Critical Dialogues Issue 7.2 Claiming Spaces: Artists with Disabilities Redefining Dance. Volume 2 March 2017
Matt Shilcock with a beak-like mask on backstage at the Underbelly Festival 2015. Photograph by Gabriel Clark.
Critical Dialogues Issue 7.2.............................................................................................1 Claiming Spaces: Artists with disabilities redefining dance. Volume 2......................1 March 2017............................................................................................................1 Content...........................................................................................................................3 Introduction...................................................................................................................4 Dr Laura Osweiler...................................................................................................4 Dr Laura Osweiler Bio.............................................................................................4 Beyond Eugenics............................................................................................................7 Matt Shilcock..........................................................................................................7 Matt Shilcock Bio..................................................................................................12 The Choreography of Touch.........................................................................................13 Jodee Mundy........................................................................................................13 References............................................................................................................19 Jodee Mundy Bio..................................................................................................19 Off The Record.............................................................................................................21 Danielle Micich.....................................................................................................21 Danielle Micich Bio...............................................................................................24 Lost in Grey...................................................................................................................26 And What Inspired It................................................................................................26 Chang Chung-An...................................................................................................26 References............................................................................................................30 Chang Chung-An Bio.............................................................................................30 Dance Diaries...............................................................................................................31 Woodville.................................................................................................................31 Linda Luke.............................................................................................................31 Linda Luke Bio......................................................................................................35 The Place of the Dancer with a Disability in the Contemporary Dance World............36 Joshua Pether.......................................................................................................36 Joshua Pether Bio.................................................................................................40
Introduction Dr Laura Osweiler
Critical Dialogues #7 ‘Claiming Spaces – Choreographers with Disabilities Redefining Dance’ was my first project as Critical Dialogues’ copy editor. Through working with that edition’s guest editor, Sarah-Vyne Vassallo, I had the honour of engaging with some remarkable artists with disability and their collaborators. Since my recent move to Australia, I have engaged with others at events such as Accessible Arts’ Arts Activated Conference, the Catalyst Dance residency hosted at the Drill Hall last year, Force Majeure and Dance Integrated Australia collaboration ‘Off the Record’ at Carriageworks and just by talking about the last edition of Critical Dialogues. Through these exchanges, Critical Path’s team saw very quickly how the journal was meeting the needs of artists with disabilities and knew we needed to produce volume #7.2. With this collection I took a ‘danceaturgical’ approach; offering choreographers space to think, reflect and create. The artists and I had written and verbal conversations in order to facilitate unpacking and contextualising their choreographic aims. I wanted to gain an understanding of how and why each artist approaches choreography and open that up to readers. Overall questions in this process included: - What questions and areas are you exploring and creating? - What are the practical actions, tasks, tools you employ to investigate your questions and topics? - How and why do you make one choice over another? Additionally, my aim was to have at least a glimpse into how their identities and histories situate and support personal questions, focuses and making of works. Each writer in the second edition of this volume (CD#7) demonstrates how artists create work out of the material they live, and how they foster new and unique choreographic approaches. Their actions as artists cut through and around different spaces – social, political, artistic. The work foregrounds tensions, and questions the positions and actions, of artists with disabilities in ‘mainstream’ dance and society. By developing and inhabiting fringe areas and new centres (venues, content, technique) they develop spaces to work and thrive. These artists embody changing perspectives and perceptions of what dance is, who is a dancer, which techniques are acceptable and who can answer these questions. Each of them claims, reclaims, forms and opens spaces to create change. Dr Laura Osweiler Bio
Dr Laura (Amara) Osweiler is the General Manager at Critical Path. She has a PhD in Dance History and Theory from the University of California, Riverside. For almost twenty years, Laura has been an independent producer in the United States and now Sydney. Her work include concerts, workshops, and conventions such as the Austin
Belly Dance Convention, An Evening of Experimental Middle Eastern Dance (EEMED), Xâ€“MED â€“ workshops on experimental dance, and Improvisational Dance Series. She is also a practicing artist, performing as a soloist and in dance companies and teaching dance and pedagogy at several university and festivals.
Article Cover Image of Matt Shilcock wearing a large beak-like mask backstage at the Underbelly Festival 2015. Photograph by Gabriel Clark.
Beyond Eugenics Matt Shilcock
As I prepare for two months of travel, first to Thailand for the 5 International Interdisciplinary No Borders Project in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and then onto Nottingham, UK for an exchange program between Critical Path and Dance4, I would like to share my history, current practice and works in development. th
Diagnosed at birth with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), commonly known as ‘brittle bone disorder’, I live with an increased risk of skeletal fractures and injuries. My interest in dance lies in the rehabilitative, empowering and strengthening qualities dance has to offer. During my [dance] career, I’ve had some really serious injuries, including breaking my pelvis in 2014. Although severe, in the grander picture, the fulfilment I receive from dancing makes the pain worthwhile. I would rather break a leg on stage doing something innovative than at the shops reaching for the next purchase. I call my practice ‘Osteogenuine’, a methodology of movement that stays genuine or authentic to the needs and considerations that living with OI places on my body. It’s a continuous exploration and adaptation in choreography, reacting in real-time to what is happening inside and outside of the ever-changing landscape of my body. As I am at a higher risk of injury than an average, physio-typical dancer, it is important for me to find ways to engage with dance that is both safe to perform and interesting to watch. I achieve this by devising a catalogue of movement phrases that I can draw on should the worst scenarios happen, giving me the ability to adapt in real time to whatever challenges I made be faced with on stage: injury, pain, areas of immobility, etc. The process of this involves recognising and working around boundaries of physical limitations and injury and adapting choreography to work with injury and seamlessly integrate mobility aid devices on stage. Examples include using pain as a sensation to explore the perimeters of movement and investigating restriction and omission to introduce a new vocabulary of movement. This exploration is a constant monitoring of where I am in the moment: ‘How much can I move this joint? What is the limit of my extension?’ ‘Does this hurt? Can I tolerate it? How much is too much?’ ‘How can I transition through levels, navigating my body’s restrictions both safely and comfortably?’ A way to convey this experience in a workshop environment to people living without these specific impairments is through restrictive costuming. To create a physically sustainable dance practice, I incorporate holistic healing systems. I am mentored by international choreographer Vangelis Legakis, founder of Embodied Unity. Vangelis graduated from Laban Centre (London, UK) with BA in Dance Theatre and MA in Choreography. He has been visiting the Forsythe Company regularly since 2004. His work is influenced by major dance artists, William Forsythe,
Julyen Hamilton, David Zambrano, Gill Clarke, Rosemary Butcher and Rosalind Crisp. Vangelis is amalgamating his experience and knowledge from diverse dance artists including energy work so as to provide a holistic approach into dance pedagogy and performance. I initially met Vangelis when I attended the 2 ‘International Interdisciplinary No Borders’ project in Xiamen, China in 2013. Vangelis’ techniques and approach to improvised pedagogy and composition resonated very positively with my own practice. Due to my physical condition, I often cannot rely on my body to move the same way consistently. Therefore, I need to make constant choices adaptations to be able to perform dance safely. Vangelis’ methods suit my needs very well, not only in organising and mapping my body and movement pathways, but layering intent and performative aspects on the material. nd
Matt Shilcock wearing a large beak-like mask backstage at the Underbelly Festival 2015, with his arms spread slightly out. Photograph by Gabriel Clark.
Vangelis’ practice incorporates healing modalities from Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Kundlini Yoga, Craniosacral therapy and Meditation with improvised movement and instant composition methodologies. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Universal Healing Taoism are also a huge influence in my choreographic and dramaturgical compositions. As a foundation to explore movement, I am inspired by Embodied Unity and explore relationships between the internal organs and the 5 Taoist Elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water and the sensorial and emotional connections with each. An example of a task could be to visualise the meridian lines (energy channels) in the body. Where they are located and how do they flow? Where they connect and to what? These lines in the body can act as a pathway to move in space or to initiate contact with a partner, object or surface; for instance, by connecting your liver to the liver of your dance partner or tracing the meridian line of
the liver on a wall. Another level to this would be to explore ways The Elements relate to each other. A task could be to explore how the Liver (Wood) relates to the Kidney (Water) and the emotional, physical and sensorial connections that become available from that connection, whether that is a physical connection between two or more bodies or exploring an internal connection in one’s own body. The generative cycle of the Elements depicts that Water nourishes Wood, so one could explore either how the two relate in a nurturing sense or create conflict by reversing the flow. The choreographic and dramaturgical possibilities that arise from this exploration are limitless. Vangelis and I collaborate in the ‘Dance and Being Art Project’, an ongoing workshop series in Australia, hosted in Adelaide in (September 2014 & May 2015) and Melbourne (May & October 2016) that explores the Embodied Unity methodologies. This project is intended to become a regular occurring event around Australia, with future workshops planned for Melbourne, Sydney and regional NSW. I also participated at the ‘International Interdisciplinary No Borders’ projects (December 2013 & 2016), a month-long workshop hosted in a different city and country each year. During my time at the Dance4 Exchange, I will be undertaking choreographic exploration and development of ‘Eujeanix’, a triptych of work themed around eugenics and the social philosophies of Francis Galton, the half cousin to Charles Darwin and inspired by Darwin’s work ‘Origin of Species’. Galton proposed ideas and social philosophies of selective breeding. His work had two main features. One was to increase the human gene pool with valuable and desirable genetic traits (known as ‘positive eugenics’), such as strength, dexterity, specific cosmetic and behavioural qualities). While simultaneously, he called for eliminating the undesirable or ‘invalid’ traits through genocide and abortion (known as ‘negative eugenics’). ‘Eujeanix’ expands on an interpretation natural selection or ‘survival of the fittest. Research for this process will involve exploring eugenic propaganda, texts and devising movement inspired by a variety of sources including excerpts from speeches of historical figures, political campaign materials and books written on the subject, both for and against eugenics. Although eugenics for many is predominantly associated with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, eugenic principles have been practised as far back as Ancient Greece and Egypt, with the disposal of babies born with certain undesired traits (sometimes as insignificant as facial structure).
Matt Shilcock smiling whilst wrapped in a grey robe at the Underbelly Festival 2015. Photograph by Gabriel Clark.
Aspects of eugenics are still practiced today by every nation. Many political policies and structures encourage and/or facilitate the procreation and passive genocide of people of particular genetic traits. And of course, a person’s relationship to them depend up their position within socio-economics, race, gender, religion, etc. As a person with a disability, I am interested in learning more about the philosophies that challenge my validity and right to exist. The ‘Eujeanix’ triptych’s titles include, ‘The Likes of Me’ (performed at Underbelly Arts festival 2015), ‘Invalid:Dated’ (to be developed at Dance4) and a third, currently untitled work. I am mentored throughout this process by Sydney based choreographer, dramaturge and multidisciplines artist, Dean Walsh, with his extensive experience in dance making and unique zoomorphic choreography. Dean has shown a deep level of personal interest in the development of my practice, has been a mentor and friend since the very beginnings of my career, and we have worked together on numerous secondments. Subjects of evolution, genetics, mutation and eugenics are mutual interests. ‘The Likes of Me’ is a contemporary dance/movement theatre artwork with an abstract narrative and autobiographical content. This work has been in the making for four years, ever since I started working with Dean Walsh in 2011 and with Restless Dance Theatre. My invitation to present at the Underbelly Arts festival allowed me the perfect platform to culminate my ongoing mentorship with Dean and the ideas that we had envisioned into a 30-minute work. The dance itself takes experiences from my youth and distorts them into a surreal dream world which we invite the audience to inhabit and share. The work explores my experiences as an ‘invalid’ through imagery. Using the available assets of the site, I create elaborate
audience interactive sets and costumes that defied being specifically one thing or another, e.g. a spider web of medical bandage weaves together a forest of lifeless tree limbs and a carpentry bench becomes a medical examination table prepped for a tea party. Performers roam throughout the audience during the duration of the performance, to play with segregation between performer and audience (whilst preoccupying the space physically) by sometimes interacting with the audience and sometimes ignoring them completely. Abstract and nightmarish characters are embodied: ‘The Stork’, a folk lore-ish creature drawing inspiration from 16th Century Plague Doctors and creatures from a range of legends from around the world, and ‘Spectare’, a living Chimera of medical imaging and surgical staples. Each one explores the fantastical and mythical qualities that generally would be considered ‘disabilities’ (a label that is becoming less defined, yet somehow more segregative, as physical, sensorial and cognitive impairments are being explored in a vastly spectral sense) and declared as traits that should be destroyed rather than respected. It does not take much research to find cases of the abortion of defective foetuses, chemical castration, social segregation and generational breeding out or bloodlines and entire races. When you watch science fiction movies about Governments creating the ‘perfect soldiers’ through cloning and programming, do you forget or oversee (and perhaps intentionally) that human kind has been actively doing this selective breeding for hundreds of years? Second instalment in the ‘Eujeanix’ series ‘Invalid:Dated’ will explore eugenic practises throughout history, creating nebulous representations of historical eras with significant eugenic events. The exploration will range from ancient, modern and future eras and epochs of human history. Scenes in this work comprise of artistic renditions of factual events, presented to blur the line of morality and have the viewer really question their values, actions and role in society (i.e.: were soldiers of Nazi Germany simply ‘doing what they were told’? Would YOU follow a trend like that?). Invalid:Dated aims to have the audience question and explore their own moral standing on issues such as racial segregation, religious extremity, euthanasia (both voluntary and enforced), stigmatisation of mental and physical health and disability and inequalities and prejudice in gender and sex. To ensure this work can cover such immense topics (each worthy of their own full length piece) without ‘glossing over’ or blanketing the issues, it will feature quotes from historical and contemporary figures, to allow the audience to develop opinions and discussions independent of the material and/or the artists’ view. Socio-economic status, location and population, through living conditions and reproduction of demographics, can be either the product or the instigation of eugenic outcomes (sometimes both at the same time). The intention of this triptych is to challenge the dissociation of the majority of people as to how eugenic philosophies affect their lives and the lives of people around them. In reality, eugenics is being openly practiced through a range of social, political and economic spectrums that affect the human race as a whole.
The next few months are an exciting time for me. As I explore new conceptual interests, choreographic processes and personal boundaries and potentials (both physically and personally) in-depth. I feel in many and immeasurable ways that I am only just starting my journey in dance. Matt Shilcock Bio
Matt Shilcock is a South Australian based dance artist and 2nd Kyu in Budo Taijutsu and specialised weaponry, with a strength in adapting mobility aids to choreographic and weaponised use. His passion extends from his own accomplishments in transitioning from a full-time wheelchair user to his current practices in dance, fitness training and martial arts. In 2009, Matt began performing professionally and has since engagedâ€Żwith companies across Australia, including Murmuration, No Strings Attached Theatre for Disability and Restless Dance Theatre, Kaldor Public Arts and internationally with Mass Box (China), Touch Compass (NZ), Full Radius (USA), Candoco (UK), Independence (UK), FreeWill Theatre (HK) and the Van L Dance Company (UK). Matt is a current ensemble member with Murmuration and continues to develop his independent practice with experienced professionals such as Dean Walsh, Vangelis Legakis, Leigh Warren, Janet Bridgman and others, studying the anatomy and physics of dance and applying it to his studies in holistic remedies and alchemy. More information on Dance and Being Art Projectâ€™ can be found at this regularly updated website: http://danceandbeingartpr.wixsite.com/danceandbeingart
Article Cover Image by Bryony Jackson shows Heather Lawson (left) and Michelle Stevens (right) in conversation using their hands to touch each other.
The Choreography of Touch Jodee Mundy
‘Never has the power of love, kindness and connection to fellow human beings felt more important in breaking the ties of social isolation’. Australian Stage1 ‘Imagined Touch’ is a unique and shared experience, providing insights into living in a world without sight or sound by using art, theatre and sensory performance. Featuring Deafblind performers, Heather Lawson and Michelle Stevens, these artists meet the audience and the audience meet Deafblind artists through touch. Touch is the main way that Deafblind people navigate, communicate and connect with others. In a society where touch is not encouraged, Deafblind people grapple with universal questions of isolation, access and human connection. I have known Heather and Michelle both personally since 1998. I worked with them as a tactile sign language interpreter and also had the opportunity to perform with them in a creative development of a show called, ‘In the Dark’, produced by Round Angle Theatre in 2009. Michelle Stevens is an accomplished pianist. Born blind, she played piano for all of her life and worked as a piano tuner. With constant ear infections throughout her childhood, Michelle eventually lost her hearing in her thirties. She undertook the mammoth task of learning tactile sign language and relearnt how to play the piano by using her memory, sense of touch and residual sounds through cochlear implant.
Heather Lawson is an emerging artist. Born Deaf, she could see, and due to Ushers Syndrome, a genetic disorder, became blind in her twenties. Heather had to learn how to use a cane, read braille and navigate the world in new ways. A well-known advocate for Deafblind Australians, she has always had a keen interest in the arts. In 2012, Heather and Michelle asked me to direct them in a show about being Deafblind. I think because I was fluent in tactile sign language and they trusted me with the task of creating a work with them. It was indeed an honour and I knew an important story to hold. Even with the knowledge of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) already fluent in my own hands, a language and culture transmitted to me by my own Deaf family, little did I know what it would take to make this theatre show a reality. My roles in the first three years included directing, producing, interpreting, advocating, supporting, collaborating and fundraising. Challenging and, at times, unforgiving, I knew that if we kept upholding the art and its role in this project, more project partners would come forward. At our inaugural workshop, I asked Heather and Michelle, why do you want to make a show? I wrote their responses down in our workshop notes. â€˜We need to make a theatre show that tells the truth about being Deafblind. We want to share our humour, grief and our profound isolation. To highlight the importance of human touch and tactile communication for Deafblind peopleâ€™. 2 - Heather Lawson & Michelle Stevens 3rd March 2013
Heather Lawson (left) meets an audience member through touch. Photography by Bryony Jackson
Audiences meet one another through touch. Photography by Bryony Jackson.
Throughout 2013, I facilitated with them a program with over thirty workshops exploring a range of creative arts including: movement, piano, puppetry, storytelling, sensory theatre, script development, concept development and interviews. In 2014, we did a three-week creative development held at Polyglot Theatre and then followed by a CultureLAB development in 2015 where we had the North Melbourne Town Hall. Little did I know what it meant for this work to step into a large space, with resources, expertise and incredible artists like Jen Hector, Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey to make this work step-up. It was quite a shock for me. I had never made a work this large of this scale. Especially one that comes from a community context. I was nervous and still learning how to drive this. Yet I was the only one in the room who had the combination of skills required for the job. What began as a community cultural development project has, after four years in the making, evolved into a large-scale work created by a team of more than twenty collaborators. Our team also includes partners that spans across advocacy organisations, local, state and federal government agencies, philanthropists, arts organisations and independent artists. Our sense of team is incredibly strong. Every moment experienced in â€˜Imagined Touchâ€™ has been created through visceral communication collaboration with Heather and Michelle whose hands have felt thousands of hours in tactile sign interpreting, social haptic communication and braille. We interrogate every idea with the ethics of how Deafblind people are being represented and consult with Heather and Michelle every
step of the way. As artists, we are in their world and culture with the aim to create the most authentic bridge that we can to our audiences. The artistic team includes, Jen Hector whose set, lighting and visual design allowed audiences to feel that you were stepping into a void and grapple with how lightness and darkness can disorientate you. Using 360-degree projection, large screens and goggles, you feel as if you are walking into a large installation by James Turrell, where there is no image, no focus, just blurry edges. Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey did composition, sound design and musical direction. Their work with Michelle explored themes of isolation, deterioration of one’s hearing, listening through a cochlear and essentially creating an immersive world of sound. They developed a music programme where a camera picks up the light in the room through a light meter and translates lightness and darkness into sound. Flynn’s musical direction occurred with preparing Michelle for her concert piano pieces in the finale. We have four tactile interpreters, additional tactile guides, a social haptic consultant, technical manager, two support workers. They are managed by my producer and co– ceo Stacey Baldwin and myself. ‘I listened with my fingertips’ - Audience Member, feedback for a showing in 2014 Touch is an incredibly profound sense. You use every muscle, every pore, every inch of flesh to navigate your way and to communicate. In ‘Imagined Touch’, Heather and Michelle’s stories of becoming Deafblind led to a sense of isolation that no one could ever truly fathom. This isolation, along with memories of connection, terror and friendship, has been distilled into a touch choreographic sequence designed for every audience member to experience. The isolation sequence is literally leaving each audience member alone for five minutes with headphones and goggles where they need to take their own steps. The connection sequence is taking the audience member by the hand and gently reassuring them they are safe and guiding them to a seat. The terror sequence is taking them by the hand and running that person around the room. Friendship is having audience members meet one another through touch by feeling one another’s face and exploring their own way of communicating. ‘The only way out is through.’ - Helen Keller, Deafblind political activist As director, I felt that the best way to communicate Heather and Michelle’s subjective experiences was by using the senses of the audience. Using light, sound and touch, our team created a metaphorical journey of Heather and Michelle’s sensory deterioration, isolation, longing for connection and the relief when someone puts out their hand.
‘Beautifully disorientating; Imagined Touch is an amazing insight to the world of the other and ourselves.’ - Bruce Gladwin, Artistic Director, Back to Back Theatre(feedback from CultureLAB work in progress showing 2015)
Heather Lawson’s movement finale. Photography by Bryony Jackson.
Wearing goggles and headphones that alter and restrict light and sound; through intensified touch and tactile communication, the audience experiences the artists’ stories in a profoundly different sensory environment and literally meet Heather and Michelle through an imagined touch of the senses. One by one and step by step, audiences are led into the unknown. At times, audience members are left alone, signed onto their hands, given directions with drawing patterns on their backs, danced with, held, spun around and run around the room. This combination of touch choreography sequences transmits moments of Heather and Michelle’s experiences. Creating ‘vignettes’ or ‘subjective moments’ for the audience, a range of experiences from intense isolation to tactile connection, shows the scope of our need as humans to be social creatures. Indeed, this is unique and personal for each person who goes through the show. With these sequences, Heather, Michelle and the tactile guides gauge every individual audience member and their communication mode in order to take them a little step beyond what they know. Calling this section the ’go through‘, when the audience wears headphones and goggles and enters an unseen space. One reviewer, Myronny (2016), describes his experiences:
‘I feel an immediate sense of anxiety as my most reliant forms of communication and being connected to others have been removed. I am aware of movement happening around me, but I have no idea what. I keep reminding myself that I am in a show and am completely safe, and after what seems like an eternity of waiting (which in reality would have been minutes – I think), a hand takes hold of mine and leads me away from the comfort of my seat. I walk with confidence and trust in the stranger but the second they release me, I stop dead in my tracks. Suddenly, my footsteps are much slower and smaller. My hands are outstretched in front of me as I come into contact with numerous other audience members. We touch faces, we hold hands, I feel a wedding ring on one person, and another has large, coarse hands. I am creating stories for these people I know very little about. There is a sense of timelessness while this is happening and it feels like I am in another world.’ - My About Town3 Another reviewer, Peard, A (2016) describes: ‘Unexpectedly scary, especially as we were not sure what was happening around us. Then she squeezed my hand and could feel her being led away. I was no longer a ‘we’. Then a stranger’s hand took mine. I had immediate and complete trust in that hand. I still don’t know who it was. Or who any of the hands and arms and bodies I felt were, but one woman drew a smiley face on my hand and I’m sure we both laughed loudly because it was finally something we could understand.’ - Aussie theatre4 My drive in the choreography was to create experiences that were subjective and internalised; to allow for accidental meetings even though you didn’t know who was touching you. Where you felt out of control, isolated and yearned for human connection. When once you met someone through touch, you realised that in fact there is a whole language, an entire culture, unknown to most of us that can be tapped in by all. The way the works is structured, that, as well as Heather and Michelle, there are seven tactile guides who remain unseen in this entire sequence. Kind of like a football team, everyone has specific position. We have forwards, centres, backs and wing guides who give each audience member a touch sequence and then pass that audience member to next tactile guide for a different sequence. It’s like a rite of passage. ‘‘Imagined Touch’ challenges and invites us to engage the work in unexpected ways. It alters our perceptions about how to experience theatre but also how we communicate with each other.’ - My About Town5 Our journey making this work challenged our team to ask many questions of Heather and Michelle. Is touch the most important sense? How do Heather and Michelle as Deafblind artists connect to the audience at all times? How can we reframe disability as an opportunity to share untapped expertise on human potential?
Now in the 21st century, these contemporary Deafblind artists are touching and showing audiences the way through an imagined touch. In a world bombarded with visual images and individualism, Heather and Michelle offer audiences expertise in the art of touch, connection and trust. The language of touch as they described to us, demonstrates that race, religion, ability, gender and colour are simply irrelevant when all that matters is the kind hand being offered. This struck me as an incredibly profound thing that Heather and Michelle as Deafblind people can teach. We hope this work of art awakens, not only the audience’s senses, but also ignites the power that lies in their head, heart and hands to connect with others. ‘Imagined Touch’ premiered at Arts House in September 2016 and will be having its second presentation at Carriageworks as part of the Sydney Festival program in 2017. References 1
Johnson, S 2016, Imagined Touch: The Deafblind Live Art Experience | Jodee Mundy Collaborations, Australian Stage, <http://www.australianstage.com.au/201609087963/reviews/melbourne/imaginedtouch-the-deafblind-live-art-experience-%7C-jodee-mundy-collaborations.html>. 2
Mundy, J. 2013 agreed aim of our work. Workshop notes, Jodee Mundy interviews Heather Lawson and Michelle Stevens 3
My, M 2016, Imagined Touch review, My About Town, <http://www.myronmy.me/2016/09/imagined-touch-review.html?m=1>. 4
Peard, A-M 2016, Arts House: Imagined Touch, <http://aussietheatre.com.au/reviews/arts-house-imagined-touch>. 5
My, M 2016, Imagined Touch review, My About Town, <http://www.myronmy.me/2016/09/imagined-touch-review.html?m=1>. Jodee Mundy Bio
Jodee Mundy Collaborations is an independent creative producing company. Formed in 2012, it responses to with the multiple collaborations and partnerships established and in order to continuing to develop work with artists, diverse communities, organisations and funders. Artistic Director Jodee Mundy and Producer Stacey Baldwin are committed to producing high quality theatre works, public events, installations and artistic interventions, bringing together diverse cross sections of the community who may not regularly encounter one another. Jodee’s artistic aim is for audiences to witness works that challenge and inspire them to acknowledge the value of live performance, communities and the ability of art to redefine and skew the notions of inclusiveness. Her work ultimately points to a future ‘beyond inclusion’, where diversity is inherently valuable to the art. Rather
than a point of difference, it is considered a point of commonality. Works include: Imagined Touch the deafblind live art experience, The Carers Project: A Sanctuary in the city and her next work in development, Personal. www.jodeemundy.com
Off The Record Danielle Micich
Force Majeure in partnership with Dance Integrated Australia. Commissioned by Carriageworks for New Normal National Arts and Disability Strategy, August 2016. One of my first professional engagements as a graduate was to lead a movement workshop for people with disability. Not something I had any experience with at the time, I recall how nervous I was preparing and not feeling confident that I had the skills to deliver. I was finding it difficult to plan as I had not been informed about room dynamics, the etiquette or what the needs might be. So, I went in with some loose concepts for generating movement and kept an open mind, knowing it might be a disaster, which to my own surprise it wasn’t. It was a beautiful exchange, learning how to work with a new group of people that have different skills, needs and abilities. What I learned that day were lessons I have kept with me ever since; I can never be prepared enough, I should never assume anything, that I never have enough time and that it’s good to leave my ego at the door. These were more lessons for life perhaps, but they have translated well into my work ethics. Twenty years on and now as Co-Director of ‘Off The Record’ with Philip Channells , I found myself reflecting again on the process of making a work with artists with disability. As resident company of Carriageworks, ‘Off The Record’ was commission by them as a part of their New Normal strategy. It offered me the opportunity to open my process and offers a range of extremely talented group of artists working together for the first time on a main-stage platform to showcase their stories. I was also very interested in exploring what that someone with a disability had to say about privacy and Philip was the conduit to this community. Having Co-Directors with two different sets of expertise was essential to making a successful piece of dance theatre. I brought in, as Force Majeure’s Artistic Director, knowledge of directing textbased dance theatre using the devising process, which is using collaboration with performers to generate text and movement. As Artistic Director of Dance Integrated Australia and a dance practitioner, Philip brought a wealth of experience working in integrated practice with artists with and without disabilities. Philip Channells is the founder and Creative Director of Dance Integrated Australia and is an Ambassador to the Bundanon Trust Artist in Residence program. His knowledge, skills and experience of working in dance and the disability sectors in Australia and abroad during the past 15 years has gained him credibility as Australia’s leading disability-inclusive dance practitioner. 1
The first pressing question for Philip and I was whether everyone in the cast would need to identify with having a disability. We postponed answering this until we had worked with artists in the audition workshop who were invited artists from a general call out, and had a sense of what the work might be. Because of the large amount of applications we received and the amount of time we allocated for the development 21
the answer we eventually came to was that as long as we had an integrated approach to making the work which is inclusive of any artist and they were open and happy to share personal stories, then they could be any artist, with or without disability. Our cast of five performers Jana Castillo, Alex Jones, Gerard O’Dwyer, Marnie Palomares and Neil Phipps – two dancers and three actors – were selected from a large pool of professional artists who identified as living with a disability or came from integrated practice. A mix of strong personalities and abilities that complemented each other and gave Philip and I an eclectic pallet to draw from. The first part of the creative process was interviewing the cast in a group setting. Philip and I took turns leading question so the whole company could listen and respond to individual stories. It was about creating an open safe space to share. Philip and I were focusing the conversation around personal information and the frustrations one has at times com-municating with a disability, something that Philip could navigate very well with the cast being someone who identifies having a disability himself. In this early stage, there was little directing from us and more about information gathering. So, our attention was on what the cast had and wanted to say. After this phase, my questions were about the show’s structure; how do we bring these stories together and what story do we want to tell collectively? By working with universal themes such as love, loss, fear, manipulation and honesty, Philip and I reframed the specifics of a personal story and contextualised them in the bigger picture in order to form a cohesive work. The only factor we uncovered which united everyone’s experience was that they all shared ‘off the record’ moments, moments the artists normally would keep private. For example, like the time Jana as a child showed her friend how her Barbies have sex. We looked to offer the performers space to share and express these moments. Philip and I, with the help of Text Dramaturg, Zoe Coombs Marr, used this information to form the script. Zoe is a brilliant performer/writer and comedian. We asked her to take what were very heavy subject matters and redirect the language and storytelling to make it light-hearted. We wanted to celebrate our stories and find a way to understand them from a different point of view. We continually made changes to the script throughout the rehearsals as the performers became confident in sharing. The cast also wanted to make sure that their personal points of view were very clear to the audience. Philip, Zoe and I made sure they had the authorship of the work. This meant we needed their permission to use their stories. Ultimately, our goal was to find interesting ways to stage these narratives using their physicality mixed with our experience of producing new work. The construction of movement was no different from any other Force Majeure work. I used our trademark devising process where performers are given specific instructions. Such as, find several ways to create difference between you and another body. We would also generate movement based on their writings and stories and key words to improvise a mo-vement response. What I try to achieve through improvising is natural ease to the body, something I look for in any performer regardless of dance ability. Philip, Zoe and I played with using humour by misinterpreting and reinterpreting their stories. For example, we had a performer with no Auslan experience attempt to interpret what is being signed. We wanted to give the deaf audience one story and
our hearing audience another in order to demonstrate that there are differences in the way we understand something we see. We found ways to show the confusion and frustrations that our cast experience in their daily lives with their identities. For instance, we created movement duets that used mixed abilities, a dancer moving with an actor. We also discussed how the performers present themselves to the world around them. Developing this content stirred up emotions and each morning before rehearsals we began with a session to ‘check-in’ with each other. We came together as a company, cast and creatives to discuss any thoughts, ideas or issues that stemmed from the previous day because the information the performers were sharing was sometimes very personal and sensitive. The other massive consideration was the audience and ensuring the work would be accessible for deaf and visually impaired patrons. We achieved this by embedding access into the design of the production such as, an Auslan interpreter, projected subtitles on a wall and audio describing throughout the show. We brought in the expertise of an Audio Describer, Emma Bedford, to ensure any projected words and captioning were clear for the visually impaired. This meant that we had to us a particular font, colour and an edited version of the script. The decision to include the Auslan interpreter, Neil Phipps, as one of the performers meant we needed to engage an Auslan Consultant, Della Goswell. She made sure that the Auslan created inside the work was being translated clearly for our deaf audience. Additionally, TV screens hung as a part of the very minimal set of a large black tower and a long black ramp to continue feeding the audience both a visual element and the performers’ dialogue when Auslan wasn’t being signed. Finding a way of challenging perception and at the same time guides one to think about the bigger picture is what I call the ‘sweet spot’. After finishing the season, one performer told me that doing this project was one of the worst things they had ever done and one of the best things they had ever done because of sharing something extremely personal and having such a positive response which started dialogues around behavior not often discussed. If we as a company of makers don’t challenge ourselves and take risks in what we make, then we shouldn’t expect our audience to take risks in what they see. After twenty years as a maker and defining my own process of dance theatre, I am reminded again, that if an idea is not working it’s probably because I’m not communicating it properly. So change tact and try again. Months later when I bumped into people in the Carriageworks foyer at other shows and hear audience members still talking about Off The Record, I thought we have achieved what we set out to do – we have emotionally connected. The lessons I learned long ago and continue to apply, e.g. keeping an open mind when working with a new group of people and leaving my ego at the door, supported the process of this work. Because of my openness, I was able to learn and experience from these artist different ways of being, living and creating. Exploring what inspires them, what drives them and what keeps them going as an artist today also feeds me moving forward with new Force Majeure works. It is very possible that future works would include artists with disability regardless of the topic. Here are examples of text spoken during ‘Welcome to Off the Record’:
GERARD: According to my mind I don’t go out on nights when I have work the next day I don’t smoke I don’t do drugs I don’t lie I don’t care what people think I don’t judge people and I don’t stray from my plans JANA: If I was in America, I’d have Tourettes, but in Australia: Crazy. If I was in America, I’d maybe also have Lyme disease, which is this disease you get from Ticks, like bush ticks, not tic tics, and Lyme disease can cause neurological problems, like these, but we also don’t have Lyme disease in Australia. So, no. These tics, which aren’t tics, are not from a tick. In Australia. They’re just for attention. I know what you’re thinking. “For attention, what?!?! Whay?!” Seems crazy, right?! But I am crazy. I mean, I don’t feel like I’m crazy, but it’s official. It’s on record. Here is an example of the narration track for the blind and visually impaired during the ‘Welcome to Off the Record’ performance: We are in track 8 on a long, low seating bank made up of five rows. The stage is 10m deep by 23m wide, two car lengths by the width of your average blue whale. The space is uncluttered with a black floor. Above us, there is an 8m high ceiling. Between it and us are the lights and steel truss. There is no rear curtain just a bare concrete wall. To our right, at a 45 degree angle is a 5m long, black wooden ramp, as wide as a small car. At it’s highest point it stops suddenly, onstage. The drop is a meter. To our left is an angled, 3m black box. The front left corner is closest. Directly in front of this tower at head height are 5 medium-sized flat screen TV’s, hung horizontally in a row. These are to be used for captioning - a screen for each performer’s spoken text. Atop the box; a platform protruding like a balcony. From this vantage point an Auslan interpreter signs. The Auslan interpreter is interpreting what I am saying - which doesn’t really make a lot of sense. If you can see him - you don’t need me
Danielle Micich Bio
Danielle Micich is a choreographer, director, performer and Artistic Director of Force Majeure. Graduating from Victorian College of the Arts, she relocated to Perth as a company dancer for 2 Dance Plus and then appointed Artistic Director of STEPS Youth Dance Company for four years. Danielle performed in Night Train Productions’ Wish winning a West Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Female Performer and Blue 24
Room Theatre Awards for Best Individual Performance and Members Choice. Danielle was Assistant Director on Force Majeure and Belvoir’s co-production Food, choreographed Black Swan Theatre Company’s Flood and Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s Driving Into Walls which was nominated for a 2013 Helpmann Award, won the Equity Guild Award and later toured to Sydney Opera House. http://www.forcemajeure.com.au/
Article Cover Image Shih - Yun Fang and Jing - Yin Wong embrace while Li - Chuan Yeh looks on from behind. Photograph by Ren-Haur Liu.
Lost In Grey And what inspired it Chang Chung-An
In 2014, there was an unprecedented and bloody attack on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) in Taipei when 21-year-old Tzeng Jai, armed with a fruit knife, left 4 dead and 21 injured. This incident shocked the whole of Taiwan and raised serious concerns surrounding mental health issues in our society. By all accounts, Tzeng Jai appeared â€˜normalâ€™ up until the time of the attack. I began to wonder if there were signs that were simply ignored. Did he have mental illness as a child? Or did the pressures of our society push him to a breaking point? Taiwan is a high-pressure society and demands its citizens to excel in the education system and job market. Tzeng Jaiâ€™s case was extreme but I started to realise that many people are possibly in a similar condition. I have a few friends who appear to have signs of depression. However, I see that neither their family nor the Taiwan health care system pays attention to them. In Taiwan, we do not have time for depression. We are just told by family, friends and society to get on with life. Taiwanese frequently worry about being different from others. They fear being teased, bullied and/or becoming marginalised. Parents openly direct their children away from the disabled and prevent them from having any contact with people who act unusual. They are afraid that the children might be harmed. Educating children to
care for those with difficulties is just not a part of the Taiwanese psyche. And so, negative treatment and bullying does not seem quite so wrong in our society. Help and support is more readily available to the physically disabled but this is because they are often more ’visible.’ Mental disorders, on the other hand, are frequently invisible and a taboo subject to discuss even within the family context. Because of this, it is often not recognised until much too late. The government health care system needs to be much more vigilant about the early stages of mental disorders. Early diagnosis and treatment would prevent many tragic suicides and murders. The choreographer’s situation in relationship of the work’s content. At the age of 18, I lost the vision in my right eye due to an illness, and therefore, my dream of being a professional dancer. I had to leave my dance training in Taipei and return to my home town in Pingtung. Taipei, in the north of Taiwan, has the majority of resources and performance opportunities. It is also where most of the experience and contacts I would need to become well-known in dance. In the south of Taiwan, there are much fewer resources for dance as an art form. And so, I stopped dancing. The setback was a shock. As my dream of achieving a high level of training in dance was gone, my life became disordered. Furthermore, to the rest of the world around me, I am a disabled person. People looked at me differently. A shadow grew inside me and I began to wonder, how was I going to continue with my life as a disabled person? Fortunately, and by chance, I met a teacher who taught me as a child. Mrs. Huang encouraged and helped me return to the dance world where I started to choreograph. Because of my experiences, I am very aware of the different ways in which people look at and treat those with physical and/or mental disabilities. I want to attract the public’s attention and make people care about them as I do. Therefore, there is a lot about social issues and society’s marginalisation of certain people in my choreography. The MRT attack in 2014 really brought mental illness to the forefront of my mind and triggered the motivation for ‘Lost in Grey’. The dance is an expression of my thoughts about human care and anti-social conditions caused by a society full of stress. Unresolved problems hidden beneath society (including damaging and destroying personal and public property, robbery, self-harm, suicide and murder) places people and the whole society in danger of collapse. I hope the choreography will raise awareness of these problems. How did the dancers get into character? The dancers and I did not have much knowledge about mental disorders. In Taiwan, most people with severe mental illnesses are isolated from society for treatment, medication and rehabilitation. Therefore, we visited several times a mental rehabilitation centre in Kaohsiung during the development process. It was important for the dancers and I to be in that environment. For us to ‘feel’ it, to understand why the patients were there and how they felt about being in a mental illness ward.
Initially, I spoke with the manager of the centre to explain my research and work. With an understanding of what I was looking to achieve, he worked with us to make sure we operated within patient confidentiality laws and facilitated meetings with healthcare providers and patients. At first, my aim was that the dancers and I would conduct movement workshops and interactions with patients. However, we were unable to pursue this inquiry as the healthcare providers were concerned that intense exercise might have negative impacts on the patients’ moods. Instead, we interviewed healthcare providers about their professional experiences in regards to anonymous patients. Additionally, with over-site of healthcare providers, we spoke with several patients who were well along in the recovery process and preparing to be discharged. We asked open-ended questions about the reasons they came to the rehabilitation centre, course of recovery and expectations about being discharged. A few patients said that they were forced to go to the hospital by their family. Others realised that they needed treatment and went in voluntarily. They were all looking forward to recovering and resuming a normal life and returning to their family and communities. During these conversations, we observed patients’ behaviours, body language and movement. We noted some patients had recognizable habits which were often repetitive actions, e.g. scratching the top of the head, scratching arms, rolling eyes, grabbing fingers with their other hand, and disengaging when attempting a conversation. Afterwards, the dancers came together to share verbally and through improvisation exercises what they saw during these interactions. It is this material which I used to create the dance. Character Roles in the Choreography The characters in my choreography are a mix of many people’s experiences and thoughts. They also include my own perspective, of course. ‘Lost in Grey’ contains 6 performers. One is the patient and the other five each represent a state of mind and emotion that the patient goes through. For the work to have the most impact, I presented the five emotions or states in ways the audiences can quickly identify and understand. - Patient - Innocence and happiness of youth before being overcome with the pressures of adulthood - Calm - Ruthless - Antisocial - Recovering but crazy and beyond control The purpose of the works is to present different mental states and their relationships. Since at different moments one or several of these mental states will show up at the same time in a person, I choreographed duets and group dances to represent these shifts. I constantly focused on the changing struggles of the patient: the conflict, comprehension and incorporation of the patient’s numerous
personalities. For example, the recovering character struggles with her actions and emotions. Sometimes she acts normal. But other times, her actions are out of control, e.g. she repeats a movement, like scratching herself or saying contradictory thoughts. In another scene, the calm character works to hold back the recovering character from walking to the patient. The recovering character is out of control and the calm character is calming down her anxiety. The work ends with the calm character stabilizing the other characters and the patient from the group.
Yi - Jen Juan leaning over with both fists in front of face. Photograph by Ren-Haur Liu.
I break the fourth wall as another choreographic way to impact the audience. Before the performance begins, the lead dancer (the patient) sits among the audience. She enters the stage when the dance begins and returns to her seat when the show finishes. Whether the patientâ€™s final action holds the meaning of healing or death, we leave to the imagination of the audiences. I wanted to inspire the audience to think that patients with mental disorders can appear ordinary and mental illness could be anywhere and affect anyone. Reaction and Impact As an emerging dance group, and due to budget constraints, we have not performed for the healthcare providers and patients in the mental rehabilitation centre. However, we plan to go back in May for further research and continue our work to bring social awareness. I already see impact on the work. At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, we met an audience member who had previously had a mental disorder. After the performance finished, she could not detach from it for a couple of minutes. She sat there with tears and shared her story with us. She told us that the characters in the work reminded her of what she had been through and the piece gave her encouragement that it was possible to face such problems and recover. We continue
to tour the work, including at the international fringe festival in London and concerts scheduled this year in Taiwan. During our performances in Taiwan several informal discussions will be held by the Resident Island Dance theatre at different venues. We are participating and fostering a movement in Taiwan in which the government, academia and healthcare has paid more attention to this increasing and important social issue. Our future projects with the government and education specialists will lead to matters improving. References
Article Cover Image Shih - Yun Fang and Jing - Yin Wong enbrace while Li - Chuan Yeh looks on from behind. Photograph by Ren-Haur Liu Chang Chung-An Bio
Chang Chung-an, an award-winning choreographer, established Resident Island Dance Theatre (RIDT) in 2011. In high school, he began to lose site in his right eye. Because of this sight impairment, Chang dropped out of university and returned to his home town, Pingtung. Despite Pingtung’s limited art resources, Chang continued to dance. He works to combine contemporary choreography with ideas about human care. Through powerful and dynamic body movements and experimenting with any possible dance styles, Chang and RIDT give rise and expression to social issues. They lead audiences to experience different perspectives of life. The company’s debut piece, ‘Sun with a Corner Missing’, was nominated for a Golden Dance Award. Created in 2102, ‘Ear Language’ won first prize in the cross-area dance competition held by the Cultural Affairs Department of Pingtung. Other productions include ‘Glass House’ (2013), ‘Workplace Ecology’ (2014) and ‘Lost in Grey’ (2016). http://www.stepoutarts.co.uk/
Article Cover Image is Allen Zhu in the development stages of DANCE DIARIES: WOODVILLE. Photograph by Linda Luke.
Dance Diaries Woodville Linda Luke
Everybodyâ€™s body is unique. Everybodyâ€™s body is poetic. We all have the capacity to move to a personal song that is within us. I conceived of DANCE DIARIES several years ago. It is a series of dance and film making projects engaging with people who are marginalized by Australian society. I ask participants to reflect loosely on notions of their experience of home, whether home is a source of comfort, an unknown place, somewhere far away or a metaphor (rather than an actual place). This area of exploration grew out of a project in 2009 where I explored teenage homelessness, which was a performative investigation of my own history of being homeless as a young teen. This work then developed into working with teenagers in Campbelltown and to create DANCE DIARIES: CAMPBELLTOWN (2010). Subsequently, I have made two more DANCE DIARIES films with different communities. Powerhouse Youth Theatre (PYT) invited me to develop a DANCE DIARIES project in partnership with Woodville Alliance. Together we realised a strategy to create a series of dance projects working with a number of people who attend the Woodville centre. Woodville Alliance is a not for profit organisation who provide support for people who have mental health challenges, are homeless or are living
with disabilities. After several meetings with Woodville’s Manager, Maria Haneo who questioned me rigorously about my dance practice and vision for the projects– she approached a number of her clients whom she thought would benefit. The group selected were people living with learning difficulties. I am new at collaborating with people who live with disabilities. I have no special expertise in this field. This purpose of this article is simply to share some of the processes with and by this particular ensemble of people. First, in 2015, I facilitated the project Being Moved, a beautiful photographic book exploring movement and dance and collaborating with performance photographer Heidrun Löhr. The outcome was a book launch, a photographic exhibition and a short public performance on International Day of Disability. In 2016, we have been developing the DANCE DIARIES film. In 2017, we will run a series of dance and performance making workshops which may lead to a public performance in 2018. The overall purpose of the project is to use each process to build dance skills and confidence, with the aim to develop a public performance, if this is what this group wishes to do - a question yet to be answered. My work over the last 20 years has concentrated on performance, dance, mentoring and teaching. I engage with professional and emerging dancers and actors, and with people from various communities. My practice lies not in western dance but in a methodology called BodyWeather. BodyWeather, originally developed in Japan during the 1980s, is an interweaving of eastern and western dance practices. Its lineage draws from Butoh, German expressionism, and European contemporary performance. Essentially, it’s an improvisational dance practice, encompassing a myriad of modalities and frameworks that direct and train the body and imagination to move and perceive in an atypical manner. It’s not so interested in form, but rather, it is interested in ‘being’. BodyWeather asks us to radically reconsider our relationship to our body (as well as the external environment). There is an underlying tradition in the practice that upholds the so-called ‘imperfect’ body, or bodies that are marginalized by society. It also explores bodies that are non-human such as animal and plant or perceiving movement on a molecular scale. Philosophically, BodyWeather sees our bodies as unique ecosystems that move in their own extraordinary ways. When I dance, my interest lies in undoing what I think I ‘know’ about my body in order to find out what lies beneath my in-culturated thinking patterns and beliefs. For DANCE DIARIES: WOODVILLE I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Martin Fox (co-director / video artist) and Michael Toisuta (composer) and working with six emerging performers - Suzan Doumat, Farangis Nawroozi, Joanne Pang, Ragda Rima, Karoleen Shalaimon and Allen Zhu. We have been meeting regularly in the PYT studio throughout November and December. On the first day in the studio, we asked each of the ensemble what they thought about when thinking about home. They weren’t too keen to speak - it just isn’t their primary mode of communication. Therefore, drawing from the Being Moved project and how well everyone connected with the materials we used, we made a series of miniature ‘houses’. We also
brought along squares of fake grass in order to get ‘in touch’ with something outside of ourselves, something to form a relation to. Martin and I also chose these objects to give us some aesthetic choices in terms of filming. The grass mats could be used in various configurations that gave us a number of possible spatial choreographies. As the choreographer on the project, the most important things I value in a process, are Trust, Respect and Time and the ‘dance moves’ are secondary to that. In order to draw out the best in a performer, I feel I need to deeply consider how I am constructing time and space for someone to feel free to be creative – that they have the right to be exactly who they are. There were times for spatial and physical challenges, such as learning and remembering new dance sequences or floor patterns. At Suzan’s request, every session we did solo improvised dancing, with everyone else watching. The watching is important. For any process, I ask people to watch each other in order to learn from each other and to realize they are in this together, as an ensemble. As a choreographer, I want to watch each person over and over and notice the dance that is already inherent in each individual’s body and spirit. Such as Allen’s complex, unpredictable, improvised movement sequences which draw from hip hop and street culture dance. Or Suzan’s sense of flow and extension through her whole body and tendency to strong diagonal lines in space. Or Joanne’s fast and syncopated footwork. Or Farangis’ ‘Middle Eastern’ undulating flow through her arms and hands. Or how all of them sat so beautifully poised in crossed legged position. Using a broad range of music, I noticed how the music affected how each person moved and also the mood in the room. For example, the juxtaposition when, one time, Karoleen danced fast disco moves to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
(Left to right) Ragda Rima, Suzan Doumit, Farangis Nawroozi, Joanne Pang, Karolen Shlaimon in grass skirts. Photograph by Linda Luke.
I’m interested in dissolving borders in a process, segueing between warm ups, structured scores and technical details, improvisation, playing, eating, watching film
rushes together, resting and performing task based work, like concentrating on the movements of folding clothes or watering a plant. Over time, the dance emerges – like a photographic paper being dipped in solution. You slowly and gently agitate the environment and – over time – the images emerge. The artwork (i.e. the film) is the making of what happens. DANCE DIARIES: WOODVILLE included inviting family members to be filmed at their house, whereby the family member was filmed watching their loved one/ the dancer, perform a short piece for them. Four of six families agreed to be filmed. Martin and I felt it was an integral part of the film, given the overarching theme was one about home. But we also felt it was important to introduce ourselves, and for the families to see their relative inside a process and project. Each visit gave Martin and myself further insights into getting to know the performers as well. For example, the whole time we knew Farangis, we thought she could not speak beyond saying yes and no. Then we realized that she converses quite a lot at home in her first language (her family is Persian). Or when we went to Suzan’s house, we realized how independent she was. She took charge of the situation by helping with setting up camera equipment and organizing the space. Suzan told her 2 sisters not to help, but to watch. After this shoot with her family, she was more pro-active in the studio, which signified to us a growing confidence and ownership of the project as being hers (i.e. as opposed to being a ‘participant’). Over the 2 months, the performers emerged from an incredibly quiet non- speaking group to becoming more vocal, playful, free in their movement and expressive. This was seen in the dance phrases that were developed to allow space for one’s own timing and give each a license to their own poetic expression. For example, Joanne performed a dance phrase for camera and in her timing, paused, looked long and deep into the camera and then folded over out of view. By the end of the process, I felt we were just discovering each other. This was in one sense frustrating, but it’s also promising as we are all planning to work together in 2017. I think we are now ready to explore more specific exercises in the BodyWeather ‘tool-kit’ and it will be good to run workshops where there is no expected outcome, such as the book or film. There seems to be a genuine curiosity for our explorations so far and by the end of the process, the ensemble had expressed their desire to work together next year. All the footage is now gathered in a 3.5 inch hard-drive box and Martin and I head into the edit suite in January. The two of us are in discussion about how we will saturate ourselves with all the footage we captured and it is in this process we will find a form for it. We don’t want this film to be a ‘pretty’ dance film but to somehow convey something of the process and not to hide it. The film will be the result of what happened. While working with any ensemble, I apply the same principles, working with any ensemble, although each the process is modified according to certain conditions
and where participants are at in their development. My aim is to engender a sense of agency or ownership with any individual I engage with - whether I’m coaching emerging dancers, young actors at the University of Wollongong or working with senior community members – so that each person can hopefully realize that their expression is just as valuable as anyone else’s. From my experience, a great deal about becoming an artist is first, and foremost, about perceiving yourself as an artist and this takes time. Linda Luke Bio
Linda has been a dancer and performance maker for the past 20 years. Her work aims to excavate the subtle undercurrents we experience in relationship to self, each other and the external environment. Since 2004, Linda has been a core ensemble member with Sydney based dance company De Quincey Co. Linda most recently performed in Victoria Hunt’s ‘Tangi Wai,’ Performance Space, 2015. Linda has created several solo performances including ‘Still Point Turning’ that premiered at Melbourne Festival (2014). Linda currently teaches movement and directs productions for the BA Performance degree at Wollongong University. Linda is an Associate Artist of ReadyMade Works, a studio space dedicated to independent dance makers in Sydney. www.lindaluke.com.au
Article Cover Photograph of Joshua with his head protruding out of sand at Bundanon during Critical Path’s Residency Program Body as Material. Photograph by Julie Vulcan.
The Place of the Dancer with a Disability in the Contemporary Dance World Joshua Pether
Originally presented at Accessible Arts’ Arts Activated 2016 - Pathways to Practice The place of the dancer with a disability in the Contemporary dance world became a research topic for me in 2012 while studying at WAAPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts). My perspective on contemporary dance was at most, naïve and my knowledge of dance, and indeed, disability was limited. However in the back of my mind I knew there was something missing even within the scope of my limited understanding. My initial exploration into the literature lead me to a conclusion that artists with disabilities should be accepted into our traditional dance institutions. As a result of this, there can exist a certain level of knowledge and skill that previously had been denied to artists with disabilities because of a body hierarchy existing within these structures. The body hierarchy referring to the dominant trait of able bodiedness in
both the skills and technique learnt during those formative years of training that equip dancers with the necessary tools to achieve levels of flexibility, strength and consistent precision. Therefore, by acquiring this knowledge both groups can exist on a level playing field. This conclusion seemed to me to be adept at the time due to the research clearly indicating a lack of educational opportunities for dancers with disabilities. However, four years on I ask, why would the opportunity to attend a traditional dance institution be of value to someone with a disability when frequently we have been denied the right to do so?
Joshua’s spine and scars marked with ink at Bundanon during Critical Path’s Residency Program Body as Material. Photograph by Julie Vulcan
From a human rights perspective, the idea of inclusion is paramount. Society must change in order to accommodate people with disabilities. But the question is, whose definition of inclusion is being applied? Is it perhaps the pursuit of acceptance into the ‘traditional’ dance structures that limits the creative voice in the first place? And where, and does there exist, the artistic voice and autonomy of the individual? The fundamental notion behind these questions lies in the premise that a body hierarchy does exits, and as such, the culture of disability, or my body, is not favoured in the long term. My creativity is limited to the aesthetic of able bodiness and both the negative and positive aspects of this notion. As an artist that struggles within my own conventional dance training upbringing where I learnt ballet, jazz, contemporary (all styles considered essential in dance), as
well as an innate rebellion against the status quo, I find this realization to be of a shock. The knowledge of this means that my concept of my dancerly body is not my own, but instead, a highly sanitized version of what has become palatable within the norm of dance conventions. I exist within the community to be a point of difference. My difference being that I am a representation of the diversity in the dance ecology, but not enough in which I am able to claim ownership of my own body. The ownership of my body has never existed, as I haven’t been permitted in my training to explore it in its entirety. This essay is therefore a conversation between my two bodies; one that has gained acceptance within the Contemporary dance community and one that is to be made manifest. It is a way in which I, and perhaps others like me, exist and can make sense of this conundrum and offer an alternative to a way in which we can free ourselves from these conventions. One of the driving forces behind the exclusion of dancers with disabilities in the Contemporary dance world seemed to be an issue of aesthetic and it is for this reason I will begin with it. In Contemporary dance, the aesthetic of the human body on stage is driven in part by the ballet positioning of what is and is not acceptable. Australia Contemporary and Ballet dance companies could be seen as top of the food chain both in terms of visibility and funding. Those learning their craft in the institutions, such as the universities or conservatories, share the ballet corps’ mentality, where the goal of the corps is to become like all the other members in the company. Other members of the community, including independents and small to medium companies, also support and utilize their skills to contribute to this dance ecology. Where then does the dancer with the disability fit? Unless one is ‘lucky’ enough to enter the corps, the majority of these dancers occupy a ‘grey space’, somewhere in the middle of this hierarchal structure. Unable to access the ‘necessary’ skills, these dancers are made to catch up within professional situations by learning their craft on the job, while their counterparts having already learnt their craft flourish. This exact scenario has been a reality for quite a few professional dance companies that employ dancers with disabilities and is one of the strongest arguments for the need of inclusion in all facets of dance education. Therefore, there exists an obvious gap between the access of knowledge and skill within the two groups. It is this access that lead me to initially conclude that entry into the corps by dancers with a disability would even out the playing field. But now I question, will it? In order to enter the corps, you need to fit a certain aesthetic that is not part of the aesthetic of disability, able bodieness. Due to my invisible difference, I was able to enter the corps but could only flourish to a certain extent. In order to fit in, I looked at ways to transcend my limitations and become more able bodied. I began to participate in activities that would extend my capabilities, and were seen by teachers as being ‘good for me’. An example of this is my attempt to do gymnastics knowing full well that my spine was incapable of achieving the bend and flexibility essential to the art of gymnastics.
While some may argue that is a great way of increasing skill and technique, I have to ask, what skill and technique was I perfecting? Was it indeed learning the art of gymnastics to the best of my ability? Or was it just a way in which I tried to negate my disability in order for me to feel more comfortable within my surroundings? In order for a person with a disability to become accepted into the Contemporary dance community, we frequently have to transcend limitations. When an individual is seen to transcend these limitations, he or she is elevated to an almost superhuman status or viewed as a curiosity. The word ‘inspiration’ may be applied. And like the patient that learns to walk again, some sort of ‘miracle’ has occurred within the eyes of those who witness it. The aesthetic of able-bodied dance as become a silent killer of the aesthetic of disability, carving away that which is unique, individual and interesting of the dancer and replacing it with a sanitized version of something more palatable, and perhaps, more relatable for the viewing public. My own experience confirms this as I was made to look at my more ‘desirable’ attributes of my body, such as my legs, and not my ‘disability’. Thereby, my current knowledge of my own body has been robbed. In its place lies a version of which is perhaps marketable as the able bodied experience, thus allowing me to participate on the pretence that I negate my own disability in favour of conventionalized dance norms. Even the notion of ‘integrated dance’, where the objective is to foster working relationships between that of the able bodied dancer and the dancer with a disability has led to an erosion of the individual self. Wherein a space in which dancers with disabilities occupy as ‘equal’ to that of the able bodied dancer, much of the focus lies on developing artistic practices and techniques that foster the able bodied approach of achieving rather than through the individual’s own personal history and/or perspective. In a sense, permission is sought to enter the space (that I leave my disability at the door in order to participate). But in a space that is considered to be a ‘safe place’, permission shouldn’t be given in the first place! My artistic expression and value as a dancer shouldn’t be dictated by a core set of beliefs that say that in order to be of value I must first be homogenized to fit my role as dancer/artist? It is at this point that I call upon individual artists to take forward the reigns of emancipation, and for myself, to check my own conservative values at the front door. For I can no longer hope to be the dancer I imagined I would become during those years of training. Instead, I must invest in my own exploration of what my body does and what it is capable of within the realm of my own culture and not the dominant hierarchy. This notion I find empowering as it places my body at the forefront of innovation and creation within my art form and negates any previous held perceptions of what is right and wrong within my own conventional upbringing. My dance technique has been staring at me the whole time. I just needed a way in which to find it. Armed with this information, I can now empower others to do the same. So who cares if you forgot your lines when you walk on stage! Who cares if you can’t hear the music! Who cares if you dribble or drool! Who cares if you shake uncontrollably! Who
cares if you can’t bend your spine! It is these aspects of yourself that make you valuable as an artist and are inherently part of your technical makeup, your point of difference and your individuality. For too long now, we have been herded onto stage and made to play ourselves like cardboard cut-outs and safe sanitized versions of what is considered acceptable. While others are allowed to explore the intrinsic nature of their bodies, even the grotesque, the same is not allowed of us for fear of either embarrassment or the perception that we want to be like others. If we are to discover the hidden talents within our own bodies, then we need to reject this idea that dance or any art form is dominated by the able bodied aesthetic, and instead, return the balance of power to us as artists. The new forms that we crave and desire can be found within our own aesthetic and not the able bodied version. It is time to shake things up. When I wrote about this research topic four years ago, I never imagined the impact such a question would have on my life. My quest for knowledge has led me all over the world, visiting different companies, meeting dancers and engaging with the disability arts community. The proposal - the place of the dancer with a disability in the contemporary dance world - led me to believe that somehow there could be a place for the dancer with a disability. However four years on, the answer has changed, and I instead question the validity of the statement rather than the implications of it. Like others, I found myself trying to find a solution to something that didn’t need a solution in the first place. I had been duped into thinking that our bodies, due to some intervention, could be inserted into the able-bodied Contemporary dance world. That somehow we could become one with the Contemporary dance gods and goddess. The cost of this is high, an erosion of the self and individual, an artistic aesthetic that negates your body and finally complete annihilation of the culture that inhabits your body. In short, we become culturally barren and exist as prototypes for the masses and where our representation of ourselves is governed by the premise that we show the ‘good’ side of ourselves and not the ‘bad’. In the last few years there has been a shift in the cultural landscape in the disability arts sector. There are more discussions happening than ever before in Australia and we are starting to reap the benefits of this discourse. The tide is changing and we are starting to see a difference. The questions we face at this cross-road is, do we want to continue with the same path travelled that has become almost a yard stick measurement of how to successfully achieve in our art form? Or do we forge ahead, create a new pathway and leave all conventions behind? The answer is up to us. Joshua Pether Bio
Joshua Pether is an independent dancer/choreographer based in Western Australia. He is of Kalkadoon heritage and also identifies as having a disability. Joshua is a graduate of ACPA (Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts). In 2012, as a member of LINK Dance Company, he toured nationally and internationally. Additionally, he has been the recipient of various Australia Council grants for professional 40
development As a mentee of Dan Daw, a UK based dance artist with a disability, Joshua engaged on an international level with integrated dance companies in both Europe and the UK. At present, he divides his time between various independent projects on the East Coast of Australia and as a dancer for Touch Compass, New Zealandâ€™s first integrated dance company, where he dances for them on a project basis. Joshuaâ€™s current practice takes many forms and moves between traditional investigative processes of dance to moments of the bizarre. The two intertwining cultures of indigeneity and disability help to shape his practice and vision, enabling him to physicalize movement through his own physicality. https://www.facebook.com/JPProjects79/
Artists speak about their experiences and claiming spaces as artists with disability.