Film: Making Dance that Celebrates Difference

How can we create dance and performing arts scenes that are more diverse and that support the work of disabled dancers and artists? This short film shows the third Europe Beyond Access laboratory, this time hosted in Maastricht with Holland Dance Festival. Bringing together a diverse group of disabled dancers and performers from across Europe, it was an intensive week of workshops at AINSI focused on developing new choreographic ideas and techniques. The lab was hosted by project partner Holland Dance Festival whose programme DanceAble is the only major dance project for disabled artists in The Netherlands.

The third lab was led by UK artists Adam Benjamin and Jeanefer Jean-Charles. Featured artists in the film include Giuseppe Comuniello (Italy, Oriente Occidente), Jo Bannon (UK, British Council), Maikel Walker (The Netherlands, HDF), Yesol Kim (Sweden, Skanes Dansteater).

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

Visually, the film is a mixture of to-camera interviews, shots of Maastricht and dance workshops with a diverse group of disabled and non-disabled performers. The opening titles ‘Making Dance That Celebrates Difference’ are shown atop shots of Maastricht’s riverside, followed by someone riding a bike over its cobbled streets.

We cut to AINSI, an art space in an industrial building. A group of disabled dancers are working in pairs. Guiseppe Comuniello, a white man with long brown hair is show sitting on a sofa. He says:

This is a way to create visibility. Especially, to show what I do, in my case, in the dance field, and what I’ve been learning throughout the years. This is my culture, I can confront it and make it visible. This way I can also work with people that can help me to expand. I also have the opportunity to go abroad and work with people from many different countries.

The camera cuts back to disabled dancers workshopping. A group of them are interacting to make a complex shape.

Next we see Yesol Kim, a woman of South-East Asian descent, who is a wheelchair user. She says:

Through this Lab we can meet other artists from different countries and diverse backgrounds and skills. We can share and see how do they do and I can show my skills too.

The camera cuts to two black men breakdancing slowly. Then one of them, Maikel Walker, a muscular black man is interacting with a short, slight white woman. Maikel talks over this sequence before we see him seated talking to camera. He says:

How do you communicate using the strength of each person. Some people were sitting in a wheelchair but it doesn’t matter, there are always possibilities to work with the situation, to work with a wheelchair, to work with a person, to work with the environment, with everything you see, everything that you can use to make your piece.

The camera cuts quickly between various performers working in pairs. Then we see Matina van Dijk, a white woman with short blonde hair and glasses. She is sitting in an armchair. She says:

It’s very rare but also rich to have such a diverse group together during the artistic Lab this week. And that means so much for the development of all these artists, their talent development. And therefore, I think it’s very important that these artistic Labs are happening. It helps every single one of them to go back to their own place and develop even further.

The camera cuts to Adam Benjamin a slight white man with shaved head and Jeanefer Jean-Charles a black woman with tied back hair. They are sitting in a rehearsal room. Jeanefer says:

It’s been about heightening choreographers’ senses, I would say, and that’s been quite key, just sensing what’s going on in the space and how you are working with your partner. I think that’s really important. And what’s really interesting is it feels like this course is something that every choreographer should do, actually. It’s something that everyone should practice.

We see a large group of disabled performers experimenting and gently interacting. Then a white female wheelchair user pushes herself along the floor with her hands.

We cut to Jo Bannon, an albino woman with long white hair. She says:

I’m most interested when I see work that’s coming from some new or strange or unexpected perspective. For me, this is the point of art. That we reimagine how we’re living, what we care about, what we do. And I think… I can only speak from my own perspective, but I think living in a world with a very particular experience, if the world makes you immediately question: “does this have to be like this?”, “are there different ways?”. And so, I think all the artists at this Lab are pushing the edges of what is the expectation of their work, what else is possible. And I think that any artist who comes with a very unusual perspective on the world has a lot to offer and makes the most interesting work.

The camera cuts to a white learning-disabled performer interacting with a railing. Then two dancers holding hands. We see dancers working tenderly in pairs then a whole room full of performers moving very slowly. As this montage happens, we hear the voice of Jeanefer again, she says:

For me, it’s about individuals having voices, and really strong voices, and being present and not being ignored nor sidetracked.
So, that’s the key for me, is that there are voices in the room
and they are being noticed. And it’s acceptable that they are different and we celebrate the differences.

We see a shot of a boat on the river in Maastricht and then the end credits roll.

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