Even for a scorching summer day, it was shocking to see how empty Lincoln Road was on a Tuesday afternoon. The pedestrian mall, which in pre-pandemic years was always bustling, was nearly as barren as Miami's arts calendar has been since the shutdown.
The new pop-up studio Miami City Ballet has set up at 744 Lincoln Road hopes to remedy that.
At the corner of Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue, ballet dancers are now able to take advantage of the space that formerly housed BCBGMaxAzria. Passers-by can glance through the massive storefront windows of the one-time Chrysler dealership to see world-class ballerinas work on their pirouettes and pliés. The dancers are not performing Swan Lake, but every weekday through September 10, from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., they will be practicing their craft for all the world to see.
"It's all mannequins and then all of a sudden to see people dancing. I think it's exciting," says Nina Fernandes, a Brazilian-born ballerina and one of the four masked dancers who were training on Tuesday.
Owing to the pandemic, Fernandes and the rest of the 53-member company no longer had space to rehearse. Social-distancing guidelines meant that they had to practice in whatever cramped spaced they called home.
"It was hard. When we jump, we need a floor that's not too hard," Fernandes explains. "You bump into furniture. One time I hit the ceiling fan with my hand."
An interesting solution presented itself when Miami City Ballet was allowed to take over the space just a block from the company's original home (currently a Victoria's Secret). Conveniently, MBC received a grant from the City of Miami Beach earlier this year to stage activations on Lincoln Road. The pandemic paused those plans, but the organization repurposed the money to create a temporary training space worthy of some of the world's best ballet dancers. The most significant expense was bringing over the springy Marley flooring the dancers' feet are used to. Adding to the ambiance are the mannequins placed in the window, clad in flamboyant costumes from prior shows. Currently on display is the costuming from MBC's production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream.
On this Tuesday afternoon, social distancing for interested spectators wasn't a concern. But in case crowds gather, colorful stars have been placed on the sidewalk so audience members can safely stand six feet apart. Inside the studio beyond the mirrors and barres that have been brought in, rectangles have been taped off so each dancer stays a safe distance from their fellow company members. A maximum of six dancers can practice at any one time, and they must be masked at all times.
"It is difficult to dance with the mask on," Fernandes admits. "Our exercises use all the muscles, so breathing is an important part. It's taking getting used to, but the challenge is nothing we can't handle."
During quarantine, Fernandes, like many remote workers, utilized Zoom to stay productive.
"The ballet community has many great teachers working online," she says.
During the two-hour session on Tuesday, she followed a class recorded on her phone.
"I took a full barre to warm up my legs," Fernandes says. "I'm starting from zero, so I don't want to hurt myself, but I push myself a little more."
Miami City Ballet remains in a wait-and-see mode to determine when it can safely resume its season. The company hopes to announce a reimagined 35th-anniversary season sometime in August. For the time being, the dancers are happy to be performing in front of an audience again.
"It feels great to see the community pass by, to see people take photos or videos with their phones," Fernandes says. After all this time, interacting with an audience feels good."
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