Like most organisations in the performing arts, navigating through the pandemic has been extremely challenging. Cancellation of tours, educational residencies and training programmes were difficult to swallow, and we were hit very hard emotionally with the passing of our close collaborator and friend David Toole OBE. Finding an inclusive recovery programme for all our disabled, non-disabled and ethnically diverse artists were also a considerable challenge. The core principle of an inclusive company is to design programmes that can work for a cross-section of stakeholders, but the task continues to be complicated by how national governments are tackling the pandemic. Their medical-model orientated approach effectively told those who are ‘clinically vulnerable’ to shut themselves away while the others were encouraged to get out and about to keep the economy going. This kind of messaging only creates division and social tension and made things very difficult for companies like Stopgap, who are trying to sustain inclusivity and cohesion between people with different needs.
Despite these challenges, everyone at Stopgap Dance Company focused all our energy on supporting our diverse dance artists everywhere and reached out to our global audiences through digital platforms.
Award-winning dance film Artificial Things had a global re-release reaching over 45,000 viewers
The re-release took place on various social media platforms, with YouTube alone reaching 30,000 audiences. The film was made available to Chinese audiences in the summer thanks to the support of the British Council and the media company Tencent, who streamed the film on their website QQ. BBC also transmitted the film on BBC Four in memory of David Toole, and the broadcast is available to watch again on iPlayer.
Home Practice, our free-to-view online dance class series, was launched, attracting 700 members on dedicated Facebook Group and 1000+ subscribers on YouTube
Whether disabled or not, Covid-19 is forcing many dancers around the world to self-isolate suddenly and indefinitely for various reasons, and we saw the need to widen the benefits of our inclusive and rigorous dance classes. We are releasing one free class video every week on YouTube so that anyone can maintain their practice on a regular basis. One Dance UK reported that 80% of the UK dance workforce is freelance, so we made a commitment to make Home Practice free-to-view all the while the pandemic is causing uncertainty over people’s incomes. The quality of output has not been compromised however – Home Practice is professionally filmed and in a confined studio, so as to take into consideration that the viewers are often carving out spaces within the limitations of their homes.
Our talent development programme also continued online
Chris Pavia, a choreographer with Down’s Syndrome, continued his development through creation of solo works for film (due screening at Watts Gallery in summer 2021). Our apprentice company Sg2 and youth dance companies also continued working online. It was extremely difficult to sustain engagement and progress of these emerging dance artists remotely, but we were pleased to have made some headway instead of suspending activities altogether. Many of these individuals did not want to undo the progress made to date, and we are deeply thankful for their determination and patience while we engaged in person-centred solution finding and some outside-the-box thinking.
Bring on 2021…
As we adjust to uncertainty becoming the norm, Stopgap are starting to carve out what our future might look like in the long-term. Inclusivity took a real battering from the virus itself but also the measures against the pandemic, and we are very conscious that inclusive working will need some turbo charging once we can resume our activities. Social-isolation has caused so much damage everywhere on multiple fronts, and we are ever more committed to working with new and old partners to bring people back together.