Watch a special conversation with American Ballet Theatre’s dancers and choreographers, moderated by Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett.
Cynthia Harvey, Artistic Director, ABT Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis School
Connor Holloway, ABT Dancer and Social Media Liaison
Zhong-Jing "ZJ" Fang, ABT Soloist and ABT Incubator Choreographer / Film Festival Creator
Read below for a full transcript of the conversation.
Kellie Abreu - Good afternoon everyone. I'm Kellie Abreu, Deputy Chief Banking Officer for First Republic. I am delighted to welcome you here today on behalf of our bank, I was given this special honor of hosting in light of my personal passion for dance. I share that passion with our first guest today, my friend Kara Barnett. Kara grew up a committed ballet dancer in North Carolina and studied dance right up through her undergraduate work at Duke University. She started out premed, but she switched direction after a Broadway production class sparked her interest and went on to become a Tony award winning producer. She continued her studies obtaining a Master’s in Business Administration at Harvard University and put that skillset to work when she served as Managing Director at Lincoln Center International. It is there that our paths cross when our bank offered to sponsor a convening called the Lincoln Center Global Exchange, the effort was headed by Kara and gathered leaders from all over the world to explore the role of art and culture internationally. From that point on, our bank has worked together with Kara at every opportunity. She's a visionary and dynamo, and thankfully she brought us with her when she moved on to serve as Executive Director at American Ballet Theater. We generally don't talk publicly about our client relationships, but in this case, the word is out. Kara is part of our family, and you may have seen her in our nationwide ad campaign. We are extremely proud of the association and the amazing work that she and this spectacular company have done to propel their creativity and expand their reach in light of recent monumental challenges. They're an immensely talented and inspiring group of artists and professionals, and we're so excited to hear their plans to innovate and navigate the upcoming season. So without further delay, please welcome Kara Barnett.
Kara Barnett - Thank you. Thank you so much, Kellie, for that kind introduction. And thank you to all of our friends at First Republic Bank for championing artist led innovation, not only at American Ballet Theater, but in so many arts organizations around the country. In this time of isolation and volatility, ecosystems like ours that are reliant on public assembly and close physical contact and travel are facing monumental challenges. As we strive not only to survive, but to thrive in these conditions. We're believed by partners like you, who believe in the importance of the arts to our communities and to our country. First Republic has been there for us every step of the way. So Kellie and all of your colleagues, to Gaye, to Jim, thank you for your partnership. We're profoundly grateful. So as Kellie said, I am honored to serve as Executive Director of American Ballet Theater. And I'm really eager to introduce you to my creative colleagues who have agreed to join me and join all of us today. But let me first, just briefly set the stage for those of you who may not be as familiar with American Ballet Theater, with just a bit of context. So ABT American Ballet Theater is designated by Congress as America's National Ballet Company. We were founded in 1940 in New York City by a young widow with an audacious vision and fierce determination. She led the company for its first 40 years. And this year in 2020, we're celebrating our 80th anniversary, not exactly the 80th anniversary year we had envisioned, but nonetheless, it is a celebratory year for this company. ABT has 90 of the most talented dancers on the planet and they hail from 15 countries and 25 U.S. states. Our home and headquarters is in New York City, but we regularly tour across the U.S. and around the world. And I hope that some of you joining us today have seen us in our theaters at Lincoln Center, at the Metropolitan Opera House, the David Koch Theater, but also at the Segerstrom Center for the arts in Orange County, at the LA Music Center. And in many of the other theaters around the country that we like to call our homes on the road. We had plans for an amazing anniversary year. We had national and international tours planned. We were supposed to go to Abu Dhabi and to North Carolina, my home state right after COVID hit. We also had education and training programs for students planned around the globe. And you'll hear a little bit about how we've continued to create and continue to train the next generation of artists, even in these challenging times. So rewind for a minute with me back to early March, we had just finished a 26 city audition tour. We had just finished a glorious world premiere in Orange County at the Segerstrom Center, and then cut to the global pandemic. So today we're no longer able to welcome audiences to our traditional venues. We're no longer able to welcome students to our studios, at least not for now. In normal times, our business model is reliant on ticket sales and touring fees. And clearly we won't see either of those revenue streams for the foreseeable future. So how have we continue to serve our mission of bringing the best of ballet to the broadest possible audience? We've turned to our artists for ideas and inspiration, their entrepreneurial energy and their storytelling, prowess, their agility and flexibility. And I know that's a bad pun when you're talking about ballet dancers, but just go with me. I've led us to connect with ever wider audiences in new and exciting ways. So here with me today, I have three extraordinary artists, three dancers who are strengthening the art form behind the scenes as well as on the stage. So it's my great pleasure to introduce Cynthia Harvey, formerly a principal dancer, and now Artistic Director of American Ballet Theater's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. Hi Cynthia, Zhong Jing Fang, ABT Soloist Choreographer and Filmmaker. And Connor Holloway, ABT dancer, video content creator and social media maven. Hi Cynthia, Hi Zhong, Hi Connor.
Kara - So the way this is going to work is I'll ask each of our guests a few questions. We'll share some video samples of their work because ballet is a visual art form. So you have to see it to believe it, and then we'll leave time at the end for them to address your questions. So let's start with Cynthia and the extraordinarily swift and successful digital pivot in ABT's education programs. I have been sharing from the sidelines, not only as Executive Director, but as the mother of three daughters who are part of our training pipeline. They are all enrolled in Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school classes, under Cynthia's leadership. So I've been seeing little girls dancing in my living room, in my kitchen, in my bedroom and seeing our amazing faculty on Zoom. So Cynthia, can you tell us a little bit about the vast array of education activities that we have taken online? Online classes for the public private classes on Zoom for our students who are enrolled in our teacher training programs, what has been the experience? Set the stage for us please.
Cynthia Harvey - Well, Kara and everyone, in the world of education and dance, a tradition that's around 500 years old, where information is usually passed from the previous generation to the next, and innovation has been slow. Not since IBM Selectric typewriter, which recorded dance movements as a form of notation. Has there been much in the way of technology and dance education? That is until the tech revolution. When we found ourselves out of the studio due to the COVID-19 situation and our instruction to isolate, we really did have to think fast. And when the pandemic took hold, we were back in our personal studios, the kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, apartment, complex hallways and patios in under a week. Dance is like sport and activity that requires movement. And we do not only need to hold onto a bar or a surface that's stable. We like to move to travel across the room to achieve an athleticism akin to that of a running long jumper with the flexibility of a gymnast, the high kicks of a karate master and the graceful form of a diver. So we immediately pirouetted to the present and we have offered 325 online classes for our schools from March until the spring with Instagram's live TV and Zoom. And we even introduced a bilingual class for students ages three to 18. We now have 1,450 students enrolled in our 12 weeks of our virtual summer intensives. And that's roughly 63 classes a day. And our reach has gone from South Africa, India, New Zealand, and Japan, where the students are getting up at 1:00 in the morning to do class with us, which is extraordinary. Our national training curriculum for ballet teachers took on the training of 40 of our own ABT dancers to become certified teachers this summer, plus approximately 300 new teachers will be certified by mid-August. And amazingly, we have found that this version of our training was the most successful because those who undertake the course don't need to buy an airplane ticket or find a hotel in New York to do the training. They can do it from the luxury, their own homes. So that's really all the things we've done in just four and a half months since we've been in this situation.
Kara - It's remarkable. Its mind boggling how quickly you've pivoted and how successfully. I want to ask you some more, but first let's give our guests a little glimpse into what it looks like to be a student training at home with ABT. Can we show a little video please?
Cynthia - I love them. They're adorable.
Kara - Totally adorable. Not easy though when you're used to leaping across the studio to leap across your kitchen or jump over your cat. I think I saw a couple pets in there.
Cynthia - It happens to me every day.
Kara - So Cynthia, how have you fine-tuned teaching and training over the internet in your own teaching and then in helping to guide the faculty, what works best to keep students inspired and engaged? What have you found?
Cynthia - Well, I think the first and most important thing that I realized right away is that we needed to keep some sense of normalcy, which is very difficult under these situations. But so offering our training at approximately the same time of day was the first thing on my agenda. And showing also visual things, showing videos in between. So we did meet the artists and interviews with my faculty. We showed them some videos of ourselves dancing because I think that they don't know our generation, my generation, they know ZJs and Connor very well. We offered them instruction and Pilates, yoga, modern dance, dance mime, and variations. But we've also discovered the features of Zoom that we didn't really originally know. So as time has progressed, we realized that there are advanced features we could use. There's a spotlight feature where we can zoom in on particular students to also have our music come through the computers, because as some of you might know, if you're working on Zoom, two people can't talk at the same time. One of them gets canceled out. So when you have music and I'm giving corrections over the computer, sometimes that was initially really difficult. The dancers were coming up to the computer and they couldn't hear the corrections, but we found that there's a feature within that can actually cancel out the need for two different voices. They can be a synchronized. So corrections given like that has been very, very helpful. We're much better able to do that now. And I can also now split the class into lines and groups where I couldn't do that initially, because I didn't really understand as we never really took the time to develop training in any of these features or technologies. We just went in and we were learning as we went along. So I can observe 10 dancers or five dancers or one dancer if I want to by having them put their feature on, called Hide Self View. And that really works much better than having to look at 30 people in their Brady bunch boxes, or "Am I dating myself?" It should be the Hollywood Squares for most of you. For me, it's still the Brady Bunch boxes.
Kara - Well, I want to bring ZJ into the conversation now, because one thing that you mentioned, Cynthia was the ability to train teachers and to train teachers all over the world, not even just all over the country. We have 300 teachers right now enrolled in our national training curriculum program, but we started our online version of this teacher training program with ABT's dancers. We offered this Teacher Training Certification to all of the ABT dancers and 40 out of the 90, signed up to participate and ZJ, you were one of them. So I'd love to hear from your perspective as a participant, what it was like, and then also just a little bit about why you wanted to be certified to teach and what you hope to communicate to the next generation of dancers.
Zhong Jing Fang - Thank you, Kara, for having me, it's truly an honor to be here this evening. Yes. I have enjoyed studying the ABT National Teacher's Training program through this special time and through Zoom very much. This program has taught me not only teach technique, but the poise and health of becoming a young dancer for our future generation. When I was a younger dancer, I didn't have much access or examples of learning from the professional ballerinas. Most of my training was done by their limited dance videos. My hope for today is for more professional ballerinas like us to have the firsthand knowledge, skill and experience to really communicate to the younger dancers today. And I believe this will make a big difference in the future of ballet. And I'm super excited to have more teaching opportunities to give it back to the young dancers of today.
Kara - Well, I know you'll inspire many of them ZJ, and I can't wait to peek in on your classes in the months and years ahead. As we talk about inspiring the next generation, one other thing that we've been doing in addition to the teacher training and to pre-professional training and for students who are enrolled in our programs, we've also been offering some dance history and contextualizing the art form of ballet for the next generation through something called ABT Kids Daily. And sharing just the history of this remarkable art form. So, Cynthia, do you want to just talk a little bit about ABT Kids Daily and why that's important?
Cynthia - I'd love to. ABT Kids is really for families and educators, and it's a place where our families can learn so many fun facts about our ballet, school and company and dancers within. Its ballet themed activities from the comfort of their homes. There are puzzles, there's instructions on past dancers and present with ABT, and they learn about ABT's vast choreographic legacy and the choreographers as well. And it's done with daily themes that are really exciting and there it's posted out on our webpage, but also on IGTB. I think on our Instagram page as well.
Kara - And we put the little link in the chat. So if any of you want to check out ABT Kids Daily and share it with your own kids, nieces, nephews, neighbors, grandkids, it's really fun to share it and then talk about some of these activities. Watch the videos, we do spotlights on current ABT dancers. So you might get to see ZJ or Connor featured in future weeks of ABT Kids Daily, they're just such incredible mentors and sources of inspiration for kids, whether the kids are dancers or not, they're inspired by just the perseverance and the optimism and the determination of all of the ABT artists. So speaking of daily content and putting out there just incredibly inspiring, energizing, joyful, daily videos and stories. I want to bring Connor Holloway into this conversation because he is the King of awesome daily content. So Connor is the creative force behind ABT official, which is ABT's wildly popular Instagram channel. So Connor, you went from preparing to perform every day for eight weeks at the Metropolitan Opera House, which is what we thought we'd be doing in May and June in our annual flagship season to instead producing an eight week virtual season for ABT called ABT Offstage. Can you talk about that experience?
Connor Holloway - Absolutely. It was definitely quite the transition of preparation, I must say. Hi, I'm Connor, it's so nice to be here, it's such a privilege to get to talk with you Kara, and be on a panel with you, Cynthia and ZJ. Yeah, obviously the day to day practice has been a huge transition from getting up, taking ballet class every day, being at the mat, rehearsing for five hours, doing eight shows a week to waking up, checking my email, coming up with content ideas, writing lots of emails. But I have to say for the longest time I've been running the Instagram for maybe three or four years now, I've always had so many ideas of ways that I could collaborate and really enlist other departments, and other artists that fall under the umbrella that is ABT. And unfortunately, because I'm always so busy with rehearsals and performances and class, it hasn't been possible to tap into all of the other artists that make up our organization. So silver lining, I'm definitely a serial optimist here, although it's been hugely disappointing to not be able to celebrate our 80th anniversary season onstage, it's been a really unique and inspiring opportunity for me to be able to use this time, to really extend our social platforms and really sink our fingers into all of the other elements that make up ABT. So be that the musicians, be that the hair and makeup team, be that props, be that electrics, stage management, massage therapy to really tell the stories of all of the people that make up ABT. And then share that through our channel. It's been such a fun test run for me to see how our audience responds because they don't know. It's so much of it. But the cool thing about ABT's Instagram is, it's told through the lens of the dancer and it's awesome to be in the studio and get that very accessible, instantaneous moment inside a studio with a dancer, but it's been really cool to show all the other nooks and crannies of what make ABT, ABT. And just a few stats in our eight week season, we had over 275 posts across our social channels. We had 78 original pieces of content. So that's video, that's photo, that's storytelling. We had five new video series that were consistent serials that happen on a weekly basis. And we had eight special features as well. So you'd have to check it out, there is hours and hours and hours of content to digest.
Kara - This is what we mean by artists led innovation. I love it. And Connor's super humble, but we have 650,000 followers, maybe more by now on our Instagram channel. And it's the most popular Instagram channel of any ballet company. And it's really because of that unique perspective that Connor brings, and this artist dancer led perspective. So before we keep chatting Connor, let's watch a little piece of content that you created. It's one of my favorites from these recent months. And it does feature our dancers wherever they're sheltering in the world. So if we could cure, we fly as one.
Kara - I love it. I love it. My four year old also just so you know, every day she has to watch it at least once. Every day she's like, "Can I watch the swan’s mommy? Just once."
Connor - Ooh, I have to say that was really fun to me, just because so many of us we just want like it's one of our quintessential ballets. We do it every year and it was cool that everybody was so excited at the opportunity to get to try the choreography, like the other dancers that don't get to do the Swan choreography. So that was really fun for all of us to participate in.
Kara - It's incredible. And I think also this was meant to be a big anniversary year for Swan Lake. So in addition to this being our 80th anniversary year, it was the 35th anniversary of our Romeo and Juliet, the 20th anniversary of our Swan Lake and the 40th anniversary of LaBeija Dare. So all of those anniversaries, unfortunately, weren't able to happen on the stage at the met, but Connor and our incredible social media team, found ways to celebrate them virtually. So this was one of the ways that we celebrated the big Swan Lake anniversary. And as you noticed at the end, there was a hashtag ABT alone, but together, and that's just been our rallying cry since the beginning of COVID that even though we're separated and we can't unfortunately be in the studios or in the theaters that we're staying in very close contact with every single member of this team, the artists, the staff, our audiences, our crew, our musicians everyone has really leaned in. And Connor has been telling their stories to the world. So now you can all follow us and you can get to know all the humans of ABT as well. So Connor you talked a little bit about the secret source, but is there anything else you want to share about your strategy and what you think makes ABT's Instagram unique and I have to say addictive.
Connor - Totally. I think it's very multilayered. I think one of them or two main things being one, I think I'm aware that it's very unique to have an artist run an institution's Instagram account. And I think that happened accidentally, but it seems to be almost this perfect happening. Because like I mentioned earlier, it gives you this very direct lens into very exclusive environments, like the studios on a day to day basis, class, the lounge, you get all of these ... I'm able to serve up all of these very real moments that we share. And I'm also very familiar with all the dancers on a very personal level. So what's been such a joy for me is like on a daily basis. I love my friends. I love my colleagues. I see all of their humor and their nuance. And just even as dancers, I'm so aware of all of their abilities. And they're beautiful, but also difficult thing as an artist is our performances are so fleeting and it's like, sometimes you don't get to see the best moments because it's like, that's the accumulation of one moment that you're seeing in a performance. So it's cool to be able to highlight and spotlight and showcase so many different things and so many different people. We're a company of 90 dancers. So maybe people come to like five, hopefully all of our performances in a season. But if you only came to one or two, it's great that you can go on the Instagram and connect on a very personal level with many of us. So I've really enjoyed that opportunity to share the love. I also think what's really cool about social media, which is what I enjoy about it most is this direct hand to hand communication that you can have with people and institutions and brands. And it's really cool to have this direct conversation with the people that you look up to and the artists that you idolize and the brands that you frequent. And I think it's really cool to feel like you have a say or ... So anyways, all of this to say one of my favorite parts of the job is to literally communicate back and forth with the audience. And so there's so many ways on social media. It's like you have comments, you have likes, and you have reactions on stories. You have DMS, there's so many ways to get a response that it's also this really awesome system to vet what people like, what people don't like, what people want, what they don't want. So as a performer, it's cool because we're so removed in a way from our audience that it really invites the audience in just communicate back and forth with us. So again, long winded answer to say, I think it's that very transparent visibility and accessibility, the breaking down of this wall, like lifting up the curtain and really showing who we're as people and as artists and show our authentic personalities. I think that authenticity is huge on social media. I think you want to know who you're following and sometimes that's hard with big brands and big institutions. And that communication really engaging in it and not being scared of it and listening and responding and spreading the love.
Kara - And I think ABT has always been known for just individuality and the warmth and humanity of the artists, of the dancers. And I think that our fans have always felt like they know you guys, but now through Instagram, they can really go that next step. And I think that highlighting that individuality and the variety and the diversity of experiences and perspectives is something that you've done so brilliantly. So I want to bring in ZJ to talk a little bit about her perspective and how just multilayered. And multifaceted you're as an artist and as a storyteller ZJ. In addition to now being a teacher and an educator and a dancer and a performer, you last year were selected to choreograph for ABT Incubator which is our choreographic workshop. You've done a lot of choreography on your own in various festivals and settings. And then this year you were selected as a filmmaker for ABT's first ever digital film festival initiative. So before we see a clip from your short film, could you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for this particular project, the film project? And then after we watch that, we'll come back and talk about your choreography as well.
ZJ - Sure. My inspiration came from the music, Mozart Piano Concerto, No. 21. This familiar music somehow reflected me to the time we're living in today. I live right next to a hospital and every night at 7:00 PM for the past three months, there are people clapping for the first responders who are fighting for people's life. And the sound of clapping reminded me of being a performing artist, how each night gave 200% on stage to the audience. And it really resonated with me that with a question, what's our duty as dancers for today? So as ABT is supposed to celebrate our 80th anniversary, but fast we find ourselves in the middle of the pandemic based upon one's perception. This could be viewed as an opportunity for us to focus on our inner connections. Dance like our artistic expressions is a reflection of the human experience. This film is an expression of who we are, and not only as dancers, but also every one of you and where we are all going for the future. So hope you enjoy the little show down.
Kara - So here's a sneak preview of perception. Wow. I want to watch the whole thing again, and I've had the privilege to watch it a few times, but I can't wait until we do the big road premiere release. We'll have to let all of our First Republic friends know. We promise we'll send out a memo. Kellie, please help us make sure that everyone who's watching today gets to see ZJ's full film when it's released. So ZJ, can you talk a little bit about your creative process? When you were creating this film or when you approach a new choreographic work, where do you find your inspiration?
ZJ – Being and upcoming choreographer, first of all, I am very extremely fortunate to be able to grow as a choreographer and storytelling artist, dancer, and our artistic Director, Kevin McKenzie's leadership with all the opportunities ABT have been giving us. To create a dance, I always started with an inspiration and it's like a seed grows inside of you. Then once I have the vision of, whatever I'm creating, I have to be open minded about reality at the same time. For example, for our incubator workshop last year, I had two weeks and five days a week to prepare, and I got to work with the dancers in the studio for five to six hours a day. The process was very hands on. I got to create a movements with the dancers in a room together. And if there's anything, I'd like to correct, it was easy for me to make the adjustments. With this film festival, however, it was much more challenging. First, I have never created a film before. And all the process was through FaceTime or Zoom meetings. We had three weeks to prepare with more than 10 dancers in my piece. They did not have to meet each other or to know one another's steps, but arranging each individual dancer's time was not easy. I first started to create movements through their living rooms. Then we had to figure out where we could possibly record a film. Once we found our stage then we found the perfect angle through their own iPhones. And thanks to technology. Aside from the challenges, I have found looking through their wardrobes to find the perfect outfit. As we say the costume must fit the mood for the piece. It was quite a challenge to put all the pieces together in the end, it's like a puzzle, but I was incredibly lucky to have my wonderful colleague and friend who you've just seen in a piece. Who helped me to edit this film together, and he really helped me to complete the vision of this film. So now you get a sense of how everything takes a village to make a dream come true.
Kara - And ZJ you mentioned the costumes and whether you're shopping in closets or whether you're working with a costume designer. I will say that every piece I've ever seen of yours has a unique fashion flair that matches your own incredible style. So clearly that's part of the way that you're painting a picture and telling stories as well is through fashion, through clothing, through accessories.
ZJ - Definitely.
Kara - So talk to me for a minute about the stories that you're telling. And I know sometimes they're more abstract and sometimes they're more narrative, but are there stories that you'd like to see told through dance, through your own creations, through the pieces that you get to participate in as a performer? How do you think about the stories that we tell on stage and now on film?
ZJ - Yes. For me as artists we must learn to reflect the times and as a choreographer, I always like to engage my personal experience in the relationship to the world we're living in today. I would love to see, and even great storytelling to reflect time and the human souls to connect our inner life and journey. And that's my goal and mission I think when I create a piece.
Kara - Thank you, ZJ. And I think that dancers in general and artists are drawn to American Ballet Theater there's that word theater in our title. We want to share the human experience. It's not just about angles and shapes, and it's not just about the athleticism, it's about the emotion. And I've always found that as an audience member, as a kid admiring American Ballet Theater, and now I see it in you and your colleagues as you perform and as Kevin curates and as you all begin to create as well. So looking forward to the future stories that we can tell and that we can nurture and that we can elevate and amplify. So speaking of storytelling, Connor, if you're still here, if you can turn on your camera and just talk to us about, what do you think millennial and Jing Z followers and fans are looking for from us from legacy brands in general? How can you as a young artist help to inform and guide how we do tell stories, how we do communicate with that next generation of audiences?
Connor - Yeah, it's a really good question. And I think similarly to what I was saying in my previous answer, I think a huge thing is that millennial and Jing Z peeps want to feel heard and they want to feel seen. And they really embrace change. I feel like personally, I'm always excited about change and open to it. And especially in the time that we're living in right now, there's so much change and there's so much adapting and resilience that has to be ... Yeah, just a parent. Because it's like for anyone to really thrive in today's society, it's like, you really have to be quick to listen to process and then to react and have a response and then stick to it. So I think honestly, it's listening is a huge part of it and just hearing what people want, hearing what people like. And like what Z said, which I agree so much is it's like reflecting the times. And it's like, what's awesome about ABT is, we have this really strong root and history and ballet as an art form in general it's very traditional. It's very classical. It's beautiful. But what I think is awesome about the challenge with today, because I find it really exciting is pairing it with what's happening now. And the style of now and really finding room to intersect and celebrate that. I don't know, I'm all about collaboration and I think it's awesome because the movement of ballet is inherently classical and is rooted in this long, long, long history. And then when we can pair it with modern day creators and stories and designers and just concepts, I think it's bound to create something really awesome. So yeah, I think what we're doing is great, as much as it was unfortunate to lose our 80th anniversary season on the Met stage, it was this weird sign of like, but get on tech, you really have to embrace your media side and be really media savvy. Part of ABT's mission statement is to deliver the best possible product to the widest possible audience. And I think we did just that. And it's really cool because social media has this ability to tap audiences all over the world. And even our together tonight virtual celebration, we had like 70,000 people attend. We couldn't fit 70,000 people on the map for one show. So it's cool just to see where we can go and to really question and shed light on all the other opportunities that we've yet to explore.
Kara - I totally agree. And I think, how can this time be catalytic, right? How can we pump the gas on things we knew we wanted to explore anyway? Because in addition to reaching the widest possible audience, our mission calls us to extend the canon of classical ballet. They're telling us to get in the test kitchen and try some new recipes with the ingredients that we have, which is the language of classical ballet and our artists. So welcome to the test kitchen. So Cynthia you were a celebrated principal dancer with ABT and with other companies around the world. I'm just curious when you were dancing, did you feel like your ideas for innovation were welcomed? Were Artists encouraged to be entrepreneurial? Is this a new phenomenon? And have things changed or not?
Cynthia - Well, I was probably the first dancer who had a video camera up, one of those huge, huge ones. And I actually took it on tour. And I probably was also the first dancer who had one of the brick mobile phones, which was at the time very new. And a phone was a phone in those days. And the video camera, as I said, was enormous. And I brought mine on tour and was teased because I wanted to use it so that I could examine my work and beyond just the ballet master and ballet mistress to use the technology that was available to actually go home and study my work. Anyway, I stopped when the company began to film things on stage and in rehearsals, and also union rules came into the mix. But I've always hoped that we could mix innovation with dance. And well, now we're first and foremost, a population that is much more digital and consumers are used to digital activity. So there's a huge amount of technology we're seeing being used for everything from self-promotion to the media as Connor was saying. But also we could use it for medical studies for peak performance, such as what we were able to participate in that small study with Rutgers University to observe weaknesses and discover how oxygen can be used for peak performance. And we did not have that in my day. So I'm antique. But there were people who were doing some things with high tech, computing, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, they began using computing for innovation back in 1969. So yeah, I would have loved to have had the opportunities in my day, but we're talking over 30 years ago. So that is a long time ago. In the time now, I would sure love some content, specific professional development for teaching and pedagogy. But yeah, we need the adequate access to updated technology to keep that resource current, which is so important.
Kara - Clearly in many ways we were poised for this moment and in many ways we're racing to catch up and what you point to with hardware and software and staff training. That's all we're long on ideas and in some areas short on the tools, but we're racing as fast as we can to catch up and leap ahead. I'm looking at the time and I want to make sure we have time to answer your questions. So First Republic friends, I don't know if there are some questions that are perhaps waiting for us in the chat or guests who have raised their hands. But please feel free I have some other questions I want to ask but Connor and ZJ and Cynthia, if you can all turn on your cameras so that we can address any questions from our audience. So it looks like there's a question in the chat here for ZJ and Connor. Do you feel the environment allows your fans to get to know you better as individuals? And do you like that? Or is it a little uncomfortable?
Connor - Yeah, I like it. I think it's really beneficial. Similarly, we control what we share, so obviously anything too personal, might not be super ideal, and I think everyone can relate to this. It's like you're more inclined to go support something or someone that you feel personally connected to. So I think when we can go just a little step beyond our abilities on the stage, it only brings people back more because they're like, "I want to go see Connor." And they're like, "What's Connor doing?" And it's also nice for us because then we have more people at our shows specifically.
ZJ - I really like it too. And I actually was just talking to Connor the other day about how I enjoy watching all the ABT show stories. And somehow that we get to connect with the dancers in a different level. When you see a performance, you only see the final product and you don't know every individual dancers what we're doing and how we get ready and how we prepare for performance And it's always so nice to watch the back stage seeing that most people wouldn't know that we were doing before a performance or after a performance. And also each dancer's personality. And it just so relatable to everyone who can watch it at home or turn on your iPhone and Instagram and its fun for me.
Kara - All right. So we have another question about partnering during the time of COVID and does a current health and safety restrictions inform the works that are selected for creation and performance. And I'll just say that I know that for our Together Tonight program, which Connor mentioned earlier, we had an incredible Pareja. With two of our dancers who are sheltering together. So there are a couple, and then in the film festival that ZJ's film is part of there are a couple of films that take advantage of the fact that we do have a few relationships in the company where people have already been exposed to one another. Any other thoughts on partnering in the time of COVID? We're looking forward to the day when rapid testing is widely available, like really rapid testing, not four day result, rapid testing. Any other questions? Oh, here we go. I found the questions. How are we helping dancers not have injuries? So one thing we've done is we've offered and sent, I think to most of you, by this point the squares of Marley, the floor covering. Cynthia, I don't know if any of you can show everyone if it's behind you.
Cynthia - Mine's behind the door, which I could go get. But in the meantime, I can also add that we discussed the physicality of the students before and company members with our physical therapists. And they were not as concerned about as jumping on these floors, cement most of them as they are about when we were in Japan. And their concern is that we ramp up to the traveling and the aerobic stamina that we don't normally have when we're dancing in such a tight spot. They said that they're going to want to dance like crazy when they go back into a studio and we're going to have to try to rain people in. And there's elements also of spotting. And we're used to being now in a very tighter situation. So when we turn, we're spotting a wall that's much closer, and when you're in a studio, you generally have a mirror and everything is further away. So there are going to be a little bit of depth perception that needs altering. But injuries, we put foam also like yoga mats on the floor for the dancers to dance on. And we've also said if they really feel any pain to go ahead and put trainers on, tennis shoes, I'll go get my Marley just to show you, but anybody else want to speak in terms of the dancer's health, please feel free.
Kara - So Connor and ZJ, maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you're staying fit and in shape and trying to prevent injury, but also keep yourself in that peak performance step so that we can ramp back in quickly once we're able to.
Connor - Yeah, it's definitely a nice opportunity to try other sorts of training. I could never run on concrete. But since I'm not jumping for like eight hours a day, I'm willing to take the impact on my joints. It's good cardio and it's nice to get out and get some fresh air. I also take a lot of yoga. We have class in our in-home on Zoom every day. Which is nice but again, I'm on the second floor, so jumping isn't super ideal. But I know there's access to physical therapy as well for those that need it. So yes, any injury prevention and treatment, we do have access to zoom consultation and sessions meetings with our PTs.
Cynthia - So I'll quickly show the floor. You can see now the gray linoleum. And I just put a little bar on that yellow credenza and I hold to that. It's actually a shower handle for old people. That's sections onto my credenza and I hold it an that's my bar. But a lot of the dancers have brought in a bar for their classes, which they've purchased bars to actually do their class on.
ZJ- I have to say that one piece of Marley is a lifesaver. And for me it's impossible to jump in my apartment because every time when I tried to jump, we have neighbors complaining. And also it's really hard floor. But what Cynthia you mentioned about the yoga mat really helped me, that I can at least do a little warmup jumps every day. And also we're very fortunate that we have amazing physical therapist, Julie Dardy, and she worked with me through the weeks. And every time she'd just tell me what to do to boot up muscles. That's good for jumping or some other exercise. And it's been really helpful.
Kara - So the company takes class together once a day. Our ballet master Carlos Lopez, I think has taught almost every day since mid-March. So there's that daily ritual. And then we also have some of the dancers are teaching conditioning classes as well. And then some of our faculty have offered Pilates classes, yoga classes, we've done some different world dance style classes. We're really trying to keep everyone physically active and engaged. And also we're really worried about mental health and we want to provide opportunities for people to come together regularly. So we're also providing a pretty robust schedule of talks and classes and conversations with leaders from other fields, just ways to keep people's minds active, as well as bodies active during this time of isolation. We have a question about, when will we go back into the studio? We can't wait. A lot of it is dependent on of course the virus, public health regulations, and government regulations. Our studios are actually in New York City, but they're not at Lincoln Center. They're in an older building downtown. That is not exactly designed for good ventilation or good traffic flow. So we're working through all of the issues and people like me, administrative staff and leadership who can work remotely, we're going to stay home as long as possible so that we can get our artists and our students, back into the studios first. So that's our commitment. And we have a terrific reopening task force that is working daily to try to solve all of the challenges and hurdles so that we can get dancers back into the studios swiftly. But they don't have a specific date quite yet. We're theoretically in phase four. So fingers crossed. Can you stream past performances from your archives? So we are streaming as many as we can. ABT, even though we're 80 years old, we have been big believers in the ephemeral. You had to be there to see that glorious performance and we haven't captured enough. Going forward, we're going to change that. But in the past we do not have a robust archive of performances, especially from recent years. We have some things back when PBS and Lincoln Center were doing more full length recordings. In previous decades, we do have some works and we're doing everything we can to clear those, it's complicated, but we're doing the best we can to get all the rights so we can share them. But we really don't have a lot of recent full length recordings. In some ways that's a shame because we wish we could share this robust library with all of you, the way that some other institutions are able to who have home theaters, where they film everything, because they have this incredible media suite at their disposal. But we're also trying to look at this as an opportunity and saying, "Look going forward, what stories can we tell? And how do we tell them in ways that will be compelling on screens?" Not just a record of what the live performance experience was, and not good enough record of what the live performance felt like. But how can we tell compelling stories of the artists and the art form that really resonate on different digital distribution platforms? So stay tuned, you'll see an addition to ZJ short film and Connor's social media content lots of docu series and podcasts and documentaries and other new works coming your way, digitally in the months ahead. And then once we are able to be back in the theaters, we really do want to think about how digital capture and content distribution can remain part of our strategy so that while we will still always value and celebrate the live experience and the energy exchange that happens between artist and audience. We also recognize that to fulfill our mission and reach the widest possible audience, that digital tools are essential and powerful.
Kellie - Well, I just want to say thank you Kara from First Republic, Cynthia, ZJ, Connor, and all of our friends with American Ballet Theater. I'm sure our audience is excited to see more of what you're doing in the virtual space, but even more excited to see your dancers back live and onstage when that time comes. We want to thank everyone for attending today. Thank you and be well.
Kara - Thank you so much for having us. And Connor, ZJ, Cynthia, thank you so much.