Taiwan Was a Covid Haven for Performers. Then Cases Flared.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — For a lot of the previous yr, Taiwan has been a sanctuary for performing artists, the uncommon almost-Covid-free place the place audiences may cram into live performance halls to listen to reside music and sip espresso collectively at intermission.

The island performed host to trendy dance festivals, full-fledged productions of “La Traviata” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” and a recital of Bach’s cello suites by Yo-Yo Ma, which was attended by greater than four,000 individuals.

But a latest surge in instances — Taiwan’s worst outbreak for the reason that begin of the pandemic — has introduced a halt to cultural life on the island, forcing performing arts facilities, live performance halls and museums to shutter simply as they’re coming again to life in the remainder of the world.

Performers from Taiwan and overseas have been caught within the center, grappling with misplaced earnings and an avalanche of canceled engagements.

“Everything blew up,” mentioned the American clarinetist Charles Neidich, who lately made the 7,781-mile journey from New York to Taipei solely to have his first reside efficiency in additional than 400 days canceled.

Neidich, who had been engaged to play a clarinet concerto by the American composer John Corigliano with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, endured two weeks of resort quarantine, one of many strict measures that had helped Taiwan tame the virus. Then Taipei went into a state of semi-lockdown final week, so he packed up and went dwelling.

“This is my non-adventure,” he mentioned.

The outbreak, coming as the federal government’s vaccination program has gotten off to a gradual begin, is forcing Taipei to close down simply as different cities around the globe are lastly reopening. In London, the theaters of the West End introduced up their curtains final week. Officials in New York introduced that Radio City Music Hall would quickly permit full capability, maskless crowds again inside, so long as they’ve been vaccinated.

The American clarinetist Charles Neidich flew from New York to Taipei to provide his first reside efficiency in additional than a yr, however the live performance was canceled.Credit…I-Hwa Cheng for The New York Times

Taiwan’s expertise is a reminder of the continued uncertainty of life within the pandemic, the risk posed by the virus and its energy to upset even probably the most fastidiously crafted of plans. Semi-staged performances of Verdi’s “Falstaff” have been known as off. The French musical “Notre Dame de Paris” has been postponed.

Even although the variety of instances in Taiwan is low in contrast with many elements of the world — 283 instances had been reported on Tuesday, fewer than in New York City — the authorities are doubling down on restrictions, hoping that lockdowns can deliver the virus below management inside weeks or months as Taiwan tries to hurry its lumbering vaccine rollout.

Artists are optimistic that live shows, dances, performs and museum exhibitions will quickly return.

“This is a place used to earthquakes and typhoons,” mentioned Lin Hwai-min, the founding father of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, a up to date dance troupe, which has delayed performances till later in the summertime. “The crisis comes, you deal with it and you come back to restore everything.”

Over the previous yr Cloud Gate has suffered financially from the cancellations of its deliberate excursions to the United States and Europe. But with infections close to zero in Taiwan and residents hungry for leisure, the corporate has offset these losses with robust demand at dwelling, premiering new works earlier than sold-out crowds.

“It used to be so surreal that we could perform,” Lin mentioned. “Now for the first time we are confronting the reality of the virus, like our peers in Western countries.”

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Taiwan’s closing of its borders early within the pandemic and its strict public well being measures, together with masks mandates and in depth contact tracing, turned the island of 23.5 million into a coronavirus success story. But the emergence of extra contagious variants in latest months, a rest of quarantine guidelines and a vaccine scarcity gave the virus a gap.

Before that, the shortage of widespread transmission in Taiwan made it simpler for efficiency venues to function close to full capability. And theaters and live performance halls enforced powerful public well being measures which have been adjusted relying on the variety of confirmed instances.

At many venues, attendees had been required to offer their names and cellphone numbers for use for tracing in case of an outbreak. Masks and temperature checks had been required. Some live performance halls barred the promoting of meals and drinks. Seats at some areas had been staggered to resemble flowers, in an association that got here to be recognized in Taiwan as “plum blossom seating.”

Despite the vigilance, there have been occasional scares. More than a hundred individuals had been pressured to quarantine in March of final yr after coming into contact with the Australian composer Brett Dean, who examined constructive for the virus after performing in Taiwan. The incident was front-page information in Taiwan, with some individuals fuming that Dean — whose “Hamlet” is scheduled on the Metropolitan Opera in New York subsequent season — had been allowed to carry out although he had a cough.

Lydia Kuo, the chief director of the National Symphony Orchestra, which collaborated with Dean, mentioned the scare taught the orchestra the significance of sustaining strict well being measures even when infections had been close to zero.

“We were facing an unknown enemy,” she mentioned. “We were lucky to face this reality very early.”

Taiwan’s still-active cultural scene attracted expertise from around the globe over the previous yr when many artists had been with out secure work and confined at dwelling. There had been visits by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the German organist Felix Hell, and Ma, the famend cellist, who chartered a flight to the island for a tour in November.

Many musicians with roots in Taiwan have additionally returned, some for an prolonged go to. Ray Chen, a violinist, got here again in August on the urging of his household and has taken half in about 20 reside live shows, grasp lessons and music schooling outreach occasions since then. He mentioned he was struck by the care individuals confirmed towards each other and the widespread adherence to public well being guidelines, even when Taiwan went months with none reported infections.

“Everyone is willing to play a part,” Chen mentioned. “Everyone values life.”

Taiwan’s strict method has not been in style in all corners of the inventive world. After the outbreak this month, some artists questioned the federal government’s resolution to shut efficiency venues, involved that it might damage performers’ earnings.

Lang Tsu-yun, a Taiwanese actress who leads a theater troupe, provoked controversy when she instructed, in a sharply worded Facebook put up, that the restrictions could be devastating to arts teams.

“Do you know how long we rehearse?” Lang wrote. “Do you know how many of us are working hard?” (After coming below criticism for her feedback, Lang deleted the put up and apologized.)

A masked crowd at a efficiency on the National Concert Hall in Taipei in November, when low numbers of coronavirus instances allowed for a just about regular cultural life.Credit…Ann Wang/Reuters

The authorities has supplied tens of tens of millions of in subsidies to arts teams in the course of the pandemic, however some performers say the grants haven’t been sufficient to offset losses. Officials say restrictions on massive gatherings are essential to curb the rising price of infections.

But for visiting performers caught in the midst of the most recent surge, the expertise has been irritating.

The violinist Cho-Liang Lin was excited to reach in Taiwan final month, his third journey to the island for the reason that begin of the pandemic. After livestreaming for months and taking part in in empty halls within the United States, the place he lives, he had come to relish the power of reside performances in Taiwan, the place he was born, regardless of the necessary quarantine.

Then this month, Lin’s live performance with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, with which he was going to carry out Korngold’s Violin Concerto, was canceled two hours after his first rehearsal. He was additionally pressured to cancel a summer season pageant for younger musicians that he leads in Taipei. He was devastated, going out with associates to drink Scotch.

“All that work and waiting around went for nothing,” mentioned Lin, who returned dwelling to Houston final week. “I can’t help but notice the irony here. The model citizen of the world now has become a bit of a problem child.”

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.