*(Photo: Supplied Supplied by Adriana Mendivil)

Before COVID-19, “social distancing” and #flattenthecurve, this month in Sydney was set to celebrate all things dance.

It was to be the return of the city’s annual contemporary performance festival, “March Dance”.

But with the roll-out of new public gathering bans and a nationwide push to stay at home, the month-long festival saw its small-audience events postponed or cancelled as venues shut and health concerns rose. 

The City of Sydney has now closed all venues until June 30, putting a stopper on March Dance – a festival, according to its manager Anthea Doropoulos, that is meant to “shine a light” on Sydney’s bubbling independent dance scene. 

“There is a really strong dance community in Sydney, and it’s not just the big companies that are doing things,” she said. 

“… there are a lot of artists making great work and putting on great shows, great workshops, great panel talks.” 

In store for the 2020 festival was a bold program of dynamic works showcasing artists and organisations from across the city. 

From Paul Walker’s impulsive and experimental “Wild Dance”, to Alice Weber + Co’s musings on the absurdities of “being bodily”’ – audiences could have dived into Sydney’s dance world at full-speed, or simply dip their toes in.

An initiative by the Independent Dance Alliance (IDA) – “March Dance” was a partnership between independent organisations Critical Path, DirtyFeet and ReadyMade Works. 

“It was about raising the profile of dance in Sydney and… for the general public to realise that dance is for everybody. Everyone can dance”, Ms Doropoulo said.

In recent years, Sydney’s contemporary dance scene has been hit hard in terms of support, publicity and funding.

In 2013, the Sydney Opera House hosted “Spring Dance” – previously the city’s only festival dedicated to contemporary dance – was axed due to insufficient funding. Then, the 2016 Budget cuts meant a “complete de-funding” of pillar dance institutes Force Majeure and Ausdance. 

The IDA-birthed March Dance is meant to be a response to that, by showcasing 176 events that “are always happening in Sydney” – festival or not. 

“We want the general public to discover that there is this whole other scene that’s really exciting and interesting. 

“I think people freak out because [contemporary] dance is not like a fairytale or a play, there’s not often a clear story… It is a bit abstract, which is what’s really cool about it. You don’t have to ‘get’ it.” 

While March Dance was set to wrap-up in just a couple of days – it’s organisers now hope to reschedule for a later date.

— Kate Rafferty @katerafferty99