The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has left the world seemingly rotating on a crooked axis. With businesses, educational systems, families and the economy shuttering, we Americans find ourselves wondering if and how we will recover. The dance community has not been spared, and both American and European artists continue to fumble seeking solutions from the government on where to go from here. Both the United States and Europe were seemingly in denial when the coronavirus outbreak first took hold. They were delayed in their efforts to act swiftly and efficiently in regards to tackling the virus. However, Europe eventually opted for a strict national lockdown enforced by the government, while the US chose to respond on a state-by-state basis. The impacts of these decisions are still influencing the artistic community today.
A united front across all of the states with the same guidelines enforced should ensure a safe return for all and a rejuvenated buildup of the arts community.
Some European companies are back in class and even performing in smaller scaled galas with social distanced seating. Americans are struggling to cope with the reality that there is a long road ahead to get to where they are. Major companies stretching across the states from New York City Ballet to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and even Pacific Northwest Ballet have all opted for virtual seasons, showcasing archived works or staying in isolated dance bubbles to create new work which will be broadcasted via the Internet. Though this is progress considering the beginning of the pandemic completely sidelined the arts, this is still completely devastating for the dance community at large. Was the initial shutdown more beneficial for the European arts community as a whole, and could we get to that point soon?
Once all of the European countries were able to coordinate their decision-making, leaders managed the internal borders, and also barred nonessential travelers from Europe for at least 30 days. With a stringent lockdown in place strongly enforced by the government, the spread of the virus was, for the most part, contained. Michael Kelly is an American dancer performing and living in Europe. Most recently, he moved to London to be a member of Rambert 2, but the pandemic forced him to change course. “We [Rambert 2] were on tour, and it was strange because while we were focused on performing we were also monitoring the spread of the coronavirus.” He went on, “It was a day by day basis where we would check in at the beginning of the day to see if any news would impact us and our show. Unfortunately, my last company class was on March 17, which was a bit after most of the European countries shut down. The UK shut down immediately after.” With a season cut short, and Rambert 2 resorting to Zoom for class, Michael found himself seeking other employment opportunities for the upcoming season.
Countries such as France and Germany initially boasted the positive effects of social distancing, masks, and other precautionary measures to keep the spread of the virus under control. Even though the virus still exists throughout Europe and continues to spread slowly, they believed the course of action that was taken made living with the virus more manageable.
Currently, however, Europe is tightening its restrictions once more as a second wave of the virus takes hold. France will reimpose a nationwide lockdown. The lockdown will be in effect until at least Dec. 1. Officials in France will also direct money to theaters and other cultural vendors who are unable to operate under the new mandates, and they continue to encourage people to take vacations and visit hotels. Germany will close its bars and restaurants and impose other restrictions to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed once more. Officials are prioritizing keeping schools and other economic activity open. Portugal also made it mandatory for residents to wear masks when social distancing is not guaranteed. The country will prohibit people from traveling between Oct. 30 until Nov. 3. The Czech Republic has also imposed a nationwide curfew, and barred stores, schools and restaurants from opening. London is increasing its restrictions by not allowing individuals from different households to meet, all in an effort to promote social distancing. The government believes that maintaining targeted measures rather than imposing major lockdowns is the best course of action. Bars and restaurants in Italy must close by 6 p.m. Theaters, pools and gyms will be closed for at least a month, however, some schools and places of work will remain open. Spain declared a national state of emergency and implemented a curfew while also banning meetings of more than six people.
It’s still too soon to tell if these immediate measures were better suited to protecting people and the dance community given the current climate we’re in. The United States took a different initial approach to handling the coronavirus outbreak. The president gave power to the governors to make decisions for their state that is the safest for public health. Consequently, state mandates varied greatly, with some operating more fully than others. March 12, 2020 marked the beginning of the shutdown for Broadway in New York City. What was supposed to only last through April 12, has continued to extend month by month. The arts community continues to struggle as artistic staples like The Metropolitan Opera announced on September 23 that they will be canceling the entirety of the 2020-21 season, and will resume operations for next season opening on September 27, 2021. This is sombering news for the arts community in the US
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading US expert on the coronavirus pandemic, most recently stated that theaters would likely not be going back to normal, completely mask-less, until a vaccine is out for at least a year. He believes that if a majority of the general population is vaccinated, then it will be safe to return to theaters as we knew them. This news is crippling to artists. Many are now seeking new career ventures due to the inability to wait for the dance community to return full force. Bills, rent and all other necessary expenses continue to add up, and that can only be sustained for so long. While the need to secure public health is imperative, millions of people’s livelihoods have been terminated.
Without that bright spot of bringing a little culture into our homes, the coronavirus pandemic would have been an even darker time.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, “Congress appropriated $75 million to the National Endowment for the Arts through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) to preserve jobs and help support organizations that were forced to close down due to the pandemic.” Forty percent of this funding was awarded to state and regional arts agencies to distribute. While this is incredibly beneficial, how does this help freelance artists? Those of us who bounce from gig to gig without a long-term contract are still floundering searching for a solution. Artists in Europe have been building back up slowly but surely. Some museums have been open for weeks, orchestras are back performing, and theaters are announcing their upcoming seasons with social distancing in place. As of now, select performances are still scheduled to go on even with the new mandates.
According to the New York Times, in European countries that are subsidized by the state such as Italy, Belgium, Germany and France, the arts are surviving on reduced ticket sales. Germany has a 1 billion euro fund designated to getting the cultural sector back up and running. Artists in Europe are able to continue performing in some capacity. Slovakia will still be hosting its live International Festival of Contemporary Dance beginning October 18. Italy will be following suit with its Romaeuropa Festival on October 24. Norway will be showcasing new live contemporary dance work on October 21-22 at the Rosendal Teater.
To get to a similar place, the United States is in need of a united front. European companies have taken the lead by requiring and enforcing masks in rehearsals, limiting groups of dancers who are rehearsing at one time and socially distancing their seating in theaters. It seems as though these precautionary measures allow for a safe and fulfilling performance experience for both the artists and the audience. Both can feel safe and enjoy all that live performances have to offer. A united front across all of the states with the same guidelines enforced should ensure a safe return for all and a rejuvenated buildup of the arts community.
In European countries that are subsidized by the state [...], the arts are surviving on reduced ticket sales.
Over the years, Europe has highly praised and valued the arts, and therefore, contributed a tremendous amount financially. Aside from Germany’s hefty relief package, they included grants for freelancers. Amidst a new wave of restrictions, France is still allocating funds to hurting cultural sectors. The US government would need to implement similar funding to protect the arts community that keeps our world turning. Both Europe and the US had different initial reactions to the shutdown, and both are now facing a second wave. How they deal with a coronavirus resurgence is going to be not only noteworthy, but undoubtedly impactful on the dance community and the arts at large. If they make the artistic community a priority during a second dose of restrictions, it may just be able to survive.
During the shutdown, most of us were forced to stay home. We watched movies, read books, listened to music. We indulged and relied on the arts, whether knowingly or not. Without that bright spot of a little culture into our homes, the coronavirus pandemic would have been an even darker time. It’s time to give the arts and the artists the thanks and love that we owe them. The pandemic impacted the lives of thousands of dancers, but with the necessary support and unity we can rebuild stronger than ever.