On a recent Friday as the morning light streamed in through a set of huge decorative windows, performers from Rosy Simas Danse improvised in the company's new studio in the Northrup King Building.
Simas moved her company into the art building in January, and has hit the ground running in her use of it.
"I think that given the times, it's just so important right now to be able to spend time together and also for artists to be supported," she said.
The company isn't rehearsing so much as practicing — it doesn't have the pressure of a show to work toward. Dancing on newly finished floors, the artists paused to have a snack in the studio's kitchen, to celebrate dancer Sam-Sergio Aros Mitchell's birthday. The studio has become more than a place for making dance; it's their artistic home.
It may be a while before the dance world as we used to know it returns, but a shift is happening. The past decade has seen a string of closures of performing arts venues. COVID-19 has claimed some casualties, as well. Among them is Avalon Theatre, which has been In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre's home for 33 years.
But it's not all bad news. Local groups are carving out new homes to practice, perform, teach and create fresh works.
The musical chairs underway include the recently renovated Center for Performing Arts in Kingfield, which is the new home for Ragamala Dance Company, Illusion Theater and Sandbox Theatre, among others. Red Eye Theater has moved into a building in the Seward neighborhood and Arena Dances occupies Ragamala's old studio in Lyn-Lake. Ballet Co.Laboratory is opening a new venue next to its space in St. Paul, and, though it was initiated before the pandemic, Minnesota Opera is taking over the Lab Theater in the Warehouse District.
Amid all this movement, spaces led by people of color are popping up. Nonprofit center Juxtaposition Arts is breaking ground on its new campus in north Minneapolis and Black Table Arts has opened a new center in south Minneapolis. There's also Rootsprings, a rural artist retreat in Annandale that includes a working farm.
Pedro Pablo is among those benefiting from Rosy Simas Danse's new studio. The dancer is part of a new artist-in-residence program that the company has initiated with artists of color. Pablo believes artists deserve to develop their skills in a beautiful studio and should not settle for anything less. Pablo, who uses they/them pronouns, will get two weeks to make work uninterrupted in the space.
"That means that anything is possible," Pablo said. "I can do whatever I want with anything I want to imagine and I can accomplish. And I can go deep."
Pablo has done artist residencies in the past but often in a shared space with other artists and time restrictions. At the Northrup King residency, they can work for unlimited hours.
"It's not only the two hours or four hours that I spend in rehearsals, but it's everything before and after," Pablo said. "To be able to do that in one space kind of expands the possibilities of the work."
Having a permanent space rather than renting a studio by the hour allows more breathing room for a dance company, and it can be more cost-effective.
"If I was to go and rent space for four hours a day for a month, I would probably be paying the same amount that we pay for rent for the whole month," Simas said. "This way, we can have artists in here that would never be able to afford that."
Mathew Janczewski, founder and artistic director of Arena Dances, said his company had been paying $6,000 a year just to rent rehearsal space. It made sense to have a more permanent home that he could use not only to work toward performances like "run with me" at the Southern Theater in October, but also to host classes as part of his new school, the Arena.
"It's been in my mind for a while of having a school," Janczewski said. And he wants it to be for everyone — young or old, professional or not.
The Arena hosts a variety of classes from pilates and Gyrokinesis to contemporary dance and capoeira (dance-like martial art). There's also a "unicorn sweat" class, which is like a dance party with an aerobics frame of mind, on the last Saturday of every month.
"I've had a company for over 26 years now, and I've always be-bopped our rehearsals and struggled to find space," Janczewski said. "This is the first step of, let's get this started to build momentum and grow."
In some ways, the pandemic has revealed new ways arts groups could operate even if it means performing before a smaller crowd.
"I think that the pandemic really taught us just how special it is to have agency over a space big enough that you can host informal types of performances without needing all of the mechanics that proscenium theater offers," said Zoé Emilie Henrot, artistic director of Ballet Co.Laboratory.
Like Ballet Co.Laboratory, Red Eye Theater also is in the midst of building out a new space, which will be used for rehearsals and performances, as it raises money and hosts programs. The company will observe how artists use the space before they make design decisions for it.
"We want to bring artists in to use the space when it's more raw," said Emily Gastineau, a co-artistic director at Red Eye. "You can kind of play around with things in a different way."