Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers could soon hear the hushed sounds of people in the seats as the company plans to raise the curtain before a live audience later this year.
As vaccination rates increase and public health restrictions gradually ease, the ballet company hopes to bring people back into the Centennial Concert Hall for the company's 82nd season, opening Oct. 14 after more than a year without a live audience.
"We are so hopeful that we can make it work and we believe we can," artistic director and CEO André Lewis said on CBC Manitoba's morning radio show Information Radio.
"It's going to be a challenging road, but we know we want to do it for our audience members."
The season will feature a mix of live in-person and digital performances.
Some of the performances will feature a mixed repertoire, which requires fewer people backstage, Lewis said.
The season will begin with Perpetual Motion, originally scheduled for the RWB's 80th season, which will showcase two works, Rodeo and Seventh Symphony.
That will be followed by a performance of The Nutcracker, a familiar holiday staple. Sleeping Beauty will be performed in February followed by A Cinderella Story in May.
Current health orders require all dance, theatre and music companies to remain closed to public performances.
Lewis hopes by the time the holiday season comes, vaccination rates will have reached the point where those restrictions can be lifted.
"The vaccine will have a significant impact on our ability to do this. I think as we reach, let's say, 70, 75 per cent, 80 per cent of vaccination — which we hope will happen — that the safety of everybody will be very much taken into consideration."
Since COVID-19 forced the ballet to cancel live performances in March last year, the RWB has made do with digital performances of Swan Lake and The Magic Flute.
Despite the challenge of moving to online performances, there was an upside for the audience, Lewis said.
"Digital offers you possibilities and angles that you wouldn't get. You get a front row seat for every performance," he said.
Given the uncertainty about the course the pandemic could take over the next few months, the ballet company has contingency plans in place to take the performances online if necessary.
"There's so many unanswered questions. What if the concert hall is not able to operate?" Lewis said.
"Our Plan A is to be back at the concert hall with an audience in there and do, as we say, the full monty."
In the meantime, Lewis encourages fans to purchase their tickets and plan for a return this fall.