Few sectors have been forced to as grinding a halt or been shrouded with more uncertainty than the performing arts.
We’re having a tough year. The pandemic has turned our old reality on its head, and we are all dealing with the repercussions of that to some degree. But few sectors have been forced to as grinding a halt or been shrouded with more uncertainty than the performing arts.
“I kind of had this identity crisis, because acrobatics and arts are all I have known,” says Lauren Joy Herley, a rope artist and circus performer.
Before March 2020, Herley was at the height of a successful career performing with Cirque du Soleil. When the arts sector partially reopened this summer, she was able to resume her work with some outdoor shows, but now that the temperature is dropping, the outdoor shows have come to an end for this year.
In the initial months of lockdown, Andrea Peña, artistic director and choreographer at Andrea Peña & Artists, says some of her dancers considered quitting. “They’re professional, they’re 33, 34, which means they’re at a peak in their careers — very strong, very mature interpreters — and I had one of them say ‘Andrea, I’m really considering my retirement.’”
In August came the reopening of studios and AP&A was pleased to finally be able to work together again, even with the new restrictions: a two-metre distance, no contact unless they wear a mask and goggles.
Staying apart in an art form that so relies on touch has been a challenge. “We’ve realized after a month of working how good they are at keeping the two metres because they’re very spacially aware, but how difficult it was on the emotional and artistic side to have to be so distanced from their peers and not have that contact.”
Dance companies were hit hard, and many lost funding or residencies, meaning lost space to rehearse. Freelance dancers, without the support of a company, struggle to find space.
Catherine Wilson, a freelancer, says she’s lucky her apartment has enough room to do some basic training, and in the spring she started practising outside. “I’ve really had to change my mindset of what it means to move, and learn that I don’t need to have a studio.” Her first time back in the studio in August to attend a class was emotional. “I had an out of body experience — I wanted to cry.”
Rental studios can only be booked for three-hour timeslots to allow for cleaning, meaning only two timeslots are available per day. And for freelancers, who used to book the odd times between company rentals at a discount, that option doesn’t exist anymore…
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