Over the past year, Sadler’s Wells has been running an initiative called =dance (“equal dance”) to promote disabled, deaf and inclusive dance work. Equation is a showcase of its highlights.
The audience are given everything that they could ask of a showcase, including a post-show discussion. Sitting with some reservations, it was actually the debate that grew out of the panel that helped me shape my feelings about what I had just seen. The strongest point made was that work that falls – involuntarily or otherwise – into the ‘disabled’ category is less likely to be commissioned than able-bodied work. The scheme helps to combat this of course, and while some of the interviewed artists did not reject the label, they largely agreed that they would prefer to perform in an integrated and varied programme line-up. As the pieces are not chosen and organised based on their thematic content therefore, they don’t gel together or relate to one another. It would be highly beneficial for the performers’ work if there were a movement towards a programme that was selected without consideration for disability. And having seen the performances, it seems that the industry would benefit from it as well.
The show opens with Deaf Men Dancing’s ‘The Soundman’. In the opening image, five speakers are placed onstage. Choreographer and director Mark Smith has two deaf young men enter from the side aisles of the audience. They are engrossed in their iPads, and meet upstage centre; noticing each other finally, they begin to take turns playing recordings of busy cafés. Each first stretches a palm flat on one of the speakers, then takes to the space. Their movements loosely follow the cadences of the soundwaves projected onto the backdrop, but move with its free spirit. The boys pull off some impressive leaps and tumbles in the process. Though playing on their deafness, the dancers add to the ambience, shaping its form by finding hidden rhythms within its chaos. They give it greater depth with moments of synchronisation between the boys that interlink with precision.
Following them, we have ‘Missing’ by Laura Dajai and Hearns Sebuado. Taking to their separate rectangles lit up on the floor, Dajai and Sebaudo – the former sat in a wheelchair – perform synchronised movements that fluidly combine contemporary, hip-hop and sign language choreography. There is genuine chemistry between the two, which elevates the quality of their work. I was impressed by the contrast between their paths: Sebaudo has some impressive aerial work that is matched by Dajai’s coordination with the chair; she combines a great deal of upper body choreography while navigating herself imaginatively around the space, also performing some impressive lifts and holds.
A highly impressive multimedia piece, Remember When, firstly shows Marc Brew projected onto the backdrop as a glassy reflection within the Tate Modern. Film composer Tiago d’Olivieira gives us an image of Brew performing his choreography while transposed over one of the gallery’s escalators, visible through the glass. The cuts made by Brew’s stationary turns and arm cuts are angular. They break through the barrier and contrast strongly with the sedate transport of visitors on the other side.
The finale, ‘Artificial Things, Movement Three’, by inclusive company Stopgap Dance Company combines the efforts of two able-bodied dancers, Amy Butler and David Willdridge, with disabled dancers Laura Jones and Dave Toole. It begins with a duet between Jones and Toole by the seat of a wheelchair. This becomes more a part of the furniture than a prop, however, and is almost ignored. Instead the performers build and push off each other in a beautifully intimate piece. When they are joined by Willdridge and Butler, the performance achieves complexity – each dancer taking their turn to pull fluent lifts out of the bag, wrapping themselves into a single organism at points. It certainly felt the weightiest piece in the show overall.
Knowing that the ideal intention would be to see each piece within a programme that selected based on thematic content helped stave off my reservations about the lack of a through-line. Each has sundry qualities to congratulate in their own right. I look forward to seeing how much progress is made on that agenda at next year’s Equation performance.
Equation played at the Lilian Baylis Studio in Sadler’s Wells on 21 March. For more information, visit the Sadler’s Wells.