With three days to go before opening night in March of 2020, Luminesque dancers were giddy and eager to show off all they learned in the previous season to a sold-out crowd.
Although COVID-19 was rising in Vancouver, students like Katherine Chambers, a first-time dancer with Luminesque, were confident that they would be able to perform the show before any drastic measures were put into place.
“I remember being in class, the Thursday before the weekend when we were, like, 'Okay this happening' [when lockdown began] and we were just like, it’s fine,” Chambers tells the Straight, over a Zoom call. “We’ll make it, we just need to hold on… and we still rehearsed in close quarters, and a couple days later, it all changed. It was wild.”
Dreams of spotlights, glittering outfits, and cheering crowds were put on hold as the government declared a lockdown in B.C., cancelling all impending performances and a new season of upcoming classes. For Chambers, March 2020 would have been her first time performing in front of a live crowd.
Luminesque Dance, a part of Glow Studios Inc., is a Vancouver-based heels dance program which offers both drop-in and weekly classes lasting two to three months. For students that register for weekly classes, the end of their semester is celebrated with a live performance. Because of COVID-19, the March 2020 was postponed until further notice.
The dance company was forced to refund over a hundred thousand dollars worth of tickets and dance program registration fees, and to close up shop temporarily. Vanessa Lalonde, Artistic Director, and Emily Taylor, CEO, needed to decide how the company would stay afloat.
Like other gyms, community classes, and dance companies in the city, Luminesque needed to pivot their business to adhere to government protocol while keeping the company alive. The company began providing virtual classes, then reduced class sizes when it was safe to do so, and then returned to virtual classes again when restrictions amped up. And it’s been flip-flopping back and forth ever since.
Watch Emily Taylor and Vanessa Lalonde in the video below to see what classes looked like during the pandemic.
Despite these challenges, Lalonde says this was a time for her creative thinking to come into play. Over the past 12 months, Luminesque Dance has managed to not only stay in business, but pull together four virtual shows.
“It’s been really inspiring to find new ways to create art,” Lalonde said, recalling the past year’s performances. “How can we make a virtual experience better? How can we make a virtual show stand out among the thousands of virtual experiences happening right now? … We really worked hard to come up with the most interesting ways that we can, to bring it all together, so that’s been a huge win for me as a creative.”
The shows ranged from films built out of footage the dancers shot themselves, to stage performances filmed with social-distancing. These shows reinspired the dancers and gave them goals to work toward through the year. Tickets sold to the online performance films were a way to keep the company in business.
The latest performance, featuring the Luminesque company cast (key dancers of Luminesque, most of whom have taken classes with the business since the beginning), is the company's most personal show to date. Part documentary, part performance showcase, A|Part tells the individual stories of the dancers during their time spent in lockdown.
Each company dancer created their own routine to express how the past year was for them. Shot socially distanced in a low-lit, mostly empty theatre, the dances are deeply personal.
While editing the raw footage of the 26 company students, Taylor noticed there were “some really powerful messages and themes” coming through the dance pieces. This led to an intimate discussion with the company over a (you guessed it) a Zoom call, which accompanies the dance pieces throughout the film.
The dancers reflect on how the pandemic has affected their well-being, self-confidence, personal and family health issues, and how—most significantly—dance has helped them to get through this particularly tough time.
“The show came to life out of what the students said,” Taylor says.
Chambers adds: “I watched it on Monday evening, and I sobbed the entire time. It was really powerful.” Like her fellow dancers, she has been missing the friendships she was once able to create at class every week. “It was really emotional to hear all the stories from the dancers, and I was crying for, I think, about half of it.”
The heart of the film, Lalonde says, is community. “Community has always been our number one value, and we’ve always believed in it, but I think that, this year, it’s shown so much more importance,” she says.
Stephanie Chan, a company dancer who appears in the show and has been with Luminesque since the beginning, says this past year has built a sense of community that’s stronger than ever.
“Although we’re not in studio -which, that part pains us, where we can’t actually be together,” Chan says. ”But everyone puts in extra commitment and dedication to try to be there online for each other, and that kindness and support really shows through.”
Lalonde believes there’s something in A|Part that everyone can relate to, considering we’ve all been learning to navigate through the past year.
“[The film is] not just about how you were impacted in dance, it’s about how [the pandemic] has affected your life,” Lalonde says. “And how much we desire -not to get back to some kind of normal but- to get back to connecting with each other again in ways that we love to.”