If there is one announcement of special note this year and one that demands greater reflection it is the very positive news that Espace Danse Québec, the performing arts space planned for the heart of Montréal’s Quartier des spectacles, will be up and running by the summer of 2015. We’ve been hearing bits and pieces and hopeful signs about the venue for years, but this development is a relief, giving the dance community new visibility and transforming the landscape of yet another section of the busy arts quarter. Finally dance will be integrated into the city’s larger cultural scheme. Pauline Marois, the premier of Québec, was on hand to help make the announcement in late May, confirming the funding to pay for it and giving the official green light to “the Wilder project”, as it is known. In spite of daily reports of corruption and impropriety by Montréal city officials, tenders for construction were issued immediately following the press conference.
On paper the partners on this project are not an obvious easy fit. Tangente Laboratoire de mouvements contemporains, the Agora de la danse, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and l’École de danse contemporaine de Montréal will come together to anchor the complex and make it a new and vibrant cultural hub. The Agora is the newest player on the team, arriving with its own financial clout and its own need to relocate, adding to the other tenants who have been patiently piecing together the dream project and lobbying for its completion. Even though each of the four organizations is working jointly on a private fundraising campaign – $13 million has been raised so far towards the larger goal of $25 million – government backing was essential to seal the deal and that just took time.
Each of the players started out decades ago as young ambitious organizations and they are now, without exception, established leaders of the city’s cultural scene. Espace Danse Québec will allow these organizations to do things that they don’t currently have the space to do – Les Grands alone will have three rehearsal studios, one production studio and four studios for its recently launched National Centre for Dance Therapy. For Tangente it means the end of four nomadic years and the reality of a permanent home for this key player in developing emerging voices in contemporary dance. The Agora will occupy three new spaces – for rehearsals, research and a performance space (the latter shared with Tangente). And for the École de danse – after thirty-plus years of existence, it can offer its students study conditions on a par with international leaders in the field. All of the spaces will be fully equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and technology, and provide dance artists with optimal working conditions. Rather than compete with one another, the facility will allow them to fulfill their potential in partnership, and as Les Grands’ press release indicated, “evolve in spaces commensurate with their ambitions and stature.”
In part because of the major commitment of monies from the Québec government in ensuring the building of this new space – in which the former Wilder Building will be renovated and rebranded in conjunction with new construction on the site – the plans for the Espace Danse Québec are a testament to political confidence in the future of dance. The complex will also contain provincial government offices for the Ministry of Culture, the Régie du cinéma and the cultural funding agency, Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. The decision to relocate these agencies in the larger complex frees up funds currently locked into expensive rentals dotted through the city’s downtown core.
The price tag of $63.1 million may shock a few in the community, especially when there are many groups and individuals struggling to meet their goals. The government’s investment, and its demonstrated commitment to the art form, is major. And the opportunity to turn words into deeds is clear with the onus on each partner to foster a bright future for the project. That is why, as Tangente’s Dena Davida indicated when interviewed by The Dance Current, the stakeholders must learn “how to work out cohabitation … It’s a new model of co-operation.”
The project will allow the partners to address issues of inequality and perceptions of downsizing within the field, and find new ways of collaborating, all the while respecting that each partner has a vision that is very particular. It’s a priority that this moment in history, a time of celebration and eager anticipation especially for younger generations of artists, not be squandered. The concerns and ideas that are brought to the fore by this announcement need to be addressed in a constructive manner, one that also respects the different sources of input in the platform for dance at large, whether it’s site-specific installation or dance video or multidisciplinary collaborations. Communities beyond Québec’s borders, both across Canada and internationally, might look to Espace Danse Québec not just as another space in which to develop and showcase their work, but as a new model for sustainable cultural space development.