Lockdown life: confined ballerinas stay on pointe amid shutdown

By Martin Divisek

Prague, Apr 21 (EPA-EFE).- Forced into confinement due to the coronavirus, ballerina Magdalena Matejkova has cleared the coffee table from in her living room to be able to do some stretching and core strengthening exercises, although she must compete for the space with her co-habitant feline that is laid across the carpet, pawing and swatting at the fabric of her ballet shoes as she prepares for her workout.

“Every morning I try to stretch, to do exercise for a while and keep up some basic training, something while wearing my pointe shoes. Mostly I try to take walks and go for bike rides,” she tells an EPA-EFE photographer as she leans against the kitchen counter.

The shutdown of public activity in the Czech Republic that was imposed to stem the outbreak of Covid-19 after the first case was reported on March 1 has affected all walks of Czech life, and the arts, including the famous National Theater which houses the Czech National Ballet, are no exception.

The nationwide quarantine has forced all non-essential workers, including artists, into home confinement, but for ballet dancers whose profession requires a rigorous daily exercise routine, as well as a theatrical stage, these new restrictions pose real obstacles to staying fit and ready to put on a show.

The national government was among the earliest to impose such strict restrictions, with a nationwide lockdown taking effect on 12 March.

The measures have been a qualified success, with the Czech Republic, which has reported just 6,787 cases and 188 deaths, largely avoiding a major outbreak like the ones seen in Italy, Spain or France.

Accordingly, authorities have started slowly easing some of the restrictions, meaning the dancers have been allowed to return to group training sessions, although these have been staggered to avoid the entire ballet troupe returning all at once.

In six groups of 12 or 13 performers, the dancers get together for daily, hour-long training sessions, although they have to wear protective gloves and masks, and the facilities must be cleaned and disinfected after each session.

And while the severest restrictions are being lifted, a return to “normal” life, with bars, restaurants and theaters full of people, is still not a realistic prospect, at least in the short term.

The Czech National Ballet has already suffered heavily due to the shutdown and the consequent loss of performance revenue. The National Theater has had to cancel some 30,000 tickets sold since the introduction of the anti-coronavirus measures, returning 20.4 million CZK (746,362 euro) for canceled performances of all ensembles (ballet, drama, opera) by the end of March, according to reports in local media.

The Ballet had to delay the performance of Sleeping Beauty by Marcía Haydee, originally planned to be premiered on May 21, 2020, which will now be postponed until next season, with the new start date slated for February 25.

But despite the economic gloom, the troupe is determined not to let the outbreak dampen its spirits.

As part of its efforts to keep its own programme going and its performers busy, as well as providing the rest of the Czech population entertained while confined to their homes, the Ballet launched the “Dance Through It” initiative, which saw the theater put on a gala to mark Easter Sunday, a performance that was broadcast live on national television and streamed online.

The Gala was held to “highlight the mission of art and document what life is like in difficult times. After all, it is the message we would like to communicate through the moments spent together – Let us be brave and let us not lose hope,” a statement by the National Ballet said.

For Matejkova and other dancers who are confined until further notice, the slowdown is a chance to reflect and focus on some of the things in life that were often taken for granted before the crisis.

“I have more time to do things that I could not before – reading books, cycling, cooking and especially family,” she says. “My mom and sister are the only ones I’ve been seeing a lot of lately.”

“But I miss the theater. I miss the adrenaline, I’m really looking forward to when I can go back to the stage and feel the butterflies in my stomach,” Matejkova says. EPA-EFE


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