On Display: Isolated // Together at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery

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One of many creative projects resulting from the events of the past two years, Isolated // Together brought three of the province’s heritage arts organizations together with 34 artists to document the COVID-19 experience through dance, film, music, spoken word, photography and visual arts. 

Matt Carter 

It all started with a conversation. 

As theatres and performing arts organizations across the country were forced to close their doors and cancel productions following the arrival of COVID-19, the future for the performing arts was looking pretty bleak. The entire industry was placed on hold, indefinitely. 

Like arts administrators everywhere at the time, Susan Chalmers-Gauvin, CEO and co-founder of Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada and Igor Dobrovolskiy, the company’s Artistic Director were doing a lot of soul searching as the news settled in. 

“This was before there were any federal supports in place and the arts community was in freefall. We were in lockdown and we were scared,” said Chalmers-Gauvin.

“At some point Igor and I were having a conversation and he said, ‘I think we should be documenting this time in our history.’ And within 24 hours I received an email from Harrison Burton [at the media company] Brainworks saying basically the same thing.

“Burton was at home thinking about everything going on and asked if he could do something with us at Atlantic Ballet Theatre.”

Shortly after, Chalmers-Gauvin, Dobrovolskiy and Burton hopped on a call and started brainstorming ideas. Things began to take shape quickly.

“It all kind of seemed like a crazy idea,” said Chalmers-Gauvin. “But it was an opportunity to connect and to have a creative conversation when all this was happening around us. It was really heartwarming.”

The project grew to also involve Theatre New Brunswick and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, each leading a separate task that would eventually form the body of work included in the performance/exhibition piece Isolated // Together

For their part, Atlantic Ballet Theatre and Brainworks choreographed and filmed several videos with dancers performing in empty locations that would have otherwise been bustling with activity. The Moncton Market, the airport and many outdoor locations to name a few. Fredericton physical theatre company Solo Chicken Productions, Saint John’s Connection Dance Works, and dancer/choreographer Possesom Paul also contributed to the series. In total, 14 videos were made with original music composed by Clifford J. Doucette. 

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery commissioned 14 visual artists to create masks that in some way represented their own experience at the time resulting in a beautifully broad range of designs, shapes and interpretations of what a mask can be. 

“We knew at the time that masks would be part of our lives for a long time so that got us thinking about how a visual artists might represent their experience in that way,” said Chalmers-Gauvin.

At the time, Theatre New Brunswick had already been collecting stories about the pandemic’s arrival from patrons and friends through its project, Dear Rona. When asked to be a partner in this collaborative project by collecting stories from the community, the organization simply had to build upon its existing work to gather more voices from a broader portion of the province. 

“Instead of waiting for the stories to come to us, we got active and sought out voices from our community,” said TNB Artistic Director Natasha MacLellan. “With help from our friends at the Multicultural Association of Fredericton and The Ville, we were able to document stories in English, French, Mandarin, Tamil, Filipino, Mi’kmag, Arabic and Hebrew to really highlight our province’s diversity and the range of experience this pandemic brought to us as a community.” 

All of these various aspects reflecting the early days of the COVID-19 experience make up the current exhibition now on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, which includes an isolation booth where visitors can curate their own mulit-media experience based on the videos, photographs and collected stories. 

The project was funded through a strategic initiative fund put in place by the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture with the specific intent to support arts organizations at the time. 

“This project was a real gift because suddenly we all had something to focus on in this terrible time, said Chalmers-Gauvin. “We had an artistic focus and we were connecting with each other.” 

Isolated // Together has been on display since the gallery reopened in early April. The current exhibition wraps up on April 30th with a live dance/story performance based on the work from the exhibition. 

“We’re doing a performance that will include the dancers and the masks and spoken word. It will be fragments or elements of the process we went through in our creative vision.”

The performance will be followed by a talk featuring members of Atlantic Ballet Theatre, Theatre New Brunswick, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and some of the individual artists involved. 

“We’re going to talk about how we all came together, what the project was about and we expect a majority of the 34 artists involved in this project to be there,” said Chalmers-Gauvin. “Afterwards we’ll go downstairs to the isolation booth where the masks are on display and everyone in attendance will then have the opportunity to meet the artists and talk about the project in greater detail.”

Isolated // Together Live | April 30 | Beaverbrook Art Gallery | 7 p.m. | Buy Tickets 

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