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April 20, 2020

‘Nothing Can Compare to This’: Ithaca’s Performing Arts Adjust to Pandemic

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What happens to the performing arts when you can’t perform?

That is the question Cindy Reid, artistic director of the Ithaca Ballet, and Michael Barakiva, artistic director of the Hangar Theatre Company, have been grappling with for the past month.

“We are just wondering how we are going to survive if we can’t perform for a live audience,” Reid said. “That’s the definition of a performing arts group. It demands an audience.”

The Ithaca Ballet was forced to cancel its production of Giselle, which had been previously scheduled for April 24 and 25, according to the company’s website.

Reid described the feeling of the last rehearsal before she closed the studio as one of grief.

“Everyone was kind of emotional. We ran through all of our rehearsals anyway even though we knew the production was going to be canceled,” Reid said. “It was very sort of poignant and sad and I just went home and I bawled. It was so heartbreaking.”

Reid said that she has been holding some online classes for both members of the company and the adjoining ballet school, but it has been difficult to adjust to not seeing the members of her company everyday.

“The ballet company is like a family,” she said. “To be apart from your second family is hard.”

Talia Yarbrough, a dancer in the Ithaca Ballet company, said that she hopes that people will be more appreciative of the performing arts after the lockdown is lifted.

“Sitting and watching a ballet in the flesh is just completely different than through technology,” Yarbrough said. “People maybe took for granted [the performing arts] before [the pandemic] happened, and now afterwards they might realize that ‘Wow nothing can compare to this.’”

Although the Hangar Theatre Company has not cancelled its summer shows yet, “it looks more and more inevitable” every day, according to Barakiva.

“Even though we are exploring what virtual programming looks like, it is impossible to imagine that we will emerge from this unscathed,” he added.

However, Barakiva said that he has been “deeply moved” by how the community and the Hangar’s donors have continued to offer support — including an anonymous donor who offered to match up to $30,000 for any donation that is made to the group between now and April 17.

“It gives a little bit of hope during these very dark times,” Barakiva said.

Barakiva, who is currently in New York City, said that the crisis has made him reflect on the coming role of the arts in the current pandemic.

“I think the most important thing that art will do is that when this is done, our species will have an enormous amount of mourning to do for all of the people and experiences that we’ve lost,” Barakiva said. “But when we emerge from this, just as we have asked doctors and scientists to heal our bodies, we will look towards artists and stories to heal our spirits.”