Dance (and theatre) being art forms that feed and thrive on young, beautiful and also easily replaceable bodies, does not have much room for ageing or just plainly different looking bodies, much less bodies with disabilities.
I’ve often watched dance performances portraying loss, political unrest, death; you know, the difficult aspects of life, feeling at a loss over the lack of credibility stemming from the uniformity of the young dancers on the stage, hard working as they invariably will be.
Protecting the arts
In Norway community arts does not have a high profile, rather it’s often slightly disdained, often manifested as an ingrown reflex derived from the modernist belief in autonomous art. The importance of keeping art free from instrumental and political purposes is frequently cited in debates on inclusiveness in the Arts. As if Art needs protection.
However, something seems to be changing, particularly in the regions where the need for a focus on outreach is felt more strongly, perhaps due to the artists’ closeness to local communities. Trondheims (and possibly Norways only inclusive dance group) the Dance Laboratory has been running for a decade and the Multiplié Dance festival, which has a strong social profile not only in name, invited Australian choreographer and inclusive dance expert Philip Channells to work with the company, temporarily merging it with a senior dancer’s group, Dance Theatre 55+.
What’s particularly striking in the performance ‘PERFECT (im)PERFECTIONS – stories untold’ is the strong sense of community in the group. Even the collaborating artists consisting of the poet, Trond Wiger and the sound artist Arnfinn Killingtveit, become movers, and all the performers are generously aware and focused on each other at all times. The performance gives the words dancing together a new meaning.
I worried about the performance making the difference between the disabled and the abled bodied dancers more visible as something that could make me uncomfortable; and yes, there is a difference between what a dancer in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy can do compared to that of an abled body one. Everyone is however expected to contribute to their best efforts, and no one is placed in a vulnerable position. In hindsight I asked myself if my initial concern was not an empathic one, but rather came from my own insulation among other abled bodied individualists in a culture nurturing on the one hand a very limited and highly visible concept of health, and on the other hand a similarly limited idea of artistic accomplishment in dance.
There is a difference of how different bodies move, why shouldn’t Channells and other dance artists investigate it? (We have a long and dark enough history of hiding away disabilities already). The performance could perhaps have gone farther into this investigation if there were less performers and more rehearsal time, but that would have been a different project.
PERFECT (im)PERFECTIONS is not a project that performs disability, rather it performs “humanness”, that’s something to aspire to for dance which, in my view, frequently puts a rather too large emphasis on physical perfection and spectacular physicality. Inclusive dance places an emphasis on the individual, and the dancer becomes a person, becomes irreplaceable.
Photo (above): Tale Hendnes
Ine Therese Berg is a Norwegian theatre critic, and independent researcher and dramaturg, and took part in the Mulitplié Festival as the festivals “dance scholar”, leading artist talks and giving a lecture on “Social dance”.
Main Photo: Arne Hauge / Tove Aagaard