then the girls have a pointe shoe class with the directrice three times a week to keep the strength in our feet, so when we eventually do go back, we will not have to start from the beginning.”
She expects the dancers to be at about 80% capacity when they return to the company. But exactly when that will be, remains uncertain. Monaco’s lockdown will be lifted on 4th May, however social-distancing measures are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future – which is difficult to achieve for a team of dancers.

Photo by Alice Blangero

“It is really hard to think ahead because ballet, like any other sport, relies on contact. We can’t maintain social distancing while we work, so perhaps we will be one of the last to start our normal daily routine,” reflects Alessandra.
While many people are appreciating the fact that their lives have been forced to slow-down during confinement, Alessandra and her fellow dancers fear losing a significant portion of their careers due to lockdown.
“We are all a bit scared because we don’t know how long it is going to take for us to be able to perform again. It is not normal for us to not go on stage for three months, unless you have an injury. A dancer’s career is not long – this is time that is being taken away from us and nobody can give it back. I am 34, three months of my career is like three years in the career of a person who can work until they’re 60.”
Nonetheless, Alessandra remains upbeat and positive about the situation and the opportunities that it has provided. Like many dancers across the world, she has been hosting classes on her Instagram – something she would never have considered before the crisis.
“What is really nice at the moment is that a lot of dancers have been getting together and doing classes online. I give around four classes a week through my Instagram to people who want to follow, which helps me because it can be depressing doing my exercises alone all the time. This way I get to connect with people through social media and I don’t feel so alone.”
In a sector that thrives on in-person connection, the loss of an audience is disastrous. Yet, the resilience of performers moving into the digital arena, streaming classes and sharing their training routines, is re-energising the industry and attracting a new generation of culture lovers.
Meanwhile, the rise of Covid-19 has forced many different cultural institutions – museums, theatres, orchestras – to explore alternative digital spaces with online performances. The Monte-Carlo Ballet company has been delighting virtual audiences with two broadcasts each week of previous shows.
“If we don’t keep up the interest, people forget about us. Ballet is something you have to teach people to love. It is not like growing up with football,” says Alessandra. “So, the weekly broadcasts are a good way for the Monte-Carlo Ballet to stay alive in Monaco and throughout the entire world. It is a very well-known company internationally as we normally tour every month.”
Alessandra would like to see the live streaming of shows become a regular feature once things return to normal, and she is sure her choreographer has a few tricks up his sleeve.
“I have to say that I am really positive, because my director, Jean-Christophe Maillot, is a very creative man and ballet is a creative art, so I am sure he is going to come out of this with many ideas.”
You can watch Monte-Carlo Ballet performances on the www.monacoinfo.com website every Wednesday and Friday at 5pm (CEST).