Tag Archives: Denise Armstrong

The Aging Body In Dance: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Kazuo Ohno's hand by Takayuki Nakatake

Kazuo Ohno’s hand by Takayuki Nakatake

Some years ago I was selected to give a paper at a conference in Berlin, organised by Nanako Nakajima and Gabriele Brandstetter on ‘The Aging Body in Dance’. This emerged from my research as a Fellow of the International Research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’, at Freie University, Berlin.

My paper discussed the aging, changing body, and how acquired sensory impairments can bring more to our creativity and practice than they take away. I wrote primarily about Silent Rhythm, a Liverpool International Live Art Festival commission at Bluecoats I received with my collaborators dancer/choreographer Denise Armstrong and visual artist Alison Jones. The description of the project is as follows:

15-19 November 2004. Liverpool Biennial Live Art Festival at the Bluecoats Art Centre
Brief description of  ‘SILENT RHYTHM’.

This ‘work in progress’ is a fusion of live art and experimental performance practice from a Deaf and Disability perspective. ‘Silent Rhythm’ is a multi-sensory exploration of space, smell, text, and choreography. This collaboration between writer Kaite O’Reilly, dancer Denise Armstrong, and Visual artist Alison Jones is informed by their sensory impairments, using them as a source of inspiration for creativity. Utilizing written and spatial languages- ‘what words look like in the air’- combined with Deaf choreography, harnessing the ‘inner tempo; the silent rhythm’ within an installation. The live art performance transforms, and possibly erases, aspects of the original installation.

The essay also touches on the work of visually-impaired poet Alex Lemon and dramatist Alex Bulmer.

The collection of essays is edited by Nanako Nakajima and Professor Gabriele Brandstetter, and will be published by Routledge on January 26th 2017.  Details follow:

What does it mean to be able to move?

The Aging Body in Dance brings together leading scholars and artists from a range of backgrounds to investigate cultural ideas of movement and beauty, expressiveness and agility.

Contributors focus on Euro-American and Japanese attitudes towards aging and performance, including studies of choreographers, dancers and directors from Yvonne Rainer, Martha Graham, Anna Halprin and Roemeo Castellucci to Kazuo Ohno and Kikuo Tomoeda. They draw a fascinating comparison between youth-oriented Western cultures and dance cultures like Japan’s, where aging performers are celebrated as part of the country’s living heritage.

The first cross-cultural study of its kind, The Aging Body in Dance offers a vital resource for scholars and practitioners interested in global dance cultures and their differing responses to the world’s aging population.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Gabriele Brandstetter and Nanako Nakajima

Overview of the Aging Body in Dance, Nanako Nakajima

Section I: The Aging Body in the late 20th century: American Postmodern Dance, German Dance, and Japanese Dance

Yvonne Rainer, The Aching Body in Dance

Ramsay Burt, Yvonne Rainer’s Convalescent Dance: On valuing ordinary, everyday, and unidealised bodily states in the context of the aging body in dance

Johannes Odenthal, Der Tanz ist eine Metapher des Lebens (Dance is a Metaphor of Life)

Tamotsu Watanabe, Flowers Blooming in the Time of Aging

Section II: Alternative Dancability: Dis/Ability and Euro-American Performance

Ann Cooper Albright, The Perverse Satisfaction of Gravity

Jess Curtis, Dancing the Non/Fictional Body

Kaite O’Reilly, SILENT RHYTHM: A Reflection on the aging, changing body, and sensory impairment as a source of creativity and inspiration

Susanne Foellmer, Bodies’ Borderlands: Right in the Middle. Dis/Abilities on Stage

Section III: Aging and Body Politics in Contemporary Dance

Petra Kuppers, Somatic Politics: Community Dance and Aging Dance

Kikuko Toyama, Old, weak, and invalid: dance in inaction

Janice Ross, Dance and Aging: Anna Halprin Dancing Eros at the End of Life

Section IV: Perspectives of Interweaving

Mark Franko, Why are Hands the Last Resort of the Aging Body in Dance? Notes on the Modernist Gesture and the Sublime

Nanako Nakajima, Yoshito Ohno’s Figures of Life

 

Congratulations to all contributors and to the editors. It is a privilege to be amongst such company.

Theatre as a study of what it is to be human

atypical-plays-for-atypical-actors

This September has been a remarkably rich and exciting month owing to the Unlimited Festivals at Southbank Centre in London and the current one at Tramway, Glasgow. Apart from immersing myself in the art exhibitions, performances, discussions and many events around disability culture and issues of diversity at these festivals, I’ve been ‘in conversation’ and launching my selected plays ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’. On Saturday 24th September, 2-5pm I will be in conversation with Nicola McCartney and then leading a short workshop/talk ‘Atypical in Action’ at Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow G41 2PE. 

What follows is a guest blog I wrote about the workshop and talk and my work, collaborators, and why accessible and culturally diverse work is so essential:

The Study of What it is to be Human…. 

Guest post for: http://www.kimaskswhat.online/2016/09/guest-post-by-kaite-oreilly-theatre-as.html?m=1

Theatre could be defined as the study of what it is to be human. For millennia we have come to sit communally – a group of human beings watching another group of human beings pretending to be other human beings. We are endlessly fascinated with each other, yet a place purported to be about the range of human possibility has for too long been circumscribed and limited, especially towards a quarter of the population.

As I have discussed at length elsewhere, for thousands of years in the Western theatrical canon, the atypical body has been used to scare, warn, explain and explore human frailty, mortality and the human condition. Disability has been a metaphor for the non-disabled to explore their fears and embedded societal values. Although disabled characters appear in thousands of plays, seldom has the playwright been disabled, or written from that embodied, political perspective. Some strange untruths have therefore been created and recycled in our dramas for stage and screen; the rich, rewarding reality of our lives replaced with problematic representations which work to keep ‘us’ different, ‘special’ and apart.

That, thankfully, is changing, with more disabled and Deaf artists coming to the fore across artforms. This is partly owing to the fruits of the UK and US disability civil rights movements, out of which disability arts and culture grew, and the disability arts forums, organisations, and festivals which supported and still encourage this growth. It is also down to initiatives such as Unlimited, keen to promote, commission, and embed the work of disabled and Deaf artists in the ‘mainstream’ on a level never experienced before.

As a multi award winning playwright and dramaturg who identifies as a disability artist, I have been exploring this territory, informed by the social model of disability, working across and between so-called ‘mainstream’ culture and what I coin ‘crip’ culture for several decades. I consider disability a social construct – I am a woman with a sensory and physical impairment, but it is society’s attitudinal and physical barriers which is disabling, not the idiosyncrasies of my body.

In my work I am interested in creating new protagonists, with different narratives, and with different endings – and to challenge and expand the actual theatre languages at play in live performance.

Paul Darke and other Disability performance scholars such as Carrie Sandahl have written about the limited plot lines for the disabled character. Often, as seen again recently with the film version of JoJo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ – it is emphatically ‘better dead than disabled.’ In films and plays stereotypes rule – the blind wise ‘seer’, the evil and twisted mastermind, the hero who overcomes her impairments to ‘pass’ as non-disabled. From Tiny Tim to Richard III to Oedipus, we have been the personification of uselessness, or evil incarnate. These stories and characters are so prevalent, Paul Darke claims the audience believes they understand and know disabled experience, even though it is through a filter that isolates, individualises, medicalises or finally normalises the character. What the audience is experiencing is not the ‘truths’ of our lives, but the long cultural and linguistic practice of ascribing meaning to the atypical body. We are metaphors – something my actor characters in ‘peeling’ are fed up with, and wish to rebel against.

So as a playwright, I try to present different protagonists and different stories – often challenging contemporary representations of disability. The survivors of TBI (traumatic brain injury) in my 2008 play ‘The Almond and the Seahorse’ subvert notions of brain injury splashed across the media and questions who the real ‘victims’ are – if indeed there are any. Protagonists, their journeys and outcomes can be subverted and changed – offering more possibilities and rich, engrossing drama which avoids stereotypes.

I am also involved in ‘aesthetics of access’ – embedding audio description into the text of my script ‘peeling’ – working bilingually in visual and spoken/projected languages. As a hearing woman, I have been blessed with generous Deaf collaborators – Jenny Sealey, Ali Briggs, Denise Armstrong, Ruth Gould, Sophie Stone and especially BSL expert and visual language creative director Jean St Clair. Through our experimentation across spoken and visual languages, they have helped me develop into the playwright and dramaturg I am.

What these devices do, along with what I coined when AHRC creative fellow ‘Alternative Dramaturgies informed by a Deaf and disability perspective’, is make work more accessible, yes, but also challenge the ingrained assumptions and hierarchies in contemporary theatre and culture. When we change the bodies which perform, design, direct, create, and commission the work in our pleasure palaces, when we change the theatre languages used, the processes and practice are inherently changed, too. We can then truly be a place which celebrates all the possibilities of human variety, challenging notions of ‘difference’ and revoking the old stories and their predictable endings.

Kaite O’Reilly will be launching her book Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors, followed by a workshop exploring the aesthetics of access used in her award-winning work, at Tramway on Saturday 24 September 2016, 2pm – 5pm

Book tickets here

More information here

Fragile? Symposium: Dance, Arts, and Visual Impairment.

Fragile? Sympoisum. http://www.fragiledance.com/

Fragile? Sympoisum. http://www.fragiledance.com/

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I’ve been invited to give a presentation about some of my work at Tallinn University in Estonia next month, as part of the Fragile? Symposium: Dance, Arts, and Visual Impairment. I’m going to speak about ‘Silent Rhythm’, a project I co-created with Denise Armstrong and Alison Jones for the Liverpool International Live Art Festival years ago, where we used our sensory impairments as the starting point for collaboration and the source of creativity. Details of the event, plus the international contributors follow:

Symposium / Dance, Arts & Visual Impairment

TALLINN UNIVERSITY, ESTONIA 20 – 21 April 2013

http://www.fragiledance.com/

The FRAGILE? Symposium is a European wide gathering of practitioners, participants and academics engaged in the fields of dance / art and visual impairment.

The FRAGILE partners (BÆRUM KULTURHUS (Norway), VO’ARTE (Portugal), TALLINN UNIVERSITY (Estonia) and SALAMANDA TANDEM (England)) have united together to host this stimulating FRAGILE? Symposium in the beautiful city of Tallinn.

The Symposium runs from 19th April to 21st April and will consist of over 18 separate participatory experiences, inclusive presentations, exhibits and performances. Events will be presented by an exciting array of visually impaired and sighted experts from all over Europe debating, showing and performing their work in response to the symposium themes.

Isabel Jones, Artistic Director of Salamanda Tandem, is the symposium curator, and in shaping the themes has devised a programme, around interests and questions arising from the FRAGILE project, from her 30-year of practice in this field and beyond:


•    Art: an inclusive aesthetic
. How inclusive is dance as an art form for visually impaired people? What are we doing to make it more so? What affects are there on the ‘Art’ of an inclusive aesthetic?

•    Training and Work: routes and barriers
What shifts are needed both attitudinal and physical, for visually impaired people to enter the performing arts as professionals? Where, for whom and how has it been done well?

•    Wellbeing: Value and Appreciation. 
Is dance / art valuable to visually impaired people and if so, how? How far does this value extend, and does it extend to audiences?

The symposium is suitable for visually impaired people, teachers, artists, scientists, therapists, performers and researchers working or interested in the specific field of dance, arts and visually impairment.

Throughout the FRAGILE? Symposium, we aim to encourage debate, participation, provocation and appreciation, of the contributions of visually impaired people and their collaborative partners to the fields of dance / performance / wellbeing / and art.

The FRAGILE? Symposium’s list of contributors includes:

Lee Sass – UK

Mick Wallis – UK

Kjersti K. Engebrigtsen – Norway (KED)

Ana Rita Barata – Portugal (Vo’Arte)

Sarah Kettley – UK (Trent University)

Ajjar Ausma – Estonia

Isabel Jones – UK (Salamanda Tandem)

Delphine Demont – France (Acajou)

Said Gharbi & Ana Stegnar – Belgium

Jose Luis Pages – Spain

Dijana Raudoniene – Lithuania

Mickel Smithen – UK

Gregor Strutz – Germany

Per Solvang – Norway (Oslo University)

Maria Oshodi – UK (Extant)

David Feeney – Scotland

Rachel Gadsden – UK

Kaite O’Reilly – UK

Read more about the FRAGILE? Symposium and register on www.tlu.ee/fragile