Watch film: Unexpected Bodies in Unexpected Places

Caroline Bowditch and Luke Pell led the second Europe Beyond Access laboratory for disabled artists from across Europe, this time taking place in Skånes Dansteater in Malmo, Sweden. The first laboratory took place at Kampnagel (Hamburg) and the third will be hosted by Holland Dance Festival in Maastricht.

Using the theme ‘Unexpected bodies in unexpected places’, the artists explored how to create site-specific performance and develop work that emerges from its environment. Encouraged to question social norms and behaviours of public spaces (skateparks, urban green spaces, parks and the seafront), the artists used the presence and movement of their bodies to find new uses, meaning and aesthetics. Confronting the exclusion and restriction of disabled people in many outdoor environments, the lab acted as a bold claim to the ownership of space.

The lab was hosted by project partner Skånes Dansteater which has become a leading voice in arts and disability in Sweden in part by integrating disabled dancers into its repertory company. Featured artists in the film include Diana Bastos Niepce, Madeleine Månsson, and Katarzyna Żeglicka. Europe Beyond Access supports disabled artists to break the glass ceilings of the contemporary theatre & dance sectors. It is a pan-European collaboration project between seven leading arts organisations from across Europe, co-funded by Creative Europe.

Visual description and enhanced transcript for visually impaired audiences

The film is a mixture of to-camera interviews and footage of the group of more than 20 disabled artists with varying impairments, including several wheelchair users, exploring the seaside, a skatepark and grounds surrounding Skånes Dansteater in Malmö. It also features the artists experimenting with movement, and archival performance footage from some of the interviewed artists. Interviewees include:

  • Caroline Bowditch – workshop leader, choreographer and Executive Director at Arts Access Victoria (Australia).
  • Madeleine Månsson – workshop participant (Sweden).
  • Diana Bastos Niepce – workshop participant (Portugal).
  • Luke Pell – workshop leader and dramaturg (UK).
  • Katarzyna Żeglicka – workshop participant (Poland).
  • Tanja Mangalanayagam – Project Manager, Skånes Dansteater (Sweden).

The film opens showing a woman of reduced stature holding her arms out to the side as the title credits Unexpected Bodies in Unexpected Places float from beneath. We see shots of Malmo, including the entrance to dance organisation Skånes Dansteater, a modern industrial building. The film cuts to Caroline Bowditch, a white woman with red hair, sitting in her wheelchair in front of the sea. As she talks, the camera flits between her and the group of laboratory participants navigating roads and a skate park, many of them in wheelchairs. She says:

A really major thing for lots of disabled artists is that we are still relatively unexpected in the art space. We are not necessarily expected on stages or represented on our TV screens, but the reality is that if you are a person who has a visible difference of whatever it might be, you are always performing, whether people have bought a ticket or not, and for me, being still a relatively new CEO in an arts and disability organisation in Australia, I am not the image that gets conjured up when people think of what a CEO is, or who they are, and I am really interested this week for us to challenge the status quo in terms of putting our bodies, our diverse bodies in spaces where we might not be expected.

The film then shows Madeleine Månsson, a white woman with blonde hair in a wheelchair in an empty dance studio. The camera also shows her going up a ramp in a skatepark, along a boardwalk in a playpark and lying down in front of the ocean. She says:

People with disabilities are somehow always different. We can never switch off. We are always…Wherever we are, we are changing something in the world. Wherever we are doing, actually, because we are constantly changing people’s view on how they see people with disabilities. “Can you even wash your car? Can you dance?” These are quite silly questions that people can ask you.

The camera then cuts to Diana Bastos Niepce, a white woman with brown hair. She is shown in her wheelchair in an empty auditorium. As she speaks the camera shows her interacting with another lab participant, they are both holding a stream of crumpled paper in their mouths. We also see archival footage of two of Diana’s pieces, showing one duet with a male dancer, and one with a female dancer. Diana says:

I like to show the body. I feel like people with disability not very often show their bodies in life, in advertising, on TV, everywhere. They only show the body at doctor’s appointments. So, on stage I like to show what we are and our uniqueness. It’s quite interesting to see that we are not all the same. We are not all copies of the same thing. So, I use this idea of shock and this idea of political states of the bodies to question our identities as human beings.

Luke Pell, a white man with a shaved head wearing a white vest, is shown reclining on some grass. As he is talking the camera cuts to different shots of lab participants exploring movement in different sites such as a park, skatepark and seaside. Luke Says:

There are several things we have been asking the artists this week. Specifically in relation to site-specific and site-responsive work. We’ve been asking them to think about the memory of a place. In any site that we come to there is something that’s been here already. So, what’s been here before and how does that will form our response to it, what meanings come associated with the space. We’ve been asking them to think about the choreography that already exists in a place, so, the patterns of movements, how people inhabit and move through a space, and for them as artists, whether the space has been designed with them in mind or not, and so, how they might resist the choreography that exists already within that space or echo or amplify that choreography. We’ve also been asking them to think about consent and control, both in terms of site-specific work with an audience but also as performers, when we are seen and when we see. So, we have been placing that question of: “What do you want to invite? How do you navigate permission?”

The camera next shows Katarzyna Żeglicka, a short white woman with a shaved head and glasses. She is sitting in an empty dance studio. The camera cuts to her in the skatepark, rolling along the walkway of a climbing frame and screaming during an audience sharing. Katarzyna says:

I would like my artistic activity not to be seen through my disability or non-normativity. But I don’t want to lose it either. It is a very difficult answer. I don’t want it to be invisible, but I don’t want it to be super visible either. I would like the world I create in to be accessible for people with disabilities, so we can earn money through it and live on it. To be able to work in theatres and create art along with artists from the normative world. Simply to make it an inclusive art.

Next, we see Tanja Mangalanayagam a mixed-race woman with dark hair, wearing all black sitting on a staircase. As she speaks the camera cuts back to the skatepark and the wheelchair users navigating it. Tanja says:

We were particularly interested in hosting this kind of lab in thinking about how different bodies and identities interact with the urban environment here in Malmö. For example, going that direction there is a skate park, and someone said the other day that it is amazing to see how different wheels interact in that kind of urban landscape. So, we wanted just to have a week for artists to explore different environments of the city.

The camera cuts to a large group of the lab participants linking arms and experimenting with movements in the skatepark. As they do this, Caroline Bowditch’s voice comes back in. The camera then cuts back to her by the seaside. Caroline says:

The rules change when you are doing site-specific performances. So, when we are in a theatre and people are buying a ticket, there are specific rules that are established. The things we grow up knowing we do in a theatre are that you sit in the dark, be quiet and watch, whereas in site-specific work that doesn’t happen. The audience can come and go as they please, people can just come through a performance space, potentially. So, it’s a very different negotiation that goes on outdoors than what happens in traditional theatre spaces.

The camera ends on the lab participants moving freely in an otherwise empty auditorium. Then the film credits roll, followed by the logos of the 7 partner organisations, the Creative Europe logo and an animated logo of Europe Beyond Access.

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