The Meridian 5: Global Arts Perspectives on COVID-19

The Meridian Center for Cultural Diplomacy hosted a high-level virtual program, electrifying the dance community, featuring Artistic Directors of major ballet companies from across the globe to discuss how to best lead dance and performing arts organizations through the COVID-19 crisis. The program was moderated by Septime Webre, Artistic Director of Hong Kong Ballet and paneled by Julie Kent, Artistic Director, The Washington Ballet & Meridian Council Member; Ted Brandsen, Artistic Director, Resident Choreographer, Dutch National Ballet; and Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director, American Ballet Theatre.

In case you missed it, below are the top takeaways from the conversation.

1. ARTS ORGANIZATIONS COPE WITH COVID-19. Ballet companies around the world are wrestling with COVID-19 and its impact on their ability to perform, train and raise money. The American Ballet Theatre found the transition to virtual to be a leveling experience. “Everyone’s expertise was compromised so we worked together to come up with the best ideas to maintain the importance of the arts,” said McKenzie, “This was an opportunity to reach people beyond those who sit in our theaters.”

2. WHAT ABOUT FUNDING? Unlike many of their international counterparts who receive federal support, American ballet companies rely heavily on private funding. Many ballet companies in Europe and Asia receive over 60 percent of their funding from their respective governments, but companies like the Washington Ballet in the U.S. receive six percent or less of their funding from the federal government. “The arts as an industry contributes $763 billion to the U.S. (economy)... those things should be front of mind when we talk about how our industry should survive and thrive,” noted Kent. The Washington Ballet has seen an increase in private funding which highlights the importance of the arts to Americans.

2. RESILIENCE IS KEY. The Dutch National Ballet has witnessed incredible resilience amongst its dancers and has offered virtual and technical training as well as emotional support throughout the past nine weeks. Brandsen commented on the innovation and creativity of the dancers who “are making films, coming up with their own initiatives and collaborating” in new ways with colleagues around the world. For Kent, “it’s about reach, and it’s about caring.”

4. VIRTUAL DANCE CLASS: IT CAN WORK. Kent is finding that training young dancers at home is working surprisingly well. "It’s moving to see people in their kitchen inspired to dance— taking their motivation to an elevated space.” She hopes to make these classes available to a wider audience with newfound digital capabilities. Although dance companies have been encouraged to take ownership of their media presence in the past, it wasn’t a priority because of limited resources. COVID-19 has now made virtual projects a priority, effectively expanding dance companies’ reach and creativity.

5. LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE. As places like the Netherlands and Hong Kong begin to reopen, ballet companies are taking extra safety precautions including implementing fixed protocols that have been assessed by medical experts and government advisors. Although a live performance with a full audience is still a ways away, committing ballet to film and offering virtual performances will raise awareness and broaden understanding about the art form. For Brandsen, “everybody involved is doing it because of the love of art and to keep sharing.”

The program concluded with performances by students of The Washington School of Ballet and dancers of Alvin Ailey II, Hong Kong Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre including the internationally-acclaimed choreography of Jessica Lang, in a piece titled Common Fate, performed by ABT dancers sheltering at home across the United States and as far as South Korea. You can watch the performances here.

Project summary

The Meridian 5: Global Arts Perspectives on COVID-19
Number of Attendees: 400
Regions: East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Netherlands, United States, Japan
Impact Areas: Cultural Diplomacy, Global Health
Program Areas: Culture