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The flesh and spokes of our common humanity

By Alejandro Bustos on May 5, 2015

You probably have heard that a person who loses one sense, such as sight or hearing, can compensate by strengthening their other senses.

Science supports this view – see, for instance, a study on how people who are born deaf use parts of their brain that normally processes sound to process touch and vision.  In other words, the loss of hearing literally led to the rewiring of the brain.

Does a similar principle apply to art?  I thought of this while pondering Ottawa-based Propeller Dance, who perform at the Great Canadian Theatre Company on May 8-9 as part of Ontario Scene.

Co-Founded by Shara Weaver, Renata Soutter and Alan Shain, the company is the only dance ensemble in Ontario with the sole mandate of promoting integrated dance between able-bodied dancers and those who are “disabled.”  I put the word disabled inside quotation marks, however, because the company’s dancers are in reality rewiring art.

“For Propeller Dance, the presence of disability offers a powerful multitude of creative possibility,” says Weaver in an email.  “Together, dancers invent new ways to tilt and support both in and out of wheelchairs, lift and roll.  Dancers incorporate stopping and breaking mobility aids into the timing of dance phrases and mirror minute movement (such as individual finger gestures) to accentuate smaller expressions. . . .  Our performances are known to shake people out of their previous fears and beliefs about people with disabilities by demonstrat­ing that we are all able.”

Having watched Propeller Dance’s last performance, Weaver’s words hit home for me.  Seeing a dancer who normally travels via wheelchair dance on the floor was truly incredible.

To illustrate this point imagine the following: You are sitting on the floor – any floor – and are trying dance without using your legs.  Unless your are talented break dancer or gymnast, chances are you would find this incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to do.

The Propeller Dance member, in contrast, performed an intricate dance routine with only his arms and body.  So to use the word disabled in this context is ludicrous, for he was both literally and figuratively redefining what it means to dance.

(See short documentary below by student film maker Catherine Knight from Australia on Propeller Dance — courtesy of YouTube).

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0dPJkjEb7g[/youtube]

This question on human limitations, and how we can surpass them, is present in the company’s Ontario Scene show.  Titled Flesh & Spokes, the programme is comprised of three pieces: a new work by Soutter that is also called Flesh & Spokes; a remount of Deliverables, a 2012 work choreographed by Weaver; and a performance by one of the company’s adult recreational classes. (The company’s Monday night class perform on May 8, while dancers from the Wednesday night class perform on May 9).

“The piece I’ve choreographed Flesh and Spokes . . .  speaks to contrasts and duality . . . . contrasts like hardness of metal and the materials a wheelchair is made out of, with the softness of flesh and humanity,” says Soutter in an email.

“My piece is about our limitations, and (IMPORTANT as there is a lot of language around disability that often talks about ‘Overcoming our limitations’, but this is NOT what I am saying); the piece is about the fact that we all have limitations, each and every one of us, with varying degrees at different points in our lives.

“Limitation is a shared human experience, and the piece is an exploratiofn of how we explore our limitations, how we may resist them or not, and how we accept and celebrate our limitations, embrace them wholeheartedly and revel in them, and find beauty and pride in them.  The piece is a rally cry for equality!  Rally cry for being who we are!”

With a cast of nine dancers and one musician, whose only instrument is a wheelchair and bows and mallets to play the chair with, this new piece shows how the “spokes” and “flesh” in each of us reveal our own humanity.

“We named tonight Flesh & Spokes because we are deeply interested in the connection between the human body and the textures of the spokes in our lives – the metal physical ones in wheelchairs and mobility aids, and the emotional connections between all artistic collaborators and audience,” says Soutter.

Propeller Dance perform at  Great Canadian Theatre Company on May 8-9 as part of Ontario Scene. Tickets are $25.f

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