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Responding to the Pandemic

This year has seen unprecedented turmoil around the world: our Executive Director Mirna Zagar talks about the impact of the pandemic on dance, how The Dance Centre has responded, and why she’s still hopeful.

Scotiabank Dance Centre closed in mid-March due to the pandemic: tell us what happened.

On March 13, I returned to Vancouver from Germany after attending Munich’s Tanzplatform. Within an hour of landing, in an emergency board meeting it was decided that our building, Scotiabank Dance Centre, would shut down, until public health authorities deemed it safe to re-open. There was a scramble to send out notifications, migrate everything online, postpone events, and respond to the concerns of anxious artists, tenants and renters.

The staff team worked at home for 11 weeks. I think we all found ourselves as busy as ever! Especially in the early days, there was a deluge of pandemic-related information to make sense of, digest and share with the dance sector. We commissioned short films to deliver a virtual International Dance Day, hosted a series of online artist conversations, provided virtual grant writing consultations, and worked to find ways to support our colleagues and members. Our partnership with the West End Seniors Network continued with ballet teacher Linda Arkelian giving classes to seniors at home via Zoom. It was strange and unsettling not to be in our building, with artists working in the studios around us.

What issues are dance artists in BC facing?

For an art form that is all about the body in space, this has been a traumatic experience; it is more than losing a job and source of income, it is about also losing one’s identity and voice. Anxieties run high and understandably so. Artists have been so proactive and creative in finding ways to deliver classes and even rehearsals and performances online. But not all artists feel equipped to work for the camera, or able to work alone. Some artists compare the feeling to mental and physical paralysis. Dance is already a challenging profession in Vancouver, which is such an expensive city. We are at least fortunate that in Canada the government and public funders did react quickly and have shown support for the arts. But so far, nothing can replace that unique connectivity between performers and audiences at a live show.

How is The Dance Centre responding to artist needs?

We have increased communications with our members, offering regular online hangouts, and collaborate across disciplines locally, regionally, nationally and internationally to share dance-related information. Our annual membership has been extended to 15 months, and we are offering special low studio rental rates and mini grants to artists. In collaboration with colleagues at CADA West, the Dancer Transition Resource Centre, New Works and Made In BC we hosted a BC town hall for almost 100 artists. It’s clearly not just the loss of immediate work in a gig economy which is troubling, but also that no work appears to be possible for months, as presenters world-wide cancel festivals and seasons.

What are the challenges for The Dance Centre?

Like all other arts organizations, our revenues have taken a heavy blow, especially from box office, donations and studio rentals – our building is not subsidized. Physical distancing requirements mean that these revenue sources are going to be significantly reduced for the foreseeable future. Sourcing new revenues is crucial, as we face not only the regular costs of operations but new types of costs in our efforts to support artists, who have lost most of their income.

What does the building look like now?

We used the shutdown period to compile safety protocols and guidelines, consulting with Vancouver Coastal Health and WorkSafe BC. Given the nature of our building and our work, and the evolution of information, this was a huge task. However, we were able to re-open on June 1, with limited hours and reduced studio capacities. There are physical distancing decals, hand sanitizing stations, and signage all over the building. We clean and sanitize constantly. It is encouraging to see artists slowly returning to the studio, and we are gradually increasing our hours over the summer.

Physical Distancing decals placed 2m apart in the hallways at Scotiabank Dance Centre

What will the 2020-21 season look like?

I am thrilled that we have a fully programmed 2020-21 season! It will however look rather different. In the Fall almost all our events will be online. After that, we hope to transition to in-person performances with very small, physically-distanced audiences, complemented with online streaming. Resident artists have adjusted their projects, and our expanded research and development programs will continue within the new parameters. We are focused on continuing to provide a space for inspiration and collaboration, to support artists and the art of dance, and to retain connectivity to the audiences we have built in our community.

How do you feel about the future?

I think this crisis has reinforced that people love and need the arts, that we need to gather and share cultural experiences, and that our building provides a vital home and support for dance. I am inspired by the courage and fortitude shown by our artists, and the generosity of patrons who chose to donate their tickets back to us, as well as the donors who have increased their support. There is a slow and long recovery ahead, but I am optimistic that we will recover and come back stronger – this is a resilient and creative sector.

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Top Photo: Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art Summer Intensive program. All photos: The Dance Centre