Nela Hallwas, founder of South Surrey’s XBa School of Dance, makes no secret of the fact that, as with everybody else, two years of pandemic lock-downs and restrictions have taken a toll.
But, at the same time she is full of hope – and plans for a future in which the pandemic has receded to a point where it no longer impedes the artistic community.
“Through the pandemic we have been undergoing a bit of a rebuild,” she said.
“Something that’s become very obvious is how needed the arts are in the community. Everybody takes the arts for granted, but it was the arts, in all their many forms, that saved us – particularly through the periods of lock-down.”
It’s time for White Rock and Surrey to assert the importance of the arts to our physical and cultural development and mental health, she told Peace Arch News – and also time for new artistic voices to be heard.
That’s why she’s called XBa’s long-awaited return to the live stage – at Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage, 7 p.m., Friday, April 29 – I Can Hear Your Voice.
A celebration of International Dance Day, actually it’s a multi-disciplinary spectacular including dance, visual art, music, words, film and photography.
Among scheduled guest dance performers will be The Wee Drams, a Scottish highland dance group; a new traditional Macedonian folk dance troupe; long-established classical Indian dance company Prajakta Trehan; Tamanawis Secondary solo dance artist Ishan Sekhon and Semiahmoo First Nations dancers.
Also highlighted will be the visual work of two Surrey artists, Lyn Verra-Lay, who will be working with silk installations, and Helmut Gruntorad, who will be creating video displays.
The diverse nature of the show presages a larger development for XBa, Hallwas said.
“It will be a little taste of what’s going to be happening at XBa – a first little spark of coming back to life.”
Come September, as it begins its 23rd year of operation, the school will be rebranding as The XBa Dance Centre for the International Performing Arts.
“It was with deep thought and consideration that my daughter Amadea and I decided to welcome to the XBa studio a select few cultural dance groups, to work alongside our continued dance education programs,” Hallwas noted, in a formal announcement on April 15.
“(We will) also make a unique, and very special performance venue available to our community for select events,” she added.
The facility, which provides 2,800 sq. ft. of wide open studio space, has been used over the years for XBa’s own events, including the Rhapsody Awards Film Festival, the MasqueRAVE fundraiser, intimate and public dance performances and art sales.
Among advantages it offers are a theatre-sized movie screen and a 70-by-20-foot black velvet theatre curtain.
“The space lends itself to everything from an intimate performance setting, to a film and photography studio,” Hallwas said, pointing out that it can easily morph into creative performances spaces for dance, theatre and music.
For visual art events the centre will offer a departure from traditional galleries, contributing a unique and edgy, metropolitan-style setting, she added.
“It’s the largest physical space on the Peninsula,” she told PAN. “In normal times, we can seat 200 people there.”
While she has closely guarded this gem for two decades, she said, she has realized it is “time to take that step further,” noting that XBa’s plans include some partnerships with Semiahmoo Arts.
“XBa Dance Centre will also continue to work with diverse-abilities dancers,” Hallwas added. “We’ve had classes for and with them for 20 years now. XBa is about inclusivity and making dance accessible – it’s who we are and what we do.”
That sense of identity was tested by the pandemic, Hallwas – also a painter and visual artist – acknowledged.
For March of 2020, XBa had received an invitation to participate in a prestigious international conference in Athens, Greece, in which dancer, choreographer and administrator Amadea was to play a key role, leading into other career opportunities.
Everyone was approved, packed and ready to travel when the global pandemic was declared that month, Hallwas said.
Having to cancel those plans was an emotional rollercoaster, she noted, and at the darkest hour, she had doubts whether she could save the school, which “took half my life to build.”
“Amadea put her dreams on hold and stepped in as administrator,” she said. “She did practically everything.”
Hallwas said that, during lock-down, XBa bounced back by doing classes on Zoom, while Amadea would also make a point of driving around to students’ homes to retain some personal – albeit distanced – contact.
Hallwas also credits the help and encouragement of Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman who connected XBa with WorkSafe BC to develop protocols that would allow all dance studios to resume in-person classes safely.
Measures the studio established are allowing it to move forward to do more, Hallwas said.
“Our certification program has actually expanded,” she noted. “We’re the first school to offer an international certificate in hip-hop and street dance – the faculty is quite excited about that.”
Now, with fingers crossed, she’s contemplating the beginning of what could be a new era on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
“We have such a wealth of art and artists here. There are great things to be accomplished in the community – and we all have to do it together.”
Surrey Arts Centre is located at 13750 88 Ave. For tickets to I Can Hear Your Voice, visit tickets.surrey.ca
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