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How Covid emergency hit English National Ballet’s new east London HQ with 85pc furloughed dancers and staff

PUBLISHED: 16:20 01 September 2020 | UPDATED: 18:00 01 September 2020

Leap of faith... English National Ballet launches new season after Covid lockdown crisis. Picture: Piers-Allardyce

Leap of faith... English National Ballet launches new season after Covid lockdown crisis. Picture: Piers-Allardyce

Piers-Allardyce

The global Coronavirus emergency has had a devastating effect on English National Ballet’s new London City Island studios at Leamouth which is now having to keep its head above water through September with emergency Arts Council funding.

Backstage at English National Ballet's 70th anniversary bash in January 2020. Picture: Ian-GavanBackstage at English National Ballet's 70th anniversary bash in January 2020. Picture: Ian-Gavan

It had to furlough 85 per cent of its ballet dancers and staff at the height of the emergency and is now scaling back performances to cope.

Several productions have had to be scrapped because of theatre closures due to the lockdown crisis and even its principal ballerina has left.

“We have experienced a devastating effect of the crisis, losing over two-thirds of our income,” executive director Patrick Harrison revealed.

“Theatre closures, tours being cancelled and the ongoing uncertainty about when we may be able to return to full performance means we have to scale back to protect our organisation.”

Rehersals at the new London City Island ballet studios. Picture: ENBRehersals at the new London City Island ballet studios. Picture: ENB

The company furloughed most of its staff and brought in “pay restraint” across the organisation, while protecting the salaries of lower earners.

It successfully applied for an Arts Council emergency grant, which at least secures its survival through September. But even this means having to reduce the activity to get through the crisis in the face of continued uncertainty, but with a note of optimism.

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English National’s artistic director Tamara Rojo said: “No matter how difficult the situation, I believe ballet can bring people together and be a part of the solution to this crisis. But there’s great sadness that we have had to delay some of our planned season.”

Ballet company that was hit by 85pc furlough during height of Pandemic ermergency. Picture: Piers-AllardyceBallet company that was hit by 85pc furlough during height of Pandemic ermergency. Picture: Piers-Allardyce

The company moved to east London 12 months ago from Kensington to the new purpose-built City Island studios, on a loop in the Lea River. The 93,000sq ft complex replaced the cramped labyrinth of rehearsal rooms the ballet company had to put up with next to the Royal Albert Hall since its founding in 1951. But the unexpected pandemic hit the east London rehearsal studios’ first two seasons with the repertoire having to be reduced for the next 18 months.

Many leading dancers have left due to the emergency. Lead principal Jurgita Dronina, who split her time with National Ballet of Canada, isn’t returning to east London next season. Her place is taken by Gabriele Francesco Frola as lead principal, while Daniel McCormick has been promoted to soloist.

Revised plans for the autumn announced today, after previous live performances were cancelled because of the global pandemic, include a new digital season of works performed for camera that are being created and rehearsed at the City Island studios within Covid guidelines.

The new works are soon being made available to rent on a new video-on-demand service by the ballet company being premiered in November and December. Live performances that had to be cancelled are now being streamed in the company’s 11th annual Emerging Dancer competition from the studios.

English National's 'Emerging Dancer 2020' competition finalists. Picture: Laurent LiotardoEnglish National's 'Emerging Dancer 2020' competition finalists. Picture: Laurent Liotardo

This year’s finalists are back in the City Island studio to perform a classical pas de deux followed by contemporary pieces in front of judges on September 22. It is being live streamed where a paying audience at £5 are invited to cast votes by text to select a “people’s choice” winner.

Nine new commissions are on the cards this autumn, including Le Corsaire and Akram Khan’s Giselle both recorded for screen, as well as selections from the archives.

Premieres of Creature by Akram Khan and the new version of Raymonda which had both been postponed because of public venues being closed under lockdown are also being rescheduled. Creature now has its premiere in September next year at Sadler’s Wells, while the Raymonda premiere date hasn’t been fixed yet.

English National’s online classes during lockdown is also resuming with a subscription programme of 100 hours of material including ballet classes, yoga and fitness sessions. The launch date hasn’t been announced yet, nor full details for the coming winter season.


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