The company’s response to pandemic cancellations? An eight-city tour with sleeper buses and a foldout stage to perform outdoors.
ST. LOUIS — On an afternoon in mid-July, the heat index in Forest Park here was hovering in the upper 90s. Members of American Ballet Theater, in town on tour, had just sweated through a company class that the dancer Tyler Maloney likened to “Bikram ballet.” He and his colleagues were on an outdoor stage, and its floor was warming like a griddle.
How to cool the stage before the matinee? How about scattering ice cubes across the surface?
Welcome to ABT Across America, a ballet tour not quite like any before it. The company wasn’t just performing outdoors. It was performing outdoors on a stage it had brought along, a stage on wheels that hydraulically unfolds from the form of a truck. And in between putting on shows for grateful, enthusiastic crowds, the dancers were traveling from city to city like a rock band, in sleeper buses emblazoned with tour dates on the side.
The hot stage fell into the category of what Kyle Pickles, the associate general manager, called “Things We Didn’t Think of Yet.” Also in that category at an earlier point: Where will the dancers shower? Running this 21-day tour, Pickles said, felt like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Like the ice cubes, the tour was an improvisatory response to unusual conditions: those of the pandemic. Kevin McKenzie, the company’s artistic director, told me that the idea was “born from desperation.”