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Coronavirus and dance

Posted on March 17, 2020

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Dance events, performances and tours have been postponed all over the world in response to the developing coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19). The Royal Ballet, Paris Opéra, Bavarian State Ballet, Semperoper Dresden, Berlin State Ballet, Greek National Opera Ballet and many more are among the dance companies affected, with many European venues closed until mid-April.

The London Coliseum has closed its doors with the sign: “There will be a short interval. We will be back soon.” Hofesh Shechter Company has suspended all 2020 performances of Grand Finale and upcoming screenings of Clowns, while New Adventures’ tour of The Red Shoes has been part-cancelled at the time of writing owing to venue closures. Birmingham Royal Ballet said on Twitter: “The Company is talking urgently with our touring venues and we need time to take stock. We will share further updates about our plans via social media and on our website.”

Sadler’s Wells has announced the cancellation of all performances at its three theatres – Sadler’s Wells, Lilian Baylis Studio and Peacock Theatre – for up to 12 weeks. According to this calculation, performances should resume on June 9, although this may change depending on developments and as further guidance from the government becomes available.

In the US, public performances at the Lincoln Center have been suspended for March, but at the time of writing New York City Ballet’s spring performances are still scheduled to begin on April 21. San Francisco Ballet’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was cancelled; Pacific Northwest Ballet has suspended all performances until March 31; American Ballet Theatre has cancelled tour appearances. Kansas City Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Houston Ballet and many others have either cancelled or postponed. At the time of writing, all Broadway performances have been cancelled until April 12. Australian Ballet has cancelled all performances until April 12.

On March 16, UK prime minister Boris Johnson advised in a press conference: “People should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.” He added: “As for enforcement, we have the powers if necessary but I don’t believe that it will be necessary to use those powers.”

In response to his advice, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and UK Theatre announced the closure of all its venues with immediate effect. An official statement said: “We regret to announce that as of this evening all SOLT and UK Theatre member venues will close this evening (including tonight’s performances) in light of the most recent official government advice. They will remain closed until further notice and will re-open as soon as possible, following government recommendations.”

Many leading figures in the world of dance and theatre reacted with anger at the prime minister’s advice to the public to avoid theatres, while not forcing venues to close, which could have given them financial protection. A current petition on Change.org states: “Because the government has merely advised the public to avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, the proprietors of these venues will not be able to make any claim on insurance for loss of income.” The petition has been circulated on social media by Matthew Bourne, Bonnie Langford and Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, among others.

Dance students have been affected too. The team behind the dance show MOVE IT, which was to celebrate its 15th anniversary on March 13–15 at ExCeL London, decided to postpone the show. Dancing Times has been a media sponsor for MOVE IT from the beginning and planned to exhibit at this year’s event.

Many dance schools have suspended classes and exams for now, with the Royal Academy of Dance tweeting on March 17: “Due to the escalation of Covid-19, RAD has had to suspend exams globally from this week until April 30 2020, to best protect staff, students, teachers, parents and examiners. It is a heavy-hearted decision, but protecting our community is paramount.”

On a more positive note, however, some dance schools are offering live streamed classes instead, so it is worth double-checking with individual teachers. Swingdance UK brought their social dance event “Swing at Sway” to dancers online, saying: “Roll up the carpet, put on your dance shoes and join us LIVE tonight at 7.30pm via YouTube.”

To mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic, SOLT and UK Theatres advised: “Many theatres that have been forced to cancel performances are charitable enterprises and have reached out to their audiences and asked for their support by donating their tickets. While ticketholders are all entitled to a refund for cancelled performances, the financial toll that refunding these tickets will have on small, charitably funded theatres is vast. We urge anyone who can afford to donate the cost of their ticket to show their support for our industry by doing so.

“If you’re looking for ways to show your support to the theatre industry and all its hardworking professionals, please consider purchasing Theatre Tokens, which you can use once our theatres are back up and running. These can be used at over 260 venues across the country and have no expiration date.”

As the situation is constantly evolving, Dancing Times would advise double-checking with individual venues, companies and schools if you have any questions.

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was published last year in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

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