The Dancers of the Met are an independent collective of dancers from the Metropolitan Opera, born out of the need to remain connected to their craft through the pandemic.
They produce video/streaming content, classes and forums focused on creating opportunity, inclusion, and accessibility to dance, as well as producing live performances. Additionally, the Dancers of the Met collaborate with the Met Chors Artists and the Met Orchestra in many performances to emphasize the camaraderie between the artists of the Met and to showcase the interdisciplinary nature of opera.
Since the pandemic started in March of 2020, live performance at the Metropolitan Opera has been canceled. With the main way their craft is shared with others gone, The Dancers of the Met took to sharing their craft online, remaining connected over social media and hosting IG classes (@metoperaballet) as well as sharing a video project called “The Persistence of Beauty”, both organized by Elizabeth Yilmaz-Dobrow.
The Dancers of the Met took whatever opportunity to perform live during these difficult times. Their first in-person activity was a photoshoot created by Sarah Kay Marchetti and garnered the support of the highly sought-after photographer Jon Taylor. This past March, The Dancers of the Met were able to partake in a one-week residency at Arts of Site, their first indoor performance since the pandemic started. This was the first time the artists of The Met reunited in one space and the performance was produced by Mara Driscoll and Elizabeth Yilmaz-Dobrow and directed by the New York Times-featured dance videographer Angelo Vasta.
Currently, The Dancers of the Met are preparing for their first outdoor performance on May 16th as part of the Open Culture initiative in NYC on 75th Street between Broadway and West End. Engagement activities such as lecture demonstrations, artist meet and greets, as well as two live performances also including the Met Chorus Artists and members of the Met Orchestra. The event as well as future ones are supported through fundraising efforts via their sponsorship with Fractured Atlas
We got a chance to speak with some of the Dancers of the Met to get their thoughts on performance during the pandemic, the future of performance, and their upcoming events. Check it out below!
The Knockturnal: How has the time away from in-person performance due to the pandemic affected the dancer’s relationship with their craft and performance in general?
Katya Preiser: I miss live theater and collaborating, in person, with all the artists that it takes to make a show. Personally, the transition to dancing in my living room was a lot easier than adjusting from performing for a large audience (or any audience) to video. I can’t wait to plant my feet on a stage again.
Alison Clancy: Dance training is a communal activity I hold sacred. I’m inspired to push myself to new heights by dancing with astonishing colleagues, learning from them, and feeling the energy of the room rise collectively. It’s been interesting though to have the time to dive deep into some of my own ideas and impulses this year.
Réka Echerer: It has been difficult for me to feel motivated at times and keep my body moving. Dancing in your living room can be very challenging as you navigate through all your furniture like an obstacle course. The beautiful thing that has come from this is our collective. This time has forced us to organize and connect with each other in different ways that have filled my heart and ways I didn’t know I needed. I am eternally grateful for the Dancers of the Met.
The Knockturnal: What changes in performance art do you see happening in the future?
Bradley Shelver: I don’t foresee any changes in live performances going forward. I think we have all been reminded that we are all interconnected and therefore quite fragile. Live performance brings a sense of community and a way for us to celebrate the beauty and togetherness of creation and art. If anything perhaps theaters will be a little cleaner.
Maria Phegan: I think we’ve already seen changes out of the necessity of the increasing use of dance on film, a genre in its own right. I also think the length of the pandemic has given artists a wealth of space to explore themes of distance versus togetherness, and their interdependence at this time. I think the closure of theaters for such an extended period of time has also caused artists to explore the old saying ‘the world’s a stage’, and we’ve worked to make the best out of what we have had access to.
César Abreu: Many- the pandemic has shaken all of us to our core. We have been pushed to see and create art in non-conventional ways. The organizations that we relied so much on have in many ways hunkered down while we artists have been left to our own devices- and that’s a good thing. I mean, what do you do when there’s no stage or theater to perform in? What do you do when you have to look within yourself to find that burning flame that has forever dictated to you as an artist: YOU MUST CREATE! Dancers continuously train our instrument to remain polished, astute, and in shape in order to use it to tell stories, connect with our audiences, and in many ways, we’ve had to “think on our feet”. Sharing our passion for movement, create collaboratively with other artists and find different and innovative ways to move throughout space in non-traditional ways is one of the things I’m most looking forward to now that I’ve experienced that art is not necessarily to be experienced live as much as we bound ourselves to that mindset, throughout the pandemic I have realized that the use of multi-media, film, tv and outdoor spaces are very much at our disposals.
The Knockturnal: How has the slow reintroduction of in-person performance art been?
Maria Phegan: It’s been devastating. Artists watched professional athletes return over nine months ago. We’ve watched airlines receive financial support and airplanes fill with passengers for flights which last longer than the length of an average performance. We’ve watched colleagues perform safely in other countries, and we’ve watched conservatories and schools open and train the next generation. And still we – professional artists who have devoted our lives to our craft – we watch, gather together on Zoom, brainstorm, create, and wonder…why are we last? However, what has also become strikingly apparent is that it is not only artists that desperately need the reopening of the arts. The events that we have created and participated in thus far have revealed that humanity needs our return. The human spirit, in every walk of life, needs music, movement, and community to feel vibrant and alive.
Bradley Shelver: It has been an unfortunate state for all the arts in this country. We have been reminded that sadly we are pretty low on the list of “essential” or priority workers. We may not be saving lives, but art consoles the human spirit and reminds us that even though we are fragile, we as humans poses the ability to build and survive. Sport tournaments, bi-coastal airline travel, and other large gatherings have started up, and we are still told to keep the lights off. When money is a priority it becomes clear how art is not.
The Knockturnal: What was it like reuniting the artists of The Met back in March?
Bradley Shelver: It was an exhilarating and inspiring process. As a choreographer, I was reminded how talented, versatile and resilient my co-workers are. How proud I am to call the Metropolitan Opera my place of work, and how lucky I am to be a creative artist.
César Abreu: After almost a year of very little in-person social interaction it was such a healing experience. We have all been through so much- and it was such a great reminder of how special what we get to do really is. The response of the audience and presenting work to sold-out shows was a great reminder of how needed art really is. I got to capture a lot of the project via film and it was breathtaking seeing all of the pieces come together in such a magical way. We artists are so adaptive and so supple to our realities. We always find a way to make our voices heard and have our spirits remain so incredibly resilient amidst the most suffocating adversity.
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with the photographer Jon Taylor?
Katya Preiser: Jon Taylor loves dancers, and it shows. He’s been a champion for all dancers throughout the pandemic. Offering headshot shoots for out-of-work Broadway dancers. Photographing The Dancers of The Met. Even helping dancers connect to rent studios to safely dance together. He sees us, he’s our champion, and we were so fortunate to work with him on that freezing morning.
The Knockturnal: What is the most exciting part of the upcoming May 16th performance?
Bradley Shelver: I think the most important and exciting part about the May 16th performances is that we get to reconnect with our artform. We have an opportunity to engage with the parts of us that have been essentially put on hold since the pandemic put us on pause. The arts are alive and will thrive again. Support your artists!
César Abreu: The May 16 outdoor event is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most. The opportunity to connect with my community. A community of my fellow artists, creators, choreographers, musicians, stagehands who are passionate about sharing art with the world. Presenting work to our beautiful New York community is just incredibly special. To be able to be out in the streets of NYC sharing and creating art with our communities, the process, the historic element of what we do, and connecting with people one on one and getting to feel their energy directly is absolutely exhilarating.