Friday 18th March I toddled down to Sadlers Wells to attend Caroline Bowditch's Devil's Advocate. The thought of the day was 'Is the Dance Industry actually ready for DIsabled and Deaf Artists"
The Provocateurs speaking at the seminar headed by Caroline was: Luke Pell, Artist and Head of Learning And Development at Candoco; Donald Hutera, Dance Critic for The Times; Claire Cunningham, Dancer and Choreographer; Veronica Lewis, Director of LCDS.
I was most excited about hearing what Veronica had to say because I feel it would be amazing to have a more diverse student body within all institutions including The Place. I enjoyed hearing about her previos role at Cheshire Dance where her attitude was no matter what physicality and competency, you were going to dance. She said working with people with a range of disabilities helps you learn more about yourself.
Veronica spoke about when we move forward, it will still be very much haphazard but as we live in a more diverse country there are far more different dance role models than ever before who have come through in different routes. She named David Toole as someone who really made her see dance differently and challenged her ideas of what the physicality of dance should look like.
She trained within the ballet world where there was one idea of what dance was and should be but said that now we are moving on because we are questioning what is and isnt a dancer. She explained how the school (LCDS) wants to and has a responsibilty to provide the best experience for its students and the students that enter have to be robust to handle the training.
However one thing I wanted ot hear from her was was "I am open for disabled dancers to come and join my school". Maybe it was implied. I am not sure. I hope it is. Dance training is tough physically but there is ways to make it more integrated.
I am working one on one with a student who is a wheelchair user at a prestigious musical theatre school at the moment. It is amazing how they are wanting to get her more integrated within the dance classes. They admit they are clueless and that is why I am there but they are SOOOO open and that is most definitely the first and most important step.
What this experience has made me realise is that it is actually harder than I thought even when the school is up for it. I was in assessments yesterday and having to assess her against the rest of her classmates is hard. But I am up for going on this journey with this school and hopefully it will be a catalyst for other dancers and schools.
Luke Pell made a really interesting point that made me think about perhaps why some people view disabled dancers in the way that they do. He made the point that in dance the body tries to transcend and push virtuosity and ignore the fact that the body is degenerative. So when people see dancers with different bodies they automatically think of them as lesser performers because their body doesn't look and cant fulfill that virtuous picture.
Last time I heard Claire Cunningham speak was in Dundee about 2 years ago and I came away thinking she was a very angry and frustrated lady which made me not really like her attitude as her opinions seemed so aggressive. On Friday, she was a lot more laid back and I enjoyed her 'It is as good as its ever going to get" attitude'. She is someone who has done really well and strives to work for companies that like working with different physicalities instead of integrated companies. She spoke about the fascism and hierarchy within the disability arts world which I find entertaining.
Donald Hutera was a funny one for me. I thought the views he was raising were quite negative. It wasn't until I spoke to Luke afterwards that I was able to understand what he meant. He said that as a critic he is interested in failure...... (but later said that someone told him writing reviews was a subjective expression of himself)
However he did say some really great things. He talked about how society needs to begin to not prescribe to the favoured norm and accept different bodies, shapes and sizes. He raised the point of people expecting to get what they think is their money's worth. It is true, some people don't want to pay full price to see disabled artists on stage, because unless it is a big company they associate it with community dance.
I had to leave after the provocateurs provoked what the wanted to provoke so I missed the debating. Caroline's focus for Devil's Advocate was to create a space where everyone could say what they feel. NO barriers. As always the space was set up but people do not come and meet half way. The fence is very comfortable.
Don't I know it?