Touring during a pandemic can present interesting challenges!

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the performing arts.  Especially hard hit are performing artists who rely heavily on touring and live performances as their main source of income.

Gen’s Delights had the chance to interview Alexandre Hamel, Founder and Artistic Director of the contemporary ice skating company Le Patin Libre – whose members are all highly trained figure skaters:

Le Patin Libre : Photo: Donna Ward

The company is currently on tour in the Big Apple for seven days thanks in part to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. The performance of their show IMPRESSIONS: INFLUENCES at LeFrak Center, launched the BAM 2021 season and was also the first in-person live show in New-York since a year!

–         Hello Alexandre, with current travel restrictions, border closures, long testing and quarantine periods, how receptive or interested are US cities in welcoming guest artists from Canada? Are there organizations that provide support or guidance?

“There is a lot of interest! 

I can speak about my own experience booking tours for Le Patin Libre : artistic presenters have been curious about our work for a few years now.  There is a growing understanding and interest in the art of contemporary ice skating.  Ice rinks, including outdoor rinks and small community rinks like Lefrak Centre, are places with amazing potential.  Because of their immense size, they can welcome quite a lot of people despite the requirement of physical distancing.  Thus with these venues available, artistic presenters like BAM are more and more interested in booking off-site, outdoor events.  It thrills me.  My childhood was defined by ice rinks, to see the opening of these venues to serve new functions and welcome new people is a great opportunity for everybody, especially for kids who are currently growing up with ice rinks as I did.  Hopefully some will be inspired to discover a new sports / art form !

I believe it will be complicated for my team to organize tours in a post-pandemic world: the usual border-crossing red tape, tests, lengthy quarantine, might still be in place for a very long time. However we are resilient, patient and supported by very competent people.  We will somehow make it work.

I don’t know of specific organizations that specialize in supporting artists with organized tours. However, we are currently generously supported by Canadian institutions that fund the arts. This financial support allows us to take some calculated risks. Our current venture in New York was risky. The appearance of further more stringent health / sanitary measures could have forced a cancellation of the tour.  I’m happy that the team we formed with BAM was able to manage these risks in a smart and cautious way. 

This time, it paid off!”

–         Did you encounter any major difficulties or had to make last minute adjustments / modifications to your show to adhere to local public health regulations?   Any advice or tips you can impart to other artists who wish to hit the road and tour?

“Indeed, we created a program specifically attuned to the current pandemic context.

First, physical distancing forced us to seat spectators in a certain way.  Because contemporary skating’s base is trajectory (not movement, as in dance), the spatial relation between spectators and performance is crucial.  For example, watching a skater glide from left to right is completely different from seeing a skater glide toward you.  That is why we had to choose a program that worked with a specific seating plan, created according to sanitary guidelines. In normal times, we have more creative freedom. We even have a double-bill feature where each spectator has two reserved seats so that both pieces can be enjoyed from two separate points of views!  It is more difficult to organize such things with the current situation.

The program we chose is a 25-minute piece called Influence.  It is preceded by a collection of short pieces.  I felt that we are all due for something very life-affirming and joyful.  We will eventually return to our heavier, more abstract presentations however we felt that after a year without any public performances, this one called for something more celebratory. “

–        Mental health is important to keep in check at all times.  Do you think the population has come to truly realize the importance and necessity of enjoying arts in a time of pandemic for both mental and physical health reasons?

“I think that before the pandemic struck, most people didn’t have a very easy access to the arts. In North America, a life that truly involves the arts and culture is the privilege of a rather small, urban elite. I think that this is why art was deemed “non essential” when the pandemic forced big collective sacrifices.

The loss of access to live cultural activities during the pandemic basically showed to the privileged few, that enjoying access to live Arts on a regular basis is therapeutic and should be introduced to people from all walks of life in their normal day to day existence.

Even before the pandemic struck, there was a rampant and growing mental health crisis.  The cycle of consumerism, debt, tedious routine work, boredom after-work and social isolation contributed in no small measure to society’s mental health crisis.

The pandemic showed us something important: that Art has value and that it is essential to physical and mental well-being.

As an artist, I lost not only gigs/contracts that were my main source of revenue, but I also lost access to the exciting cultural life I am usually privy to. This resulted in restlessness, boredom, bitterness and even bouts of anger.

Once the pandemic is over, I believe as a society we should try to make life more fun, artsy, creative and exciting, while enabling live performances to be more accessible to the general public, even if this entails major challenges to the status quo. 

I might be trying to envision an utopia , but as an artist- it’s my duty to do just that!”

April on the ice: Pascale Jodoin, left, and Alexandre Hamel in “Influences” in Prospect Park.
April on the ice: Pascale Jodoin, left, and Alexandre Hamel in “Influences” in Prospect Park.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

I heard that you are currently travelling with your partner Pascale Jodoin and your baby girl who was born during the pandemic and already following all of your adventures!

–         Introducing the arts to young children is paramount to ensure the future of the arts, providing access to culture and inspiring a new generation. With access to live shows being limited, lessons cancelled and other restrictions, how would you advise parents to help their kids and themselves stay in touch with the arts during the pandemic ?

” I live in a modest, but dense and socially active neighborhood in Montreal.  During the pandemic, with a bunch of neighbors, we dressed up in silly outfits a few times every week.  We strapped speakers on a bike or on a car and we paraded in the back streets, dancing and singing.  We applied sanitary guidelines.  People saw the parade from their balconies. Our daughter saw it from her stroller. It made everybody happy.  Kids and adults were dancing. The police was aware of it, gave us safety advice and tolerated our creative parade with a smile.

This in its own creative way is art.  It’s not a “proper” art form that is taught in a “proper” standard context. There won’t be raving reviews about it.  We will never go on a world tour or sell tickets – but it is extremely important to bring art to the people and remind them that there is joy and wonder in creative frivolity.

I think that vernacular artistic creativity is accessible to everybody and immensely fertile.  Each functional community should naturally grow this kind of artistic expression.  If this kind of thing doesn’t grow naturally in a community, we have to find out why and find solutions.  Just like if a tree doesn’t flower, there’s something wrong with it and care or changes will be needed for it to grow fully. 

Reflecting upon our community backstreet initiative: kids and adults alike were curious about our funny parades and wondered aloud who “those weirdos” were. 

We found out that some of the people who stopped to ask questions happened to also be artists, fellow contemporary skaters, circus performers, dancers, musicians, painters, puppet-makers etc… We had an opportunity to talk about all of our personal projects and network.

I believe that we inspired many and that we will also be seeing several of these people at some of our future shows. We might have even found some future collaborators!

The social networking potential is fantastic!”

I would like to thank Alexandre for his input and time in answering some of my questions for Gen’s Delights.

You can follow the up-coming productions from Le Patin Libre on their official website:

The company – Le Patin Libre