Griffin Sendek | Multimedia Editor
In mid-March, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater was gearing up for the opening performance of “Here + Now” at the August Wilson Center. Everything was choreographed, rehearsed, staged and costumed. It was ready to go — when it was all shut down indefinitely.
For Pittsburgh Ballet Theater (PBT) company member Christian “Chris” García Campos, dancing has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. For the very first time, the art of performing was taken away.
“I’m not going to lie, it was heartbreaking to hear that it was indefinite. I adjusted because I needed to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to dance, but I did miss it every day,” García Campos said.
Born in Puebla, Mexico, Garcia Campos got her start in dancing at the spry age of 3, pushed into it by a mother wanting her daughter to have a hobby. Little did her mother know, this tutu-clad 3-year-old would one day become a professional ballerina.
By the time she was 13, García Campos knew she wanted to pursue a career in dance, and at 15 she left Mexico for the U.S. in search of professional programs. She spent years moving around the country through exchange programs and dance conservatories, all the while becoming an increasingly skilled dancer.
Eventually, she wound up in the Steel City and became a member of PBT. She is currently among the corps de ballet at PBT, hoping to one day earn the title of soloist, and ultimately become a principal ballerina.
For García Campos and the rest of the company members, everything being canceled was nothing short of depressing. With a season abandoned and the studio doors locked, and no estimate of when they might open again, the life of a PBT company member was completely upended by the pandemic.
“It really is what I love to do most and to have these shows canceled — it was really hard for me, and I know a few of my friends in dance felt the same way,” García Campos said.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theater dancers’ lives revolved around being together constantly. Because of the pandemic, they went their separate ways, and each member was tasked with maintaining their skills by practicing in living rooms and garages. Ballet has always been a collaborative art form meant for the stage and an audience; never before has it been so fundamentally splintered.
“It’s hard because you are meant to have people around you,” García Campos explained. “You are meant to dance with other people.”
The company had the dancers create their own performances from the safety of their homes. García Campos was put in charge of choreographing one of these shows, which she taught entirely over Zoom. Stitched together from a multitude of video clips, she was able to craft a virtual performance. Working through the restrictions put in place by COVID to create art in this new format helped foster a sense of togetherness among the dancers that they had been severely lacking.
However, no amount of Zoom concerts will ever replicate the perfect cocktail of nervousness and exhilaration that is gliding across the Benedum Center stage in front of a packed crowd of 2,800 people.
“It was just kinda like an uncomfortable feeling that wasn’t the same — and it’s never going to be — but it did the job and I’m thankful for that,” García Campos said.
The pandemic has completely reframed what dancing truly means to García Campos. Having been a constant in her life for so long, she felt as if there was a hole in her chest the very moment it was taken away.
“I think I needed it to realize that I was worrying too much about things I shouldn’t have related to dancing,” García Campos said. “I felt that I somehow got better in certain areas working on my own, and I’m really wanting to keep that now that we’re going into the studios and to keep that confidence that grew back in me when I was on my own.”
In early August, the age of Zoom for PBT eventually came to an end as the studio doors were open once again. Corp de Ballet and García Campos’ duet partner Jonathan Breight, described the return as “the greatest feeling. It is just like a meditation that you can kinda get back into your center and just be who you are.”
Extra precautions were put in place in order to facilitate a safe return: A limited amount of people are allowed in, masks are required at all times — even while dancing — and ballet bars are disinfected after every use.
Good dancers are able to perform all the moves; great ones make it look effortless. Witnessing García Campos and Breight glide across the studio floor as if it were made of ice was an absolute beauty to behold. As the nearly six-minute duet unfolded, it was difficult to imagine García Campos had taken off any time whatsoever. Her commitment to the craft and years of experience were apparent in every minute detail; her dancing ability was truly magnificent.
“I can’t fathom not dancing, and it made me just want to do it even more,” García Campos said, “and I think that enough is proof to artists all around that it is essential.”