Calla Lachance: Art in the time of physical distancing

August 2020

What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why?

I joined a book club that focuses on the work of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour] Playwrights led by Robert Chafe and members of the theatre community. So far, we’ve read Other Side of the Game by Amanda Parris and Every DaySshe Rose by Andrea Scott and Nick Green. Also, reading Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad and So you want to talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo. It’s important material that helps me better understand the mess the world is in right now, the roots of social injustices, racism, and white privilege entrenched in society.
In my work at Neighbourhood Dance Works it is critical we interrogate the habits we hold internally within the organizations. Every decision relates back to a specific idea and ways of holding space, systems to build artistic programming, [and] I want to question what we think we know, in order to discover what we don’t know, or what we think we know.
Our work as a presenter and within artistic communities has a direct impact on how society comes to understand the multiplicity and fragility of the world around us. We are not just about entertaining audiences. Art matters because artists give voice to huge issues and complex lived experiences. The work of artists, and by extension presenters, is interictally interwoven with the BLM movement, environmental concerns, social-political matters, and so much more.

Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching?  Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site? 

We have a regular movie night with our 8-year-old son and our neighbours – we like to watch kid’s films that also appeal to adults. We recently revisited Fantastic Mr Fox. Love that film! Also, NDW is working on a large project that is essentially about creating a metaphorical universe where an otherworldly community comes to earth to help us figure out how to get ourselves back on track, towards a better future. With that in mind, I watched Arrival with Amy Adams and guess who – Mark O’Brien! Anyhow, it was an interesting film and how the aliens were depicted was fascinating. Quite choreographic really.

What music or artist are you listening to right now and why?

I’m so old school … I have a pile of CDs by my CD player that I have in constant rotation. At the moment I’ve been grabbing Kaia Kater, Miles Davis, Jenina McGillivray, and Rose Cousins.

Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work?  Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now? 

My routine is pretty steady, we’re in full re-invention, production mode. Aside from feeling the earth fall out from us between March – May, things have not slowed down since June. We have about 10 new projects on the go to make up for a cancelled Festival of New Dance this fall. I have a downtown office, so I was able to work from there early on. This gave me much needed space to figure things out, clear my head, wrap my brain around next steps. Words of wisdom are not my specialty. Happily accepting pearls of wisdom from anyone who has them!

Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything in particular you have discovered that has delighted you? 

It has been fascinating to consider the realm of possibilities that digital solutions and platforms can provide. I work in the dance world, so from an artistic point of view, it can be extremely difficult to put meaningful dance content online. What has delighted me most is connecting with communities from faraway places, across Canada, the United States, oversees. Digital programming has connected me to artistic circles that are typically off my radar. And seeing artists work across regions has been exciting.
In terms of finding creative solutions for NDW’s artistic programming, I have been in so many energizing conversations about how to realize untapped potential at this time. The artists we’ve built new programs with have offered vastly different perspectives on ways we can be creative. Mostly, these ideas move away from digital spaces. To work in contrast to what has been the dominant way forward has been very gratifying.

How has food provided a comfort?

Food was my outlet in the early days of COVID, which led me to discover some great cooking shows on-line. I watched every episode of Nadiya’s Kitchen on Netflix and cooked almost everything she cooked up in her kitchen. My favorite was her easy-peasy Beef Wellington and an amazing English soda bread called Spotted Dick. Cooking gave me the distraction I needed to focus on something wholesome and nurturing that my family and friends could enjoy.

Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with? 

I am in a somewhat contained social network with co-workers, family and friends in St John’s. We spend most of our time with families with kids, so our 8-year-old can have the social time he needs. With the absence of school, it has been particularly important to fill that void. I work from a small office, I frequent only a few stores, and keep our activities centered around specific communities. We managed to go on a road trip across the island; that made our world feel more open. And we have friends in Petty Harbour, so that opens doors to wider the social parameters. We are devoted to our masks; wherever we go, they are on hand. Doing our part the best we can!

In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic?

I’m glad we live in a geographically isolated environment. It makes applying social distance guidelines manageable. I like that we can walk steps away from our homes and be in a swimming hole, that we can drive for 30 mins and be in the middle of nowhere, that we can find solutions to be outside easily and enjoy the summer months, while we can! Summer is so short; the outside world has been an oasis for us this summer.
Creating activities for our son to engage with has also been fun. We built him a trapeze inside which gave him huge opportunities to expand his physicality. And when it became nice outside, my husband built a da Vinci Bridge so we could have a trapeze outside. Watching my child thrive at time when there are so many restrictions on his life has brought me joy.

What do you miss the most?

I missed seeing family in Nova Scotia this summer. Although the Atlantic Bubble made it possible, it seemed too risky to actually go. I miss my extended family a lot, but more specifically for my son, these are the years family holidays make a big impression. He asked many times, “when can we go see the cousins in NS”? It broke my heart. But we found other exciting things to do and places to explore here in NL, that made a huge difference. We live in an incredibly beautiful place; the images of NL beaches online this summer has blown my mind. When it was our turn to spend some time in the Codroy Valley, it was amazing to experience warm water and white sand right here on our very own shores.


Calla Lachance is the Artistic Director of Neighbourhood Dance Works and the Festival of New Dance in St John’s. As a dance curator, arts advocate, artist and educator she brings 20 years’

experience to a community that continues to make a vibrant and thriving contribution to dance in Canada.

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