Ballett Zürich Back in Class

Artistic director Christian Spuck explains how things are progressing positively in Zurich despite two-metre distancing.


Christian Spuck. © Jos Schmid

We have meetings here all the time – twice a week – with all the directors and constant discussions, because we have to do something. The legal requirement, of course, is all those protection rules that include constant washing your hands, disinfecting your hands and keeping a two-metre distance, which is the most important thing. Around two weeks ago, they made it possible for professional sports people to train again in little groups. Then I thought, if they are allowed maybe we have a chance. I talked to the task force in the opera house and they said there was actually a chance to give classes in small groups, while keeping all the rules that are necessary. Now we have five classes a day with ten people and a ballet master and a pianist for class of one hour and 15 minutes. The groups of dancers are very wisely chosen, like people who are living together or couples. Then it’s always just two people in one dressing room so it means that the people who are not living together have the least possible contact with one another in the opera house. At the same time, we have provided masks in the studio, but they are not mandatory – they can take them if they want – and then there are towels, which have to be put in specific bins so that they can be washed after class, and also lots of disinfectant. There’s also a big protection wall around the piano to prevent any dancer getting too near to the pianist. The air conditioning is kept on quite high so that there is a constant change of air. After each class, we have a break of one hour, while a cleaning company disinfects that studio and the air conditioning is put on the highest level so that the air is completely renewed. A second class takes place in a second studio, after which the cleaning process in repeated, as the third class goes into the first studio. The procedure is repeated, with the studios alternated, throughout the day for the five classes. This seems to work well, and the dancers can at least train. It’s also lifting the soul a little bit to be with their colleagues, even though they have to maintain the two-metre distance. They are not allowed to hang around the opera house. The moment they have finished the class they basically have to leave.

We are now waiting for a new announcement from the government on the 27th May. At the moment, in entire Switzerland, we had in the last week a very low new infection rate, and the week before it was just 50 people. That means that the shutdown really worked and the wave of infection is very low at the moment. This also means that the restaurants are opening again, the museums are opening and the public transport is running normally.

People are outside and can go shopping, but everybody is aware of the two-metre distance. We are all hoping now that we can also rehearse, because the ballet company is always together – basically it’s one big family – and we are trying to talk with the government to see if there is a possibility. We are hoping to propose, as with those in professional sports, that all the dancers get tested on a regular basis and then, once we know there is no corona case, we could actually all work together. We have had meetings with politicians and they have been very receptive to the idea, plus we are also in contact with people who are responsible for our health. So we are trying to find a way that maybe, sooner or later, we will be able to rehearse and start working again. When this will actually be is not clear yet, but the main goal is that we can maybe start performing in October, when the first ballet premiere is planned. But, of course, we’d like to start rehearsing this in August – this is what we are now discussing with the government. If they keep the two-metre distance rule, we can only do something like a corona gala with solos and maybe pas de deux with people who live together or are a couple, so that means that the repertoire would be very limited. In ballet, it doesn’t really work if you have to maintain a two-metre distance – the moment people cannot touch each other you cannot really do a ballet for them. That’s why we are trying to find a solution, and maybe one solution is regular tests because they do regular testing with footballers – there are some games starting again in parts of Europe – but it’s all ideas in the air at the moment, nothing is certain yet. At least the government is interested in us and we have a direct contact with them, which is great. But then what is going to happen in the audience, that’s another discussion, because the audience also has to keep the distance. So if we measure two metres around each person, that cuts us down from 1,200 seats to about 190 seats only – and that would be a very small audience. Then the question is, if you have such a small audience, does it make sense to bring out a big, big production? So there are lots of levels of discussions and plannings – I think now I’ve made an A, B, C, D or E plan – or something like that. If this is happening or if this is on this date, or when can I fly in other choreographers… and it’s changing every day. And, of course there is the big fear, because things are a little bit more relaxed here now, that a second wave could start and then everything would have to go back into a lockdown. But at the moment, things are very good in Switzerland, which is great. 

UPDATE - As of 6 June, the Federal Council has decided to further ease the restrictions on training. Based on the recommendations and specifications of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and Danse Suisse, detailed suitable precautionary measures have been taken for Ballett Zürich and and the company has finally been able to resume rehearsals as well as classes/⁠⠀


Ballett Zürich in Class. © Ballett Zürich


Ballett Zürich in Class. © Ballett Zürich


Ballett Zürich in Class. © Ballett Zürich