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Dancing through quarantine and Harlem – in a bubble

NEW YORK — Living and breathing dance is par for the course at the Dance Theater of Harlem. It’s just never looked like this.

A group including 15 dancers, a choreographer, the artistic director and a production team has taken up residence at a cultural centre in New York’s Hudson Valley, about 100 miles (160 kilometres) north of New York City.

There, inspired by the example set by the National Basketball Association and entertainment mogul Tyler Perry, they’re in a bubble until the end of the month — a coronavirus quarantine bubble.

They’ve set up shop at the Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, New York. Tested before they left earlier in October, tested while they’re onsite, no one allowed to leave and return, it gives them a chance to rehearse and create in a way that’s been in short supply since the onset of the pandemic, said Anna Glass, the organization’s executive director.

“If we were back home in Harlem, the best-case scenario is that we are doing work 10 feet apart from one another and we’re wearing masks, and that’s fine from sort of a basic training standpoint,” she told The Associated Press.

“But when it comes to actually honing your craft or doing something that resembles a rehearsing, it’s a contact sport. You have to be able to touch one another,” she added.

As with many artistic organizations, the pandemic has been difficult for the renowned dance company, founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook in 1969.

One bright spot, though, was a project the theatre took on for the organizers of the African American Day Parade and Harlem Week, two long-standing events in their neighbourhood that couldn’t be held the way they normally were because of quarantine conditions.

Instead, the dance theatre created a video showing eight of their dancers in various well-known Harlem spots, including the 145th Street subway station, the City College of New York campus and the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building.

While the video was originally released in August, it got a viral social media boost when it was sent around on Twitter earlier this month, which has thrilled Glass.

“What’s been fabulous about this moment is the opportunity for people to learn about Dance Theater of Harlem and our very unique story, as well as our very unique approach to this art form of ballet,” she said. “I want more and more and more and more people to watch this video and … to fall in love with this beautiful company.”

Deepti Hajela And Vanessa A. Alvarez, The Associated Press



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