The performing arts has suffered greatly due to the pandemic; and it is not just the Companies, venues, and audiences that have been affected. Our artists have also suffered — each in their own way. After almost one year without being able to perform, Ballet Jörgen is back in the communities bringing live dance for all. That road back to the stage has not been easy. We talked to Principal Dancers Akari Fujiwara and Adrián Ramírez Juárez about their personal journeys from lockdowns to the stage.
Q: What is it like not being able to perform?
Akari Fujiwara: It felt like I was on the train, waiting for the train to leave for the next station but it wouldn’t move. You cannot even get off the train because the door is already closed. It was a strange experience to not perform or dance when my body was perfectly fine. It was sad to feel that my body was getting out of shape as the pandemic went on.
Adrián Ramírez Juárez: It’s not great (laughs). I love being in the studios and taking class and rehearsals but performing is our main goal as dancers; there’s nothing like the thrill of been able to perform on a theatre stage in front of an audience.
Q: Can you differentiate between not dancing because of an injury vs a pandemic?
AK: When you are injured it is hard, but you know what is going on with your body. You need time to heal your injury, then you exercise to get stronger. And studios are right there when your body is ready to dance full out again. In a pandemic, my body was healthy but I didn’t have the space to dance fully. It was more painful in a pandemic because I felt lost, I didn’t know what to do to keep my body in shape at first.
ARJ: The big difference for me is time. When you get injured, you need to take time off to recover and that time varies, depending on how bad the injury is. Usually between 1 to 2 months sometimes less sometimes more. It will also depend on how well you take care of yourself, but you still can go out and visit your friends in the studios, have access to physiotherapy etc., but in a pandemic, especially in the early stages of the lockdown you couldn’t even have access to physiotherapists. You don’t really know how long the lockdown will last, so that limits you as a dancer as well as the resources you need to keep doing your job as well as possible.
Q: How did you adapt to training and dancing remotely, and how did that affect your overall abilities, strength and level of athleticism?
AK: Because I didn’t have much space at home, I started to focus more on the small parts and details of my body. Like “what part of a muscle am I using when I plie? What is the feeling of using my inner thigh muscle when I do tendu?” When I am performing a lot, my focus sometimes goes more into “the dynamic movement” to make myself look bigger on stage. Paying attention to each muscle and working them property taught me many things about my body.
ARJ: Short answer is I couldn’t adapt. I went on a mini retirement during the second lockdown because I didn’t know how long it was going to take for studios to be opened again. A lot of dancers around the world found ways to keep training in their homes, I tried as well but I found that I started to hurt more, especially my knees. I didn’t have enough space to do a good barre at home, I’m always kicking furniture, and it became a chore to move my entire living room in order for me to be able to do a decent barre. As I mentioned, my knees started hurting because of the hard floor and the extra compensations I needed to make so I didn’t kick something. I went on a semi-retirement period while I waited for news about going back to work. I still was able to go out on walks or hikes but when the time came to go back to work, I was not in “ballet shape,” meaning I lost all my stamina and some flexibility which has taking me a lot of time to regain it back. I’m still working on it after two months of being back to rehearsals.
Q: What did it take to start getting in shape again?
AK: When I came back to studio, I had a much bigger space to dance. It was very nice to finally feel that I can dance fully, but I was so used to dance in my small kitchen. I felt like my body was all over the place! It took me a couple of weeks to get used to dancing in a bigger space, but my kitchen training helped me to have more awareness of my body after the pandemic.
ARJ: I’m still working on it. I still don’t feel I am at the point where I left off before I stopped working. But the good side was that I was able to reset my body and let it heal so when I did come back, I was able to start all over again and I went back to basics. I really paid attention and I broke my bad habits and patterns that I didn’t notice before. I started strengthening the parts of my body that I felt I injured the most or would easily start hurting after a long day of rehearsals. My flexibility is the one thing that has taken the most time to get back — especially my back.
Q: When you heard that Ballet Jörgen was able to do the Creations in Isolation tour in Ontario how was that moment for you?
AK: I was just happy and excited! It’s been too long since the last time we performed. We all knew there were so many things to work on before we go back on stage, but my excitement was bigger than being worried.
ARJ: Well, if I’m completely honest, I didn’t have high expectations. When Bengt told us about the shows and the government regulations — which were in constant change about reopening Ontario and lifting restrictions it was hard to believe. The theatres were constantly changing and any day they could stop the theatres from opening and stop the performances, but as we got closer to getting back to the stage, I got more hopeful about being able to perform again.
Q: When you returned to the stage in Brantford, ON for the first time in almost a year and the curtain opened how did that feel?
AK: I was nervous at first, then I started to enjoy the moment of live performing. I just missed being on stage and dancing from my heart. Also, the audience was so supportive. I really appreciate them for being so involved with us.
ARJ: All I can say is that was the moment when everything sunk down and everything just seemed like a blink of an eye for me. It felt like all that time off from the stage didn’t happen because now I was back on the stage and doing what I love the most.
Q: Last year The Nutcracker was virtual — although you perform the ballet every year — will this year be special or different for you?
AK: It will be special for sure. Since the pandemic hit us, nothing was normal. Nutcracker will be the first full length ballet we perform in almost two years! I hope performing Nutcracker will bring us back to the feeling of “our normal winter”. And it will be very special for me to feel that we are fully back.
ARJ: Yes definitely! Last time when I performed the Nutcracker (2019), it was the first time I got to perform the lead role, so I was actually looking forward to doing it again for the next season in 2020. Normally when you perform a new role for the first time, there’s a lot of nerves and you don’t get to enjoy it as much as you would like to. This year will be different because now that I already know the role, and I’m more familiar with it, I won’t have to focus on the little things which will allow me to enjoy it even more!
The Nutcracker: A Canadian Tradition is back on tour in Ontario! See Akari and Adrián back on stage for the holidays!