GNO Ballet keeping fit at home


“Let me see a lovely plie. Heels open, knees straight,” the Greek National Opera Ballet School instructor tells his students. But Alexander Neskov is not demonstrating the exercises using the customary barre but with an ironing board at his home.

The GNO Ballet school has 40 students tuning in for lessons on their personal computers, tablets and cellphones every day. Anastasia uses the back of a chair, Nektarios finds support on a couch, Sofia is in the kitchen and others are using radiators, doors and any other surface they can find to serve as their barre. Their teacher, though, is not cutting them any slack just because they’re all practicing social distancing as part of the coronavirus lockdown. “Let me see that stretch. Are you sweating yet? Back straight. That leg looks like gum.”

Classes started just a few days ago. “It took us a while to get organized from a technical standpoint, but we set up a daily program of practical and theory lessons. We have added barre and yoga exercises to maintain physical fitness and prevent injuries,” says the school’s director Giorgos Matskaris.

Accustomed to long hours of training and dancing, self-isolation came as something of a physical and mental shock to the GNO Ballet dancers Kathimerini spoke with. Rehearsals for “Don Quixote,” which had been due to premier on March 20, were called off a few weeks ago and while the hiatus was initially felt by most of the dancers as a good opportunity to get some rest, staying in shape so that they’re ready when the lockdown ends is a challenge.

“We’re doing the best we can. We usually require a lot of space, special surfaces, guidance and the group. The upshot as far as I see it is that we have a chance to work on ourselves a bit, to reflect on where we started. Returning to a normal routine will have to be done very cautiously,” says Maria Kousouni, a principal dancer.

Most of the dancers do strengthening and flexibility exercises in their living rooms every day, but maintaining their endurance is not something that can be done at home.

“The body hasn’t had time to adjust. Even going on a summer vacation is something we usually need to prepare for both physically and mentally. It is much harder to find the motivation when you’re on your own and the psychological part is also tough because we don’t know when we’ll be going back,” says Vangelis Bikos, another principal dancer who has moved back home with his parents in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, for the duration of the lockdown.

Soloist Stelios Katopodis also moved back home to the Ionian island of Lefkada. He practices at the kitchen counter and, although worried about the overall situation, believes that motivation needs to come from inside each person.

“You get used to hanging around the house and there is something nice about it, but I think it’s good to get some distance from the thing you love. It makes you realize how much you miss it and appreciate it anew so that you’re motivated to do better,” he says.

Corps de ballet dancer Eleftheria Stamou has her dog to keep her company when she’s working out at home.

“The issue is what kind of schedule we’re going to have to get back into, if the transition will be smooth and we have the time to do the right exercises so that we don’t suffer any injuries,” she says, adding that one good thing that has come out of self-isolation is that she’s able to put on some of the weight she needs. “I’m cooking now and making progress.”