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Southwest Virginia Ballet Dances On (and more) Despite Pandemic

What does a performing arts organization do when it can no longer perform?

A lot, actually — if it’s Southwest Virginia Ballet.

Since March, artistic director Pedro Szalay has offered hundreds of Zoom classes to the ballet’s company members. He’s opened up Instagram Master Classes to any interested dancer, worldwide. He’s reached out to ballet contacts from across the globe, inviting top-ranked teachers from Spain, France, Venezuela, Uruguay, Miami, Wisconsin and New York City to virtually lead classes for SVB members throughout the spring and early summer.

Once Virginia moved to Phase Il, Southwest Virginia Ballet students began again taking classes in person, if they chose, wearing masks in common spaces and social distancing in the company’s spacious, high-ceilinged studios. In early July, SVB hosted a weeklong Summer Intensive, providing daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. instruction in ballet, modern, Pilates and even salsa to dancers who were thrilled to return to the demands of their discipline after so long away. It was one of only a few ballet summer intensives across the state that was not canceled.

SVB has been busy behind the scenes, too. The nonprofit welcomed a new executive director, Carol

Jessee, on April 1. Jessee has been a long-time employee and supporter of Southwest Virginia Ballet. Her business background, deep connections in the Roanoke community, and strong management skills make her an ideal leader for the organization at this moment.

In May, The Roanoker magazine again gave the Platinum Award for Best Arts Performance in the Roanoke region to SVB’s beloved Nutcracker ballet.

In June, SVB was chosen as one of four Roanoke-area nonprofits to receive pro bono marketing and publicity by participating in the BUZZ television series. Michael Hemphill’s BUZZ project paired SVB with designer Carrie Cousins, who created a stunning new logo, website and print campaign for the organization. (Find the new website at: svballet.orq.) SVB’s BUZZ episode will air at a Grandin Theatre inperson watch party at 7 p.m. and on Blue Ridge PBS on Wednesday, August 5, at noon and 7 p.m.

Despite the uncertainty of the coming months, SVB is putting together a plan for performances in 2020/2021 — the company’s 30th season. The nonprofit is thinking outside the box and reaching out to performing arts organizations around the world in search of creative solutions that bring the arts to our community while keeping dancers and audience-members safe.

“Dance ever prevails in our hearts,” says Szalay. “It is a great tool for expressing, healing, uplifting, and connecting.

“l am looking forward to a great dance season with adventures together,” he says. “Let’s all grand jeté our obstacles.

Southwest Virginia Ballet will begin its 30th season on August 1 , with four dozen company members, ages 10 to 18. Company members commute from Blacksburg, Henry County and beyond, dancing together in a newly renovated studio in the Roanoke Industrial Center each Saturday year ’round. Company membership, instruction and costumes are provided free of charge.

Even more than an opportunity for the region’s dancers, SVB is a community cultural asset. In past years, the nonprofit organization has offered free dance performances for school children, special needs students and adults, hospital patients at Carilion Clinic, and at a wide variety of arts events. The nonprofit is always reaching out to include under-served and at-risk children and adults in the region.

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