by Susan Cunningham
Whether you do or not, after seeing 'Angels of Incidence', you may think about the roles we play in each others lives that we as humans can, in kind, be angels for each other. How people come into our lives just when we need help or guidance.
The integrated piece created by Adam Benjamin (co-founder of Candoco) for Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT) brought in 4 dancers with disabilities to perform with them.
There was smoothness to the piece that I hadn’t anticipated, the wheelchairs allowing extra choreography and demonstration of skill, becoming an extension of the movement (rather like an ice skater’s blades). Also the dancers with disabilities, who perhaps are so often seen as those in need of support, became the supporters, the carriers. (A much truer reflection, if anyone is lucky enough to meet inspirational people like Dan Daw).
I met with Dan and SDT dancer Philippa White in the midst of their tour.
What made you decide you wanted to become a dancer?
Dan: When I saw a show by the Australian Dance Theatre. They came to my hometown back in Australia. Half way through, I said to my grandmother "I want to dance like that one day" and she said "you’ll never be able to- put it out of your head!" (Because Dan has cerebral palsy). But I think from that moment I really wanted to dance. I was so inspired by what I saw, I really wanted to be apart of that and be paid for doing amazing things.
How did you go about achieving that?
I joined a dance company in Adelaide called Restless Dance Company who work with people with disabilities, physical and intellectual. They put me on the track and guided me through the process of finding my way in dance as a career.
Did you find the training difficult?
Not really, I just kind of found how my body found the movement and interpreted the movement. The work I do is a lot to do with creativity and not so much class. It is a different type of training, a lot of contact improvisation, allowing my body to find my way.
So how did you come to work with SDT?
I sent my resume to Adam Benjamin and he sent me an email saying, there’s a project you’d be perfect for and I said, “tell me more!” He said, it’s with SDT and I said “great!” We just had to get the go-ahead from Janet [Smith - SDT's Artistic Director], who said “yes!” and here I am!
What’s the best thing about being a dancer?
When you are dancing and you can feel the goosebumps all over your body. It’s amazing because you’re peforming the same piece over and over again, yet that still happens and you still find inspiration.
What’s the downside?
Lack of sleep! And not being able to lay your hands on really good food!
What were the challenges of this particular piece?
I arrived quite late in the process. They had a research week in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, then came back in December last year to start the developmental work but I didn’t come over until January. The hardest thing was getting to know everyone while your creating a piece 5 weeks away from opening. It was tricky showcasing myself, because I came in so late, it was just a case of head down, bum up!
How would you encourage people with disabilities to take up dance?
Basically if anybody, disabled or not wants to dance or have thought about giving it a go- just do it! You only get one chance. Nike- just do it!! (giggles!)
Have you seen developments in inclusive opportunities?
It definitely is developing and changing. I notice it very much in Australia. I find if you put yourself out on a limb as an artist and you go, “I want this more than anything else”, then they go, “aah, ok, we’ll give you a shot!” Then from putting yourself on the line comes other opportunities, being brave enough to step into the deep end and swim a bit for a while.
Is there more opportunity for people with disabilities in Australia?
No, there is more opportunity here. In Australia you kind of have to create your own.
Do you have any personal ambitions you have yet to fulfil?
[Working with] Adam was one of my personal ambitions for quite a number of years so I guess I am living the dream.
Pippa has been with SDT for 4 years told me more about 'Angels of Incidence' and working with 4 visiting dancers:
Tell me more about the piece?
Phillipa: One of the first things Adam said to us was to think about angels, where someone just appears out of nowhere to help you in a tricky situation and you never see them again or when you’ve been able to be a an angel for someone. There are moments when someone just appears in time to catch you but the piece also has dark images, things that are not going to help you or push you in a way that you don’t want to go.
Did you bring personal issues in to it?
We weren’t encouraged to bring personal issues in to the creation of the piece but they were always there.
What was particularly challenging about the piece for you?
The hardest thing for me in the beginning was working with new people and people in [wheel]chairs! Before they’d even arrived I was quite anxious about it. SDT are like a little family and we’ve got 4 new people coming in with completely different life experiences. It scared me- I thought, “what if I can’t meet them?” But within a week of working, I was like “it’s ok!” and they feel very much like part of the company now.
What’s it like working up in Dundee compared to being in the thick of it in London (working with the EDge)?
The location is different but what goes on in the studio is probably much the same- working with choreographers and the creation period. In London you all come together in the studio then go off home to your seperate places. But in Dundee, it’s so tiny that you live in each others pockets. I think that makes us a tighter company.
What’s it like to tour to such remote Scottish locations?
We always tour to these tiny little venues, little villages because we’ve taken years to build up our audience there and they are really excited about us coming. It’s great to take this type of work to them because it’s unlikely that they would have seen inclusive work before, seen a wheelchair on stage.
You came from working with Liv Lorent. How does she differ from Janet [Smith] in the way she works?
The way they choreograph is very different. Liv will have seen it in her head and she’ll describe it in her body and her language without actually doing it and she’ll get the movement out of you like that. Whereas Janet will say, “ok, we’ll just improvise, play around, lets see what comes and we might video it.” The movement comes from us a lot of the time and she’ll just pick out bits she likes. Janet will sometimes teach us something, Liv would never teach you a step- she’d describe it and get it out of you using rich language.
Is there a choreographer you have an ambition to work with in the future?
For now I love working in Dundee and I feel I’ve got more to give and more to get out of SDT. They are a great company to work for and I’m very happy. In the future, I need to find out what’s out there- maybe go abroad. I hope to work with Liv again- I love her work.
Scottish Dance Theatre's next performance is at the Macroberts Arts Centre in Stirling on April 19th.