CARMEL — A dance company plagued by the pandemic shutdowns is now making a return to the stage.
Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre is the resident professional dance company at the Tarkington, and like many other businesses and organizations, March 2020 did not go according to plan.
The company members were preparing for an upcoming performance of their production called Exodus, when the shutdown for COVID-19 happened.
"We came to rehearsal knowing we weren't coming back," Abigail Lessaris, a company member, said. "We just knew the show wasn't going to happen."
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The upcoming season was put on hold and the dancers found themselves unemployed for several months. To these professional dancers, they say they didn't just lose their job during those six months but also a part of themselves was taken as well.
"It was a struggle to find like a beam of light to look towards," Chloe Holzman, a company member, said. "And just everything that is my core, suddenly wasn't there."
For company member Adrian Dominguez, the spring and summer were trying times as a student trying to not only complete his degree but also search for his first job after college.
"A lot of artists, a lot of people were struggling," Dominguez, who finished his college degree almost entirely online and eventually found a spot in this company over the summer, said.
Lessaris said that she and her fellow dancers leaned hard on family for support during this time, and along with struggles of being unemployed, she says they also struggled with something even deeper.
"So much of our identities is being dancers," Lessaris said. "I think we all kind of struggled with that identity crisis."
And Holzman agrees, as someone who grew up dancing at her mother's studio from before she can even remember.
"This was not something I chose out of convenience," Holzman said of her career as a dancer. "This was something that my soul needed. Having that taken away from me was devastating."
In addition to those struggles, physically the dancers did what they could to stay in shape with the hopes of returning to the studio.
"I don't think I've ever gone that long without a plie or a tondue or standing at the barre, and I remember just feeling my body slowly go, like I got to the point where I stopped even kind of feeling like a dancer," Lessaris said. "There was even that fear of, will we survive this? Will there be a company to come back to?"
But on Aug. 26, the doors to GHDT's studio opened once again. The dancers stretched their bodies and worked diligently in technique classes to get their bodies back in shape for performance after several months away from the career they love.
"Dance is what makes me run. It is what makes me live and breathe," Holzman said. "So having that to return to was so important."
Holzman says for this upcoming show, the dancers helped Gregory Hancock create a piece to capture how everyone has been feeling during this global pandemic. She said normally they can help with a piece and their input can be seen through how they dance the choreography, but this show is different in that they put their heads together like never before to capture the essence of the human spirit throughout COVID-19.
"So much more focused on what makes us human," Holzman said. "Concepts and characters that are introduced in this show will be carried through each of the performances and then culminate with 'There's No Place Like Home' next June."
Dominguez says his favorite dance in the upcoming show is a duet danced between two dancers on either side of a Plexiglas wall longing to hold one another but separated because of the coronavirus.
"Moments of hope, moments of happiness, moments of sadness," Lessaris said. "It is a little like gray and white and black and we're going to throughout the season maybe gain a little more color as we move out of this dark time in our lives."
Another interesting part of this performance is all the dancers will stay 6 feet apart at all times and there will be no touching or partnering like you would normally see in a professional dance performance, not only out of an abundance of caution for the dancers, but also to show realistically what humans have endured being separated by the pandemic.
"And it's been challenging even to just stay 6 feet apart," Lessaris said. "Us, as the dancers, we don't ever touch during the show. We don't get within 6 feet of one another."
And Holzman says there are safety precautions in place at the Tarkington to help keep cast, crew and audience members safe. The dancers say they hope the people of central Indiana feel comfortable coming out to support them as these shows are critical to the longevity of their company.
You can watch "Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre Presents: Dances for a New World Part One" this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Tarkington the Center for Performance Arts. Tickets are required and they are limited.