27 March 2012
Tamsin Moore looks at how disabled, learning disabled and able-bodied dancers are working together to create masterful work
We have taken a look at a selection of professional dance companies where able-bodied and disabled artists or artists with learning difficulties are integrated to create wonderful work. These companies challenge conventional attitudes about disability in dance and realise the potential of their members through innovative and accessible work.
ActOne ArtsBase (ActOne) is a company and charity providing inclusive dance and performance training for disabled, vulnerable and non disabled people. Our work promotes tolerance and understanding; all of our activities have a unique atmosphere where difference and individuality are celebrated.
ActOne work with hundreds of children, young people and adults every year, many of whom have never attempted to dance before because of a physical or sensory impairment or a learning difficulty. We have seen huge benefits in our participants’ physical mobility, social confidence and performance potential. ActOne strive to create a community in which people of all abilities perform together and accept each other’s differences. ActOne recognise that we are all different and that through performance we come together to share a common ground which does not allow for segregation. ActOne put ability not disability centre stage!
ActOne was started in January 2000 by dancer and choreographer Suzie Birchwood who is herself a wheelchair user. Having worked extensively in both disabled and mainstream arts Suzie recognized the boundaries between disabled and non disabled groups and the lack of opportunities for disabled people to access training and professional work in the arts. For more information, please see www.artsbase.org.uk
Amici Dance Theatre Company
The Company integrates able-bodied and disabled performers. Founded in 1980, its productions and workshops have had a major impact challenging conventional attitudes about disability and the arts. Amici are the resident community arts company at the Lyric Hammersmith (in London). Amici gives workshop residencies, student placements, and performances throughout the year and currently has over 30 permanent members, and a large number of past members and associates who meet for classes. For more information visit www.amicidance.org
Anjali Dance Company
The Company pursues its aims by creating and touring original contemporary dance works, developing professional training structures for its dancers and others and by running education and outreach programmes that employ and develop the skills of people with learning disabilities. Anjali exists to change global thinking about who can dance and demonstrate new artistic possibilities by showcasing the creative potential of people with learning disabilities. See www.anjali.co.uk for more information.
Candoco Dance Company
At the heart of their work are their national and international productions, created by world class choreographers. Alongside these, through their Learning and Development projects and activities, they provide access to the highest quality of work for people participating in dance. Candoco has been confirmed as a National Portfolio Organisation of the Arts Council England from 2012 onwards. This investment recognises the contribution Candoco Dance Company has made over the last 20 years by producing and presenting high quality, innovative works by disabled and non-disabled dancers. See www.candoco.co.uk for more information.
Corali Dance Company
Corali devise, present and tour performance work made by a core group of permanent company members who have learning disabilities and artistic collaborators (who do not have learning disabilities). Corali is best known for its unique site-specific performance in settings like shop windows, lift lobbies and foyer spaces and for its partnerships with high profile London venues such as Tate Modern and Sadler’s Wells.
Members learn to express themselves as artists and to use this as a way to build confidence in their day-to-day lives and interactions with people. The performers want the focus to be on the artistic content of the performance, not the fact they have a learning disability. Visit www.corali.org.uk for more information.
A US-based organisation of artists with and without disabilities that educates, entertains and advocates through inclusive dance worldwide. Mary Verdi-Fletcher, the first professional wheelchair dancer in the US, founded Dancing Wheels in 1980. Born with spina bifida, Mary wanted to offer others with disabilities full and equal access to the world of dance – an almost unimaginable concept at the time.
To date, the Company’s inspirational mission has touched over 4.5 million people through performances, school assemblies, residencies and workshops. Millions more have enjoyed their artistry via appearances on CNN, Good Morning America, and the TV special, Christopher Reeve: A Celebration of Hope. See www.dancingwheels.org for more information.
Found Reality Dance Theatre
Found Reality is led by a disabled artistic director/choreographer and specialises in collaborations. It aims to train, through performance-making, integrated groups of disabled and non-disabled performers.
Found Reality has developed systems for training participants to professional performance levels. Choreography is created for and on the existing bodies of the performers not for and on some idealised or ‘perfect’ body. Found Reality has received funding from the Arts Council of Wales for performance research works. See www.foundrealitytheatre.co.uk for more information.
Freefall Dance Company
The Company, led by former Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers and staff from Fox Hollies Performing Arts College, was established in 2002. Freefall was formed to provide a training and performing platform for highly gifted young people of school leaving age, with severe learning difficulties.
Freefall dancers gain accreditation for their skills and knowledge through Freefall’s own Open College Network qualification ‘Excellence in Ballet’ and the Arts Council England’s National Arts Award. Freefall has created an extensive and varied repertory and they perform regularly at professional venues across the city. See www.brb.org.uk for more information.
The purpose of the group is to increase self-esteem, confidence, teamwork skills and inspiration, to raise awareness of what is possible and promote positive responses to disability.
FRONTLINEdance teachers and workshop facilitators have experience in planning and delivering high quality workshops, with some having additional experience in choreography and performance. The team can devise and create new and exciting dance performances for all ages, abilities and settings. They also work collaboratively with guest choreographers, visual artists, photographers, musicians and filmmakers. See www.frontlinedance.org.uk for more information.
Infinity Dance Theatre
Founded by Artistic Director Kitty Lunn in 1995, Infinity aims to inspire people with and without disabilities, encourage their artistic and other professional aspirations, and empower them through meaningful educational and performance programmes.
Infinity is one of very few companies that has developed a transposition technique based on Classical Ballet and Modern Dance for dancers using wheelchairs. They perform throughout the New York City metropolitan area and New York State, across the US, and around the world. Notable performance appearances include the First Cultural Paralympiad at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. For more information visit www.infinitydance.com
A Contemporary dance company at the forefront of dance for learning disabled people. Magpie seeks to unlock individual potential and ability through delivering and developing high quality dance participation, performance and professional development, nationally and internationally.
Magpie’s performances have ranged from Sadler’s Wells, Laban, The Albany, Trafalgar Square and the Royal Albert Hall to local churches and the streets of Brighton and Bromley. Founded in 1986 by Artistic Director Avril Hitman, Magpie has extended its programme over the last 27 years and is proud to still work with some of the original Magpie dancers. See www.magpiedance.org.uk for more information.
An integrated dance theatre company with disabled and able-bodied performers, PrefaceMorn aims to create innovative and accessible dance theatre.
Accessibility in the arts is of great importance to Director Niall Cullen. As dance is almost exclusively a visual medium and dance theatre still relies heavily on form and image, it is often out of reach for a visually impaired audience. PrefaceMorn have identified the need for a more accessible form of dance theatre. The integral use of audio description in the company’s work aims to provide a way into dance theatre for a visually impaired audience.
By providing accessible workshops and professional training to dancers and theatre practitioners interested in integrated practice, PrefaceMorn intends to cover professional dance theatre training for disabled people. See www.prefacemorn.co.uk for more information.
The Company makes engaging work for national and international touring and is one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations. StopGAP consists of dancers with learning and physical disabilities working alongside non-disabled dancers. StopGAP’s creative inspiration stems from the rich movement and choreographic potential that comes from a diverse range of bodies and minds working together with honesty and integrity. Videos of past and current work can be found at www.youtube.com/user/StopGAPDance. See www.stopgap.uk.com for more information.
Please do write in to us if you have experiences of your own or stories you would like to share on the subject of disability in dance. We would love to hear from you! For a full listing of integrated dance companies, visit www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/organisations
And what if I’m a disabled audience member?
There is a wide range of help available to disabled theatre-goers when they attend dance performances. Some things to look out for are:
- accessible parking spaces
- spaces in the auditorium for wheelchair users
- signed performances (using British Sign Language to interpret both the music and any dialogue in dance performances)
- captioned performances for hearing impaired audience members
- audio introduction (an aural complement to the printed programme, providing a detailed synopsis of the work, as well as description of the set, costumes and more)
- assistance/guide/hearing dogs welcome
- wheelchairs available for customers’ use
- large print programmes for visually impaired customers
- wheelchair-accessible toilets
- audio described performances, relayed through headsets (enabling sound to be magnified through earpieces used without a hearing aid)
- touch tours (to feel the set, props and costumes)
- an induction loop, where hearing aids should be set to the ‘T’ position to enhance the sound
- a free seat in the auditorium for a carer, if required
Venues differ in what they offer, so we asked a range of London venues what kind of help they provide. Those that responded are listed below, with a summary of what they offer. And, check out VocalEyes, a nationwide audio description charity, providing access to the arts for blind and partially sighted people at www.vocaleyes.co.uk
There are spaces for wheelchair users in both their main and pit theatres and they have amplified sound provided through a headset for people with impaired hearing. There are access pages on their website, www.barbican.org.uk/visitor-information/disability-access/guide where a full access guide can be download for more information. A programme of British Sign Language, Captioned Performances, and Audio Description is available each season, and Guide dogs and hearing dogs are welcome.
Blue Elephant Theatre
The auditorium, in Southwark, is fully accessible for wheelchair users or other audience members with mobility impairments, as both it and their disabled bathroom are downstairs. Their bar is upstairs but they let disabled audience members and their companions into the auditorium early and bring drinks down to them. There is unfortunately no specific provision for deaf or blind audience members. More information is available from email@example.com
Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
They offer wheelchair access to the Lower Gallery and theatre, as well as both cinemas and they can be flexible in terms of where it is preferable for a wheelchair user to sit during a performance. Access to the Upper Gallery can be arranged with prior notification. The ICA Studio is also accessible for wheelchairs. The cinemas have an induction loop installed, and there is an access page on their website, www.ica.org.uk/9953/Visit/Access.html
Laban Theatre (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance)
They offer wheelchair access and audio induction looping (an aid for the hearing impaired where a loop of cable around the auditorium generates a magnetic field picked up by a hearing aid) and a free seat to a carer, if required. For further information see www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/labantheatre
There is wheelchair access and guide and hearing dogs may be taken into the stalls and dress circle levels of the auditorium. The theatre’s programme of events includes selected audio described performances, relayed through headsets. All season brochures are available in large print and there is an audio described brochure on CD. Touch tours (to feel the set, props and costumes) are available for any production. For the hearing impaired an infra-red audio system is available (enabling sound to be magnified through earpieces used without a hearing aid). And the theatre has an induction loop, where hearing aids should be set to the ‘T’ position. There are also regular sign language interpreted and captioned performances.
Royal Albert Hall
There is wheelchair access along with four wheelchairs for customers’ use. The auditorium has an infra-red system with a number of personal headsets for use with or without hearing aids. Selected performances at the Hall are audio described. The Royal Albert Hall encourages event promoters to produce large print programmes for visually impaired customers. Guide and Hearing Dogs are welcome. A public telephone is located on the Ground floor corridor near Door 4. It is fitted with an induction loop system that can be used by adjusting your hearing aid to the ‘T’ setting. Unisex wheelchair-accessible toilets are available. See www.royalalberthall.com for more information.
Royal Opera House
There is wheelchair access and spaces and unisex wheelchair-accessible toilets are available. There is lift access to all levels of the main auditorium except the Orchestra Stalls. Wheelchairs can be borrowed. A Trantec radio system assisted-hearing facility has been installed inside the main Auditorium and the Linbury. The Clore and the Crush Room are scheduled to have the system installed in the near future. A free set of headphones and a special receiver can be borrowed. Alternatively, if you wear a hearing aid, you may borrow an induction collar which can be used in conjunction with the ‘T’ position of your aid. Audio Introduction is an aural complement to the printed programme. It provides a detailed synopsis of the work, as well as description of the set, costumes and more. It starts 15 minutes before the start of the performance and five minutes before the end of each interval. Assistance/Guide Dogs are welcome. See www.roh.org.uk/visit/access.aspx for more information.
Sadler’s Wells (and Lilian Baylis Studios)
Signed Performances and talks are held throughout each season. Connect holds regular Deaf Debating Dance events each season. These include signed pre-performance talks, opportunities to meet with other dance enthusiasts, and informal post show discussions. This is a unique chance to find out more about a wide range of dance forms, some accompanied by live music, whilst enjoying reduced ticket prices. More information regarding access can be found here: http://www.sadlerswells.com/page/access-info
Siobhan Davies Studios
Siobhan Davies Studios is fully accessible to wheelchair users, with lifts to both floors. The Roof Studio is fitted with an infra red audio system and both studios have an induction loop hearing system. There are also two accessible parking spaces available on site. Further information can be found online at www.siobhandavies.com