My community is standing on shaky ground.
I am used to the competition that exists between dancers for jobs. I have accepted the opportunism that taints most acquaintances and learned to cherish a few true friends in the milieu. I know how to live on a sporadic income below the poverty line. I have grown accustomed to pieces that reveal dancers’ bodies to sell the work, and can deal with having to measure myself against the borderline anorexia that is rewarded in the most successful of my peers. Basically, although I do wish that all of the above would change I can deal with the petty details that are the short comings of the dance world. At this point the beauty and imagination that it can produce still outweigh the downsides of my profession. What scares me right now is watching the financial support for the work dry up.
This year has brought home the fragility of the companies that employ us and even the agencies that fund them: from the end of the FIND, to Regroupement (de la danse Quebecoise) running out of funds to reimburse training, the much smaller purse of the Canada Council and the collapse of the Fondation Jean-Pierre Perrault.
I am one of many anglophones that moved to Montreal because of the eclectic dance community that exists here. Not to say that there isn’t good dance in the rest of Canada but you would be hard pressed to find the range of work from classical to experimental that exists in Quebec.
The strength of dance in Montreal is due to several factors, but could be summed up by two words: French culture. Quebec has a larger audience for art that isn’t commercial. There is (was) more money from federal and provincial governments devoted to arts and an influx of world class work that opens the minds of artists and audiences. But since the liberals were elected provincially and tides have turned right wing globally, the support has begun to erode.
Joe is a perfect example. The pinnacle work of a famous Quebecois artist Jean-Pierre Perrault was remounted and toured across Europe this year. The project was undertaken by the Fondation Jean-Pierre Perrault which until recently was housed in a converted church on Sherbrooke. The cast and crew of Joe acted as ambassadors for Canada and Quebec across Europe, opening festivals and playing to sold out houses of thousands of people. Unfortunately the technicians, office staff and dancers were not paid for the last seven weeks of their work. The dancers were stuck in expensive cities without money to cover food or their rent at home (and by and large we are not talking about people with safety nets of savings). That dancers should have to take extra food at receptions is ridiculous and how this situation arose is still unclear.
What is known is that since the group returns home the Foundation has closed its doors. This is truly a loss for dance in Montreal and hard to fathom. Its facility has two studios, one of which is probably the largest, most beautiful dance space in the country. The Foundation remounted Perrault’s works and used to be one of the best employers of dancers in the city. It was the only place that offered a regular professional class and was a meeting ground for dancers in the community. It also provided much needed residencies to local choreographers, many of whom received less or none of the grants they needed to create new works. So a choreographic lab which provided an inspiring and free environment to create and show work is gone. An institution built by the efforts of a renowned artist, rooted in the hard work of his peers, and which helped anchor Montreal’s contemporary dance scene has disappeared overnight.
This is a bad sign. My hope is that the companies still standing and the dancers so used to competing against one another, can band together to keep the situation from getting worse. Financial and audience support has helped make this community an international export, the value of this work needs to continue to be recognized. Dance maybe ephemeral but it needs tangible backing.