SIOUX FALLS (AP) – The founder of South Dakota’s first professional ballet company wanted to thrust her group into the spotlight this year with a black-tie gala and performances by some of the world’s top dancers.
But the light went out on Madeleine Scott’s plans. Her group, South Dakota Ballet, has dancers from across the world, and because of the virus they are trapped elsewhere, at home.
So Scott found a creative partner in Madison Elliott, another professionally trained dancer currently living in Sioux Falls.
Together, they found a new kind of spotlight, the Argus Leader reported.
At set dates throughout the summer, Scott and Elliott invite hundreds of people and their cars to an empty parking lot. As the sun sets, a ring of headlights offset the dusk and illuminate a live performance of Sioux Falls dancers and musicians.
It was a way to continue their dedication to dancing – a way to stay motivated creatively as the reality of COVID-19 forced artists and performers, like so many thousands of other workers, to look for alternatives or face joblessness.
“Everyone is in this limbo where they’re saying, ‘We don’t know when the performing arts will be back,‘” Scott said. “We just said to heck with that. We’re doing it.”
A new kind of pop-up show
The pop-up shows put on by Scott and Elliott are part of a summer series called Park and Art.
The two co-founders refer to their rotating venue of parking lots as the Headlights Theater, which only comes to life during the roughly 25 minutes of showtime and fades into the ether as cars exit into the night.
“Once the cars turn their headlights on,” Elliott said. “That’s what transforms the parking lot into the Headlights Theater.”
Starting with the first event at the 8th and Railroad Center parking lot, the shows are sell-outs, Elliott said.
Show time and musical collaborators are announced in advance, but the location is kept secret until an hour before start time by social media and email to registrants. It’s recommended that attendees RSVP ahead of time on the Park and Art website at parkandart.com, and attendance comes with a suggested donation of at least $15.
The next Park and Art was set for Aug. 7 with musical collaborators the Sioux Falls-based band Hooks.
Hooks’ summer slate was wiped out by the coronavirus. With nearly a decade of experience in the local arts scene and Hooks members joking that they’re a dad-rock band now, it’s been invigorating to partner with Scott and Elliott, said Eli Show, Hooks’ lead singer and guitarist.
“It’s like the idea of when you’re younger, you’re more available to put yourself out there,” Show said. “It’s more about the experience or exploration of art. They’re willing to try anything.”
Keeping people safe while ‘uplifting the arts’
It’s a familiar story at this point.
The coronavirus pandemic forced shutdowns, closures and job loss and all but decimated the summer arts season in Sioux Falls.
Like so many performers, traditional venues were no longer an option. Even outdoor stages such as the Levitt Shell were postponing or canceling their seasons.
Elliott graduated in May, a member of what she wryly refers to as the “Class of COVID.”
All of her job opportunities were canceled before she finished school. So she came home to Sioux Falls and started brainstorming with Scott.
Both are professional dancers. Both wanted to protect the future of their art and the industry as a whole.
“What can we do to make sure the arts aren’t being sacrificed during this time,” Elliott said. “Is it possible to bring everyone together and keep everyone safe, while also uplifting the arts?”
Like Elliott, Scott grew up in Sioux Falls but moved away at a young age to train in ballet. She moved to Philadelphia at age 13 to train at a dance academy there, and then by age 16 took a position at Ballet West in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she would eventually earn a fine arts degree from the University of Utah.
Scott worked for professional ballet companies across the United States before coming home in 2018 because of an illness in the family.
She started South Dakota Ballet in May of 2019 as a nonprofit dance company, bringing her expertise and love for the art form to her home state.
With her dance company’s inaugural season on hiatus, the Park and Art pop-up series has been a creative outlet for both her and Elliott.
But it’s also a rare outlet for the other performers with whom they collaborate.
“They just kind of put you out in the center and everybody comes in and turns their headlights on and it was really quite beautiful,” said Jeff Zueger.
Zueger plays guitar in the Pale Norse and the Local Support. The band was supposed to have a record release party in May, but the virus uprooted the event. The rehearsal and show was a nice way for the band to come together and play again, Zueger said.
Elliott and Scott have continued to evolve the pop-up show as it grows in popularity. The upcoming show with Hooks will use more lighting techniques and props than in past performances, Elliott said.
“We had no idea that it was going to build the way it has,” Elliott said. “It kind of really caught the eye of the community. Now it’s a much bigger thing.”