Joedy Cook, founder and CEO of Ballet Quad Cities in Rock Island, discusses the company's operations during this period of social distancing. We spoke on Wednesday, March 25.
Online classes started last night, and with the Zoom [video conferencing] program we're using, you cannot have back-to-back classes, which we normally do have at our school. We have three studios going at once, and our awesome instructors are Courtney Lyon [the company's artistic director], Emily Kate Long, Maddie Rhode, Sage Feldges, Meghan Phillips, and Margaret Ellis. So the class schedule changed a bit. But we started out with a tap class, a ballet class, then we went on to another ballet class – those were low-level classes for our younger students. And then we ended our evening with Courtney teaching a very high-level ballet-7 class.
Every single one of our families has registered, and we have more than 100 families, some with more than one student taking classes. They're engaged; they're excited. Routine is so important for many, many people. But our students love their teachers and the teachers love their students, and this is a way for them to continue to interact with each other and talk and continue their dance training.
We are also offering a couple of classes for families – yoga barre classes – and are encouraging everyone in the household to give it a try. Everyone's welcome. So right now we are having families joining, students joining, that are not normally a part of our school. They don't need a barre at home. They just need some sort of a mat, or they can do this on carpet.
Part of the challenge for all of us with what's going on right now is that we have to be really resourceful. And I told somebody the other day that with Courtney and me, it's so harmonious – even with the idea for the online classes. On Saturday, at about 11 o'clock in the morning, I told her that I couldn't wait to talk, because I wanted to see if we could figure out how to do this [online classes]. And when I told her what my idea was, it turned out she had already started working on it that morning and had already put it in her schedule: Barre Yoga Classes for Families. That sort of thing happens all the time with us.
The auditions that were supposed to happen in Chicago on April 4 aren't happening anymore. But that really doesn't matter. We have been receiving three to four résumés and audition videos and YouTube videos daily. Dancers are looking for jobs, and this company is a fabulous place to work because it's an even playing field. There is not a pecking order, so every time you walk into that studio, you have the same opportunity as every other dancer to get the part of your dreams. So people can still audition, and the later it goes in the season, the more résumés we get.
Status of The Sleeping Beauty (originally scheduled for April 18)
What a strange world we live in. On March 5, we were performing in Iowa City. On March 7, we were in Cedar Rapids for two close to sold-out houses. The dancers then had a week off and came back on March 16 to begin Sleeping Beauty rehearsals. And that's when everything started going wrong. So we sat down and really had a heart-to-heart talk about what this might look like in terms of how long it might go on and our options, because they had a five-week contract left until Sleeping Beauty went up. So what they decided to do was go off contract now, and then go back on contract on May 18. And then in those next five weeks, they will complete the Sleeping Beauty choreography and rehearsals. [The ballet's two performances are now scheduled for June 20 at Davenport's Adler Theatre.]
They are not rehearsing at home right now. They are staying in shape, and taking class, and everybody has access to our studio space one at a time. It's 5,000 square feet, it's three studios, and no one's ever here at the same time. And then they have their barre, they have their floor... .
But it's something that so many people really don't understand about professional dance and about ballet: It's a team sport. Everyone works together. It's not like a musician who can be at home and practice every day, and then because everyone knows the sheet music, you can get together three days before a performance and be on the same page and sound magnificent. That's not how it works in dance. It's all interactive.
Status of Ballet Under the Stars (scheduled for June 5 through 7)
As far as we know, that's still happening. We have to do a little adjusting because of Sleeping Beauty, so Ballet Under the Stars will probably be mostly performed by students. There may be a professional dancer in there a little bit – a little sprinkle. But we want people to really understand Sleeping Beauty is a full-length production with all the horns, bells, and whistles. And our students will have had their spring show in Mary, so they will be up and running in the best shape ever and ready to perform again.
How to Support Ballet Quad Cities … and Each Other
You know, one thing that's kind of cool on Facebook that we've all seen over and over again is support for restaurants at the this time. You've got to feed your stomach. But for me, you've got to feed your soul. And art is what feeds everybody's soul.
So maybe think about things in those terms. Maybe write a little check. Maybe put some money aside right now if you're gonna buy a ticket to Sleeping Beauty. Maybe think forward-forward – commit to being a season ticket-holder for next year. We have already started to think about music choices, choreography, themes … . We're doing all those things right now in this quiet time. And our photographer Joe Maciejko – he photographs our performances and takes thousands and thousands of photos. So we're really taking the time to really go through those and savor them and see things you didn't see before, because there's always so much to do.
Obviously, as sad as this all is, for those of us who are true artists and love our community and have chosen to bloom where we are planted – right here in the Quad Cities – I just say, “We can do this.” We're one strong bunch of focused, committed, dedicated, passionate people. And I think we are all surrounded by others who believe in what we're doing. There probably isn't an arts group in the Quad Cities that we haven't partnered with at some point. We've worked with the Figge, with Quad City Arts, at the Brunner Theatre, at St. Ambrose, at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center. We did Ballet Rocks years ago at the RME. And we're really digging deep to figure out how to best keep that communication going within out community.
We are a seriously passionate group of people, and I think we're working harder than ever before. My young company dancers, for many of them this is their first job out of college, and boy, they are so thankful for this job, for this school, for our community – and it's really pretty heartwarming to speak with them, to hear them, to see how they're dealing with this adversity.