The curtain falls for now:How dance companies are reaching out to their audiences

If you’re reading this you already know that in Australia sports come first and the performing arts come later, if at all.

When the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced that all events with gatherings of more than 500 people will be cancelled on Monday 16, the focus was on sport – so many cancellations, so many interviews, so many news reports on TV.

The listed events included “concerts, festivals, shows and sport. Some sporting events will go ahead, but without spectators”.

As The Sydney Morning Herald reported “several sources in the entertainment industry have expressed frustration that the advice is too vague and not prescriptive enough.

“Live Performance Australia chief executive, Evelyn Richardson criticised the government’s messaging as “very confusing”.

Many performing arts companies and venues have announced their plans but some of those plans have not reached the news.

As for dance companies, here’s what we know so far:

The Australian Ballet’s production of Volt in Melbourne continued from Friday to Saturday but the company will update audiences on Monday morning and “be in contact with all remaining Volt ticket-holders regarding potential venue closures”.

On 13 March the company announced: “Ensuring the safety of our audiences and employees is our greatest priority. The Australian Ballet is now working closely with our venue partners regarding potential venue closures. We will act promptly on guidance and advice from our venue partners and the Australian Government Department of Health”.

That means it’s highly likely that the company will not continue to perform Volt in Melbourne (the season was from 13-24 March) or move to Sydney for its autumn season at the Sydney Opera House. (Volt – 3-22 April, Anna Karenina – 30 April -18 May).

Anna Karenina, a co-production of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and the Australian Ballet, was bound to be the highlight of the Australian Ballet’s year and probably will be later this year. I understand that the British designer, Tom Pye and Russian composer, Ilya Demutsky, planned to be in Sydney for the premiere.

The Sydney Dance Company’s new triple bill was due to begin in Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre on 23 March. The theatre can accommodate up to 896 people but unless audience numbers are less than 500 the show could not go on.

The Queensland Ballet was one of the first dance company to let audiences know their plan.

The company’s announcement covered all issues.

On 13 February the Queensland Ballet postponed their much anticipated 60th anniversary gala production at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, 20 – 28 March.

“We are true to our mission to enrich lives and therefore, ultimately we are considerate of the health and wellbeing of our people and that includes all of you. 

“In light of today’s decision by our Federal Government to limit non-essential gatherings of over 500 people, we have considered how you may engage with us and hope that this information is helpful:

“We will be working with QPAC to reschedule this important anniversary celebration and expect to finalise the new dates next week. For now, you don’t need to do anything. Your current ticket is valid for the re-scheduled season. 

“Once the new dates are available, if you’re unable to make the rescheduled performances, we would be pleased to action a refund or you may wish to consider a donation to Queensland Ballet in lieu of a refund”.

As for their performances of Swan Lake at the Arts Centre Melbourne, 17-18 April, the company “is liaising closely with our collaborators including Arts Centre Melbourne.
Should it become necessary to cancel or reschedule this season, we will be in touch with all details as soon as possible”.  

The company is awaiting details from their international venue collaborators for planned Jette Parker Young Artists’ tour to Europe, 12 – 19 June 2020.

The QB open classes will continue at their Beesley Street Studios “however we ask that dance class attendees with symptoms or medical conditions consider their personal circumstances and safety. Should it become necessary to cancel a class, we will be in touch as soon as possible. 

“The physical athletic requirements of our dancers and students will be considered and, in the event of the closure of our studios at Queensland Ballet Academy or Beesley Street, appropriate plans will be distributed to assist with maintenance of their fitness”.

Open classes at The Sydney Dance Company in Ultimo will continue with some provisos.

SDC: “We wanted to provide you with an update on our activity in relation to COVID-19. The safety of all our class attendees, students and teachers is our utmost priority and we want to reassure you of the steps we are taking.

“We are following the Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Health Department and World Health Organisation recommendations at the Sydney Dance Company studios.
All adult classes, short courses, Youth Ensemble and School Holiday Workshops continue as scheduled and we have increased venue cleaning in all studios and high-traffic areas.

“Hospital-grade hand sanitiser is available in the studios and in public areas. We are providing additional cleaning equipment for yoga mats and ballet barres which we encourage you to use before and after class.

“We ask that all participants practice good hygiene – making sure to clean your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub.

“If you have travelled through a high risk country, have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, have any symptoms of cold & flu, or have been advised to self-isolate, we ask that you do not attend any classes for 14 days or as per medical advice.

“If you have been asked based on medical advice to self-isolate, memberships will be suspended or your FlexiPack extended for the duration of your isolation on provision of a medical certificate. Please provide a doctor’s certificate to”.

Some teachers who run open ballet classes in Sydney have contacted their regular dancers to let them know what they’re doing to keep the studio clean (barres, light switches etc) and also explain that they must protect one another. Not feeling well? No class.

Of course we’re not alone in the dance world.

The curtains have come down in the US and Europe.

The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Centre, the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall have cancelled all events through March 31. The Met has also suspended all rehearsals.

The Paris Opera cancelled two operas, and two ballet seasons, Manon from March 13 to April 3, George Balanchine ballets, from March 12 to April 10 as well as the Ballet School’s production, March 25 to 30 and visits to Opera Bastille and the Palais Garnier.

American Ballet Theatre announced it’s 2020 tours to Chicago, Durham, NC and Abu Dhabi have been postponed.

Oddly, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, will stay open. Here’s what’s on the ROH website:

“Given the developing situation with the COVID-19 virus, customers are reminded to carry tissues with them and to wash their hands regularly as per government guidelines. During your visit, please do ask our staff if you need directions to the nearest bins or to toilets to wash your hands”.

How polite. How unlikely.


La Scala, Milan
Anna Karenina, The Australian Ballet, photo © Kate Longley
Queensland Ballet 60th anniversary gala

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