Misty Copeland’s ‘Swans for Relief’ raises funds, awareness for dancers

Misty Copeland’s ‘Swans for Relief’ raises funds, awareness for dancers

Misty Copeland and Joseph Phillips drew together a cast of 32 ballerinas with the goal of raising $500,000 for dancers affected by the COVID-19 crisis

Mikhail Fokine’s “The Dying Swan” lasts only four minutes, but its effect lingers. Choreographed in 1905 for ballerina Anna Pavlova, the piece captures the mournful sweep — slowly building to a swell before ebbing into a final pause — that drives Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name.

The solo now coheres a group of 32 “swans” from 14 different countries, gathered by American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland and her former colleague Joseph Phillips to raise money for dancers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a video created for the fundraiser “Swans for Relief,” the ballerinas — including Copeland, Isabella Boylston, Monike Cristina, Sarah Hay, Francesca Hayward, Yuriko Kajiya, Maria Khoreva, among others — perform pieces of the variation from wherever they are self-isolating.

The resulting piece cuts together the individual clips to create a full-length rendition of the solo, with cellist Wade Davis playing the Camille Saint-Saëns score.

“In these unpredictable times, ballet companies — like many organizations — are fighting to survive,” Copeland and Phillips wrote in a joint statement. “Ballet companies are largely dependent on revenue from performances to pay their dancers and fund their operations, but we are now confronting the uncertainty of when we will return to the stage and once again fill performance venues.”

The GoFundMe campaign aims to raise $500,000 to be distributed to COVID-19 relief funds established at the participating dancers’ companies or through alternative means if the company cannot receive donations. Since the initiative launched in early May, Copeland and Phillips have raised $244,776 from 4,553 contributors, with new donations trickling in each day.

Copeland and Phillips partnered with the production company K Period Media for seed money, and the contributions collected will be processed by the nonprofit Entertainment Industry Foundation.

“Art brings people together to provide a beautiful escape, and ballet in particular is a very unifying experience both on and off the stage, filled with history and imagination,” Copeland said in a statement. “Throughout my career, it has been very important for me to bring more attention and awareness to this art form. The theater thrives on people coming together to experience a performance. Because of the coronavirus, the livelihood and careers of dancers are in jeopardy, and this will continue to have massive effects even after we start to re-open our cities.”

The financial ramifications of the coronavirus outbreak on dance companies and freelance artists stand to be critical. In a recent report released by Dance/NYC, out of 328 survey responses from organizations, groups and projects, 71% are currently facing “cash flow issues and/or in a state of financial hardship.” The study also found that smaller organizations project losses of 82% of their budgets, on average. Of the 1,166 responses from independent dance workers, 63% reported cash flow issues, with 77% needing funds for housing.

Dance/NYC is among the organizations that have established an emergency relief fund to support dancers affected by the health and financial crisis. Most recently, group launched the campaign #ArtistsAreNecessaryWorkers, with the aim of highlighting the importance of dance and art workers in decision-making processes for a post-pandemic New York City. As part of the initiative, the organization will host a 12-week-long Facebook Live series.

“Dance/NYC believes dance and arts workers will be critical to New York City’s ability to thrive as a cultural capital post-pandemic,” Alejandra Duque Cifuentes, executive director of Dance/NYC, said. “Through these series of Facebook Live conversations, we aim to highlight the labor that dance and arts workers have been doing, and how they are positioning us for a thriving future.”

Donations to “Swans for Relief” can be made here, and contributions to the Dance/NYC COVID-19 Dance Relief Fund can be made here.