The dance situation in Malta
The advisory committee of the newly-established but ever growing association, Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association (MEIA), has been actively looking at the different current realities faced by the dance community. The association, chaired by Theresa Lungaro-Mifsud, represents hundreds of members from the 10 main sectors in the arts and entertainment industry.
MEIA president Howard Keith believes that the dance sector is one of the pillars of the creative sector. He recently said that everyone is eager to work and although everyone understands the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, everyone in the industry expects significant action to be taken.
“It’s already six months too late,” Keith noted.
Freddy Mercury’s song says that ‘the show must go on’, but the question today is for how long will it go on?
Theatres have been closed since March and most artists have started racking their brains on how to create work for this current climate. But we are seriously concerned about whether there will be another work season. The future has become very bleak and, with no clear guidelines of when or how theatres will open, we are left completely in the dark.
The moment lockdown was announced in March, I personally had nine performances that were at first postponed and then cancelled completely.
When putting on a production the creative team spends months preparing for that one-hour performance one attends. This means we have lost hours of work and investment without any compensation. Some of us were asked to upload work online. Not only is this a different type of artform but it is also not yet regulated in terms of payment; it’s still in its infancy as a ‘theatrical’ concept.
Also, one needs very particular equipment to be able to create this kind of work. This is not a time for artists to be making any financial investment. We do not know what we are investing in exactly and whether this kind of investment would render anything for us in the near future.
Christian Scerri, director of Southville Dancers, has also pointed out how he has “lost all of our upcoming contractual performances”. He explained that “even though all studios were closed, as dancers we are not in a position to stay still and, therefore, most of us have put our bodies through quite a strain physically to be able to keep in shape”.
It’s already six months too late
He also spoke about the financial hardship of having to pay rent and all other bills when there was no work at all.
“Dance was and always will be therapeutic to the dancer and the audience,” he said, and stressed that the government should not undermine this industry and needs to continue supporting it and have a clear recovery plan.
“As things currently stand, this industry is going to take years to recover,” he added.
Patsy Chetcuti, an independent freelancer, talked about the insecurities and anxieties she is facing. She depends on funded dance projects, all of which were postponed or suspended.
“Although my income was heavily compromised, the worst is dealing with the unknown,” she said.
Her biggest question remains: when will I be able to get to work and provide for my family again?
Dancer Warren Bonello has admitted that the restrictions have affected not only his salary but also his physical and emotional state. At the same time, he has worked on setting up a new dance company. However, due to the recent spike of cases, the second set of auditions could not happen and so even this has temporarily come to a halt.
Deedee Clark, founder member of The Unit, said they have had work pushed back from one day to the next.
“Aside from the time and effort we had put into creating and choreographing, we have lost many opportunities for additional income,” she remarked.
She also said that shifting online has also affected their creativity and motivation, and emphasised the importance of having a budget allocated to the arts and entertainment industry.
The need for government intervention was reiterated by Dorian Mallia and Diane Portelli, artistic directors of Moveo Dance Company. They said it is crucial to safeguard their livelihood since this is solely derived from performances and public gatherings.
They said that for the past 11 years they have strived and invested in creating value in a relatively novel field and succeeded in opening a new stream of revenue, providing job opportunities for local dancers as well as other employees in the fields of music, lighting and theatre.
They pointed out that as dancers they are trained to work hard and never give up and, therefore, they are used to fighting against all odds; however, they added that this situation has left them in disarray and could force their dissolution.
“Unfortunately, currently not only is our effort and contribution not being recognised but we are being devalued and left to fend for ourselves,” they lamented.
We have fought for many years to reach the standards we have achieved so far. My biggest fear is that this situation will put us artists in a very risky situation, one where we lose the respect of entities and might fall into the trap of feeling obliged to work under precarious work conditions, such as little to no pay and unethical contracts. .
MEIA chair Lungaro-Mifsud noted that if Malta loses its professional dancers, it will have a devastating effect on those training to become professionals on the island as they will not have much to aspire to.
“As MEIA we are stressing the importance of a significant survival and recovery plan for people who are working in this sector and for them to keep working in this industry. This is the only hope for dancers to survive at this point. We need to know that the Prime Minister is aware that this industry exists and is as important as hotels, tourism and other industries,” she said.
Pamela Kerr is a member of the MEIA dance subcommittee.
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