When the lavish dance hub Dovercourt House closed down earlier this year, Heidi Strauss, like many in Toronto’s dance community, had a great loss to mourn. The three-storey building was one of a handful of reliable, affordable rehearsal spaces in the city’s west end, and when it was shuttered in the middle of the pandemic, independent dancers found themselves without a much-needed space to practise and hone their craft.
“It was kind of a centre for dance in the west end,” Strauss, the artistic director of Adelheid Dance Projects, told The Dance Current. “[Its closure] affected people who were working in dance significantly.”
Strauss harnessed that loss and transformed it into something productive. Adelheid typically produces performances, but as affordable rehearsal spaces continued to shutter during the COVID-19 pandemic, Strauss felt there was a gap that her company could fill. Alongside her team at Adelheid, Strauss got to work, searching far and wide for a suitable rehearsal space.
Strauss located a spot in the west end — a former Salvation Army building with a well-lit studio space in the back. She contacted the landlord and explained her plans for the spot. Fortunately, they picked up what Strauss was putting down.
“The owner was really amenable to thinking differently about community and relationships,” said Strauss. They accelerated renovations on the previously rundown building and a deal was struck: Adelheid could use the place as an affordable rehearsal space for Toronto’s independent dance community to rent on a temporary basis. The space opened in June and is currently slated to remain open until November, depending on whether Adelheid can afford to keep it going.
The space has been a lifesaver for Michael Caldwell, a choreographer and performer who has struggled to find affordable places to rehearse elsewhere. Caldwell is working on a large-scale piece called Two x 30, titled so because it features 30 duets. It’s a major work with a lot of moving parts, and significant rehearsal is needed to nail it. Caldwell, an independent artist, wasn’t able to rehearse to the extent that he needed to while maintaining his budget before Adelheid’s space came around.
“In Toronto, prices are skyrocketing,” said Caldwell, adding that, with the closure of Dovercourt House and other spaces, “It’s now really hard to find a suitable space at a price that’s affordable.”
Adelheid’s rehearsal space is a good size, in a good location and a good environment to work in, said Caldwell. It’s a breath of fresh air in a city where art spaces are often squeezed out by the astronomical cost of living, leaving independent artists like Caldwell without places where their creativity can flourish. And for it to open just as COVID restrictions ease is the cherry on top for Caldwell.
“I feel like it’s in conjunction with an overall feeling of hope in the world,” said Caldwell. “The introduction of newness is really exciting in that context, and I think that’s ultimately what the space has going for it.”
But that newness might be fleeting. At this point, Adelheid can only keep the space running until November unless they are able to generate enough revenue to continue paying the rent. Regardless of it’s fate, Strauss counts the space — and the way Toronto’s dance community has rallied around it — as a success.
“I think this is something that everybody recognizes will be helping the community as a whole,” said Strauss. “When I reached out to anybody with questions, they were thrilled to be jumping in to help.”
“Sometimes it can be easy to see the boundaries between different communities within the dance sector, but the more that we can find ways to be supporting each other, the more we can build resiliency within our practice.”