Published on Saturday 17 July 2021

In this time of crisis and isolation, the role of the arts becomes more essential and central in our lives, whether we recognise it or not.

Media was there before but now it took centre stage. Perhaps previously taken for its easy availability for granted and now unsuspectingly accepting it was our umbilical cord to the outside world. At times, what often appears on social media could be frustrating for persons like myself who truly value culture and its real contribution.

When the first lockdown struck us there was no time to think. In reality, every day brought in new information, new rules, new worries. It did not dawn on us at first what was about to happen and how our ‘normality of going about our daily life would drastically change both physically and mentally.

Watching the news daily seeing the reality of death, stretched resources, and the very idea of liberty being taken, the fear seemed to have made us move inward, deepen our reflections and challenge our imagination to a place perhaps we have never been to. Needless to say, an awareness publically grew in the importance of the arts and their solid contribution was needed for a well-being healthy society. As we were locked in our homes, some of us in solitary confinement, the only source of momentary distraction would often come from the arts.

As a practising dance artist, teacher and choreographer, my first responsibility was to support my students and to get them through the semester not only physically but also find ways how to ease the burden of learning online. However, in all my years of teaching experience nothing prepared me for this. It was frustrating, to say the least, that what is usually covered in a physical class was virtually impossible to sustain that kind of attention on a screen. I found I needed to constantly encourage dancers to find a voice that they can identify with, perhaps finding new ways to understand ourselves better and the world around us. I had to find a way. I would find myself exhausted with the burden of worry and days and nights became one as schedule and time was intertwining for a while.

Personally speaking, it was a completely different homemade studio situation, re-teaching yourself ‘how-to-teach’ through digital technology in difficult spaces. How do we create the sensation of touch, space, communication, energy, physicality, let alone the emphasis on dance technique? How do we keep the attention, the interest and sustain excellence? Theory is doable, practice is …..!

It was a struggle in the early weeks, eventually reaching out to colleagues, discussing and exchanging ideas, and finding some form of support in one another developed new communication skills for us all. The Zoom phenomena! What was taken for granted was no longer. Newfound skills were explored in new formations of learning, and this I personally found challenging. A new existence of observation, deeper listening and tuning in to detail of things that were assumed in the past through other senses.

In these times we tap into our collective ability to try to make sense of a new normal. Are we mourning the past? Or a time we can never get back? As our consciousness struggles to frame the new reality we begin perhaps to reach out through our confinement to share what we love through our art. It is more than a casual swap of ideas for entertainment but more of a way of externalising our personalities and who we are as artists continuing our journey through new paths.

My self-survival command mode was ‘stay productive’. I had to, otherwise, I would lose my sanity. I needed to be immersed in projects, that’s where my ‘normal’ lives. And if I did not have one, I found a way to create one at home reaching into things I had shelved in the past that I had no time for, painting and dabbling in new mediums. Suddenly I needed wall space to hang them all! So I started attacking old furniture!

In the time of confinement, we seek TV, film, books, music, dance, theatre to give us the freedom to lock into the imagination, this frees us from reality. It is the art that connects us to the impossible, away from our current context and it is also a way that connects us as human beings in a world where all things are possible, or perhaps no longer so much in our grasp at the moment.

It seems that the world we wake up in is an imitation of the other. Things look the same but they are not. I missed my family, relatives and social circles terribly. This was hard.

Whilst losing many local and international projects like so many of my fellow artists, made me tap into smaller commissions which opened a new door of creativity. I still got to play and explore a little, in what I love to do best the three C’s, Choreograph, Create, Collaborate! New experiences brought in new strengths such as choreographing online, a very interesting chapter and a story to tell on another blog perhaps! It’s amazing how if you allow your thinking to shift a little, it takes a new form of risk, new approaches evolve that enhance and make work a valid experience from all perspectives.

As a teacher, we must practice what we preach. You just have to try and if you fail it’s a learning curve to do it better next time, and if you manage, well, it just encourages you to keep going. Recognising that we live in a digital world love or hate it, one had to keep up and get on with it. However, all this ‘newness’ was overwhelming and of course will never take away the feeling of real live performances and theatre. That feeling is unreplaceable. They coexist but as humans, we thrive on the need to have the living experience. The real thing. On the other hand, it was effective to see the reach one’s work could have globally online notwithstanding the free-flowing comments and reviews. It makes one vulnerable and stronger simultaneously.

Varied forms of collaborations brought the global dance family closer, the network grew stronger. Suddenly, I was communicating with long-respected artists in their fields on an equal level playing field. In conversation, we were all going through the same experiences; sadness, frustrations, survival modes. I finally found the moment to tap into personal research and professional development training by taking online in-depth courses with phenomenal established tutors that I have admired and never found the time to do so due to busy schedules. This allowed me to personally train in other forms of dance techniques fusing them into my own style of work and methodologies. There were days of course where frustration kicked in, and if you let it a heaviness knocks on your door. This is normal I kept telling myself, we are human. I missed dance in all its entirety as it’s a big part of who I am.

Attending online labs was an outlet I found helpful, many issues were raised and discussed, this allowed me to meet others from the various fields in arts and culture, that perhaps would have never acquainted myself with. Seeing their perspectives, their reason, their lens, their suggestions and sharing with my own thoughts brought in ideas and the juices of creativity began to stir. Yes, the pandemic brought many difficulties, however, it also shook hard enough to remind me that our artistic journeys are never linear. We persevere, continue, invest and battle on. We will return better and stronger! Thirsty for art, to be together, this phenomenon and need for a movement contributes so much to a healthy society. On a last note, I am content to see the sunrise and sunset rise and fall whilst listening to the sounds of life. Grateful I am still here………..

Words by Francesca Tranter.