Giant, fluffy clouds gently moved across the sky as Ballet Quad Cities Company Dancer Madeleine Rhode nimbly twirled through the grass.
Fellow dancer Nick Bartolotti leapt behind her, and the two weightlessly flitted across the lawn of the Trinity Anglican Church in Rock Island, just east of the ballet studio, along to the delightful cadence of a nearby boombox mixed with church bells.
Just in front of them, Artistic Director Courtney Lyon watched and offered words of encouragement as her choreography came to life.
Rehearsals began this week for the company’s professional dancers as they started to gear up for its first performances of the season at Ballet on the Lawn, going on at 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday Aug. 30, at The Outing Club, 2109 Brady St., Davenport.
While classes have been held outdoors and at the studio this summer, Lyon said, other preparation, dances and plans for the season had sort of screeched to a halt this spring because of COVID-19.
Bartolotti and Rhode were happy to be dancing with the company in the Quad-Cities again after a summer’s worth of Zoom classes from their hometowns in New York and Wisconsin respectively, and Lyon was happy to be choreographing with real-life people in front of her.
“We’re really looking forward to bringing dance back to the Quad-Cities,” said Bartolotti, who is living in Rock Island for the season.
Rhode agreed. “I think it’s really important, you know, especially during this day and age with everything that’s going on to just keep in mind and remember that the arts are a huge part of culture,” she said.
“I think ... keeping the arts around and keeping them in the forefront of everybody’s minds — it’s a really big deal, and (I’m) just really excited that we’re able to make this happen.”
Lyon started working with the two earlier this week for their piece, which will be one of several the company will perform in the roughly one-hour Ballet on the Lawn performance. Rhode’s and Bartolotti’s piece is from the musical “On the Town,” and set in the 1940s, Lyon said.
The original piece tells the story of three sailors who land in New York, seeking fun and meeting people, she said. Her choreography for Bartolotti and Rhode expresses that enthusiasm with life and meeting new people, she said.
“It’s so fun because these two are so expressive,” she said. “It’s just so fun to work with them.”
Everyone was happy to return to a new normal, and dance together for the first time since March. It came down to “how long are you going to wait,” Lyon said. “This is our life; this is our livelihood. These dancers have trained their entire lives to dance. They’re young and talented, and they want to be in the Quad-Cities performing.”
The artistic staff felt the same. “My whole life has been devoted to dance as well,” Lyon said. “It’s like, we’ve got to keep working.”
Ballet Quad Cities is thankful for the church, which provided the lawn space for dancers to rehearse. It was a chance for dancers to be outside, in the sun, dancing.
The upcoming Ballet on the Lawn is meant to be a “stress buster,” said Ballet Quad Cities Founder and CEO Joedy Cook. “It’s not your mother’s ballet; it’s not tutus and tights. You’re going to see tap shoes, tennis shoes, jazz shoes and awesome music.”
Lyon said the organization chose pieces, new and old, for the show, “that were going to be really, really great outside, and really family friendly, and different … to keep people feeling good about life and happy and positive.
“All of it is positive,” she said. “All of it is energetic.”
Cook said ballet-goers may bring chairs or blankets, whatever would make them comfortable, and spread out on the lawn. Charcuterie picnic boxes may be ordered in advance, and there will be a cash bar, too.
“Have some yummy food,” she said. “Have some wine ... and just be entertained.”
If all goes well, Cook said, Ballet Quad Cities has plans to perform again at the Outing Club next month, when its season was slated to begin indoors, and then a “Nutcracker” in the round performance is slated closer to the holidays.
“We are very resilient,” Cook said. “I believe with all my heart that there is a solution for everything if you just can calmly think about it, circle your wagons, (and) find your peeps.”