What is a disability? Is it something to be fixed and rehabilitated, or can it open up artistic possibilities that would otherwise not be available?
For Ottawa-based Propeller Dance, the art of human movement can be found in all kinds of bodies. Co-Founded by Shara Weaver, Renata Soutter and Alan Shain, it is the only dance company in Ontario with the sole mandate of promoting integrated dance between able-bodied dancers and those who are “disabled.”
Dividing the company’s members into two categories, however, would miss the entire point of the group’s work.
“We live in a world that has divided itself and segregated people from learning from each other,” says Weaver in an interview with Apartment613. “We don’t see our disabilities as something that needs to be overcome or rehabilitated . . . . (We) use them instead as a form of creativity.”
Central to Propeller’s vision is the view that dancing is for everyone. “If you can breathe, you can dance,” the company declares on its web site. As for disabilities, they are seen as a difference rather than a limitation.
This refreshing perspective offers a wonderful way to look at art.
Some of the world’s greatest artists have been “disabled”. Beethoven was almost completely deaf when he composed his spectacular ninth symphony. Sudha Chandran became one of the most celebrated dancers in India after becoming an amputee. Legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo wore a body brace due to multiple severe body injuries.
The accomplishments of these and other “disabled” artists can be seen in two ways. We could conclude that their immense talent led them to overcome their disabilities, or we can say that their life experience played a critical role in the creation of their art.
Which leads us back to Propeller. Most dance companies start with certain assumptions about the human body, i.e. balance points, traditional techniques for lifting, the proper way to tilt ones head or arms.
But how do you lift someone in a wheel chair or pivot a body that has lost partial control of its limbs? The great artistic opportunity of Propeller is that it allows dancers to create new techniques for lifting, balancing and tilting.
“What is balance?” Weaver asks rhetorically. “What is stillness? Particularly for a dancer for whom stillness is not possible.” The answers to these questions can be found in their work.
This creative new take on dance will be on full display this Thursday and Friday when the company performs at the Great Canadian Theatre Company Studio Theatre. (Propeller is the resident dance company at the GCTC, an opportunity that Weaver says she is thankful for).
While both shows this week are sold out, the company will be performing again in May on the GCTC main stage. Apartment613 therefore decided to profile the company now to give our readers sufficient time to purchase tickets for the spring show.
In regards to what audience members can expect during this week’s performance, it will be an interesting combination of the past and future. Dancing to music by local composer Jesse Stewart, the Studio space will contain Ipads that will create sound in reaction to the dancer’s movements. Stewart, meanwhile, will be playing instruments.
“The Ipads are up around the room,” says company dancer Liz Winkelaar. “It will be a fantastic and freaky experience . . . . A new construct between new technology and old technology.”