Disabled performers stretch the boundaries of dance at Dance International Glasgow
Glasgow’s newest dance festival is an open house for the disabled and non-disabled performers alike
20 performers stand on stage wearing headphones, music flooding into their ears but not ours. Every few seconds, the lyrics and pulsating beat becomes too hard to contain, leading to spontaneous bursts of movement and song. As an audience member watching Jérôme Bel’s The Show Must Go On, you’d be forgiven for thinking: is this dance? Whatever the answer, Bel must be doing something right because his 2001 work featuring 20 performers, 19 pop songs and a DJ has won awards and toured the world.
About to re-stage Bel’s piece at the inaugural Dance International Glasgow festival, Candoco Dance Company saw The Show Must Go On as the perfect fit. ‘Apart from the fact it’s really entertaining and fun, it questions how we think about movement,’ says co-artistic director, Stine Nilsen. ‘And we do that too at Candoco; we question what dance is and who can do it.’
Since its formation in 1991, Candoco has strived to put integrated work on the map by bringing together disabled and non-disabled dancers with high quality choreographers and production values. Not only does this give disabled performers a professional platform to work on, but it helps audiences see the ability on stage, rather than the disability.
‘Dance traditionally has very clear parameters of virtuosity,’ says Nilsen, ‘but I think our company, and contemporary dance in general, is challenging what virtuosity actually is, and what we expect to see on stage. When the company first started in 1991, it was very new to have dancers who were disabled and who used wheelchairs. They were looked at by society with a sense of “what can you do?” So for us it has always been about showing people’s ability.’
Although the journey is far from over, the landscape in which disabled artists can create and perform work has changed significantly since Candoco began. At Dance International Glasgow alone, there will be several opportunities to see the work of highly accomplished disabled dancers, including Claire Cunningham, Marc Brew and Indepen-dance 4.
That said, the battle to encourage audiences to view this kind of work on artistic merit alone has yet to be won. ‘I think that everybody involved with inclusive dance has a fear that people will look at it and automatically take the stance of “aw, isn’t that nice?”’ says Nilsen. ‘And you understand on a human level that this can be part of the reaction, but you hope that very quickly the layers and quality of the work speak for itself, and bring up other responses.’
Exposing audiences to more integrated work is one piece in the puzzle, but so too is providing greater opportunities for training and working alongside other dancers. In the studios at Scottish Ballet, choreographer and performer Marc Brew is busy creating Exalt, a world premiere for Dance International Glasgow performed by Indepen-dance 4 and our national ballet company. Watching him rehearse is a truly moving experience, not in the patronising way Nilsen fears but in the humanity that comes from artists supporting each other to create something new. Which, ultimately, is what integrated work is all about.
Comprised of two non-disabled and two disabled contemporary dancers, Indepen-dance 4 is very familiar with the world of integrated dance. For the ten dancers from Scottish Ballet, however, this is uncharted territory. ‘They’d never done this type of work before,’ explains Brew. ‘They’d never worked with integration or dancers with learning difficulties, so at first it was very much me facilitating ways of communicating. We had to explore how these different aesthetics work together, and explore these different techniques and ways of training. And, of course, there’s the dancers: the basis of it all is these people and their relationships.’
Scottish Ballet, Fri 24 & Sat 25 Apr; Candoco Dance Company, Fri 22 & Sat 23 May; Dance International Glasgow runs from Fri 24 Apr--Fri 5 Jun; all events at Tramway, Glasgow.