For many artists, finding suitable spaces in which to create and perfect their works are cumbersome tasks. Costs, location and availability all factor in for those working with meagre budgets (funding they’d rather spend on artists’ fees, technical personnel or design elements that would enhance their performances, to be fair).
While Edmonton’s developers have been working on more artist-friendly spaces – as seen in places like ArtsHab, Artspace Cooperative, Startup Edmonton and plans for the Artists Urban Village in the Quarters – when it comes to dance creation, space requirements are more complex. Professional dancers can’t create their work in a cramped studio, nor in one without functional elements like a sprung floor and smooth surfaces to ease movement and prevent injury.
“Venue and space rental is 35 to 40 per cent of our budget,” notes Ainsley Hillyard of the Good Women Dance Collective, which often rents one of the five studios at Dance Alberta for its contemporary dance practice. “We don’t need sets or instruments; we need space to do our work. That’s why we will rent rehearsal space and not pay ourselves; we would rather salvage our bodies and starve to death than dance on a concrete floor.” She adds that any money they might save from renting a more affordable, less suitable space would still involve “going home and buying herbal remedies for our arthritis” after their full-time rehearsal days.
While contemporary dancers can make do with smooth surfaces and sprung floors for shock absorption, ballet dancers in pointe shoes require a specialized vinyl covering called a Marley floor (named such for the Marley company that produced the floors until the late ’70s). The Marley is a thick vinyl sheet rolled over a sprung surface; the vinyl itself softens the floor and its protective coating provides grip and resistance for dance slippers. When combined, both elements provide not only safety, but also lend to dancers’ longevity as performers.
Franois Chevennement of Citie Ballet also has rented at Dance Alberta in the past, and admits that while those facilities are ideal, they are heavily used by dancers of all disciplines – so in many cases, the Marley floor’s protective film is worn away. “You always have to consider the other users of the space,” he says, noting that for a group like theirs to own a space would be cost-prohibitive. “Sometimes there are exams or other groups that work sporadically, and as a renter you have to give up the space.”
“One thing that I think is quite bizarre is that Edmonton has the highest per capita rate of dance studios in all of Canada, yet we’re not able to access these facilities at a reasonable discounted rate because they’re for children and for recreational adults,” notes Hillyard. In addition, many of those rehearsal studios are nowhere near the city centre – which also makes accessibility for artists problematic. There’s hope that the Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre proposed by Irv and Dianne Kipnes (see p. 42) may increase the availability of downtown rehearsal space in the future but, in the meantime, the concern is that dance organizations must find sustainable ways to foster the dance community as a whole.
With the growing number of professional dancers living in the city, Hillyard wonders if her community could focus on increasing the use of space while also making younger dancers aware of their career potentials by working more closely with the presenting companies in the city.
She notes that while her group has attempted to reach out to younger and non-professional dance organizations, even just to promote their performances, they’ve seen little interest in response. “We’re not even part of their world. These kids that are going to these studios don’t really know about the professional community in Edmonton.”