Dance is perhaps one of the more difficult art forms to do from home, but that hasn’t stoped companies from keeping active and connected to their audiences. Here I take a look at some of the ways that dancers are adapting their practice in times of social isolation. 

Open access classes

One of the early responses to shutdown has been for companies to open up their rehearsal space. This is great for us at home to have access to the inner process of some of the best companies in the world. One of my favourites has been the program from the Akram Khan Company, a contemporary dance company that collaborates across cultures and disciplines. While their performances are cancelled and their dancers are stuck at home, they developed a curated programme called ‘The Architects of Stillness’. Not only to they have a wonderful contemporary dance barre class three times a week, led by Creative Associate Mavin Khoo, they also have a conversation every Friday with Khoo, an audio series with Khan drawing from myth narratives that were closely connected to his childhood, a behind-the-scenes documentary related to specific productions and stories of hope from producer Farooq Chaudhry. This extensive programme is perhaps more feasible for larger or more well established companies, although it is very possible to post a class from home using nothing more than a mobile phone. It is the dance and the stories that shine through in these interventions, rather than the polished technology or beautiful rehearsal space. 

Productions in isolation

Some artists, dancers included, have used these strange times to inspire new works. Denver-based contemporary ballet company Wonderbound has been producing a large number of short dance films, as well as a collection of instructional dance lessons. Their dance films, under the banner of Project Wonder, are from their company dancers and are created in confinement. The dancers adapt their home spaces in whimsical and creative ways, opening up the possibilities of the ways in which these spaces can be used and our relationship to them. Some of them explore humour (such as Belgium Waffle by Evan Pitts, which made me want to dance around the house) and others explore the challenges we can all relate to (such as The Fourth Wall, which starts with the spoken words of Damien Patterson – ‘This week I’ve hit a wall’). 

Rehearsals at a distance

Other companies are continuing their rehearsals and classes through remote meetings. Choreographer María Rovira had one of her recent works cancelled and is currently developing the next, Beethoven’s 9th, commissioned by the Centre Cultural de Terassa. The dancers practice at home and share their experiences through video conferences. Rovira comments that watching them dance and improvise has been inspiring, observing how they experiment with new things. She believes this will be a special work, one that perhaps couldn’t be made in a normal setting of studio rehearsal space. 

Creating in such circumstances can’t help but influence a work, given that the way of working has been disrupted (everyone in their own spaces, creating a spatial piece through a flat screen). The interaction between the dancers and the choreographers is vastly different, one in which the contrary impetus of connection and distance may well play a part. It will be interesting to see the works that come out of these constraints. 

Some dancers and companies have chosen to publish extracts from their works, which were due to be performed. Hoyoung Im posted an extract of him rehearsing his Waldeinsamkeit, a work-in-progress that was due to be presented in late March. The simple angles, as well as the judicious editing, has allowed the dance to speak for itself, while still using the film form to add interesting perspectives that wouldn’t be available in the theatre space. 

But although several responses to the shut down has been to turn to film, dance films have also been adversely effected, with films festivals around the world cancelled. 

Planning for the long term

The amount of work that has been converted to the online space has been impressive, especially with an art form where physical proximity and space is so important. However, as choreographer Megan Williams highlights for Dance Magazine, ‘I’m pushing up against the rush for everyone to not only produce dance content around the clock but to share everything virtually that was meant to be seen live. We need to slow down. Pace ourselves.’ As she highlights, this crisis will be here for a while and live performances with filled theatres will probably be the last to return to business as usual. 

What is compromised through putting performances online? Is this a sustainable model? What at first seemed to be a temporary crisis has become an on-going change of status quo that will need to be managed and this wealth of creative expression that is provided to those at home needs to be supported. If anything this crisis has shown the importance of culture and generosity of the cultural communities around the world. 

What have been the most inspiring dance initiatives you’ve seen online? Let me know in the comments.

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