Thursday, September 13, 2012

I am your private dancer... Promenade Performance at the Unlimited

I wrote a review of Fittings Multimedia Art's spooky promenade theatre production 'The Ugly Spirit' for Disability Arts Online, which you can check out here.

This experience left me deeply unsettled, which is good, but it's also not necessarily one I would like to repeat. Ever. Janice Parker's 'Private Dancer', though, is a completely different kettle of fish. By relatively simple means, Parker has achieved to create magical, individual moments in her promenade dance production.

I knew before we saw the production that it would somehow involve dancers inviting -or not inviting- people into their 'rooms'. I also knew that most dancers were disabled, most of them having learning disabilities. As we entered the Level 5 Function room, a very neat and proper middle-aged gentleman told us a bit about the history of the Southbank Centre, and of the level on which we were at, which included a 'Royal Box'. As a big fan of her majesty, I was very keen to see this.

Our majesty at the opening of the Royal Festival Hall in 1951

We were then lead into a room, which was dominated by a wooden construct, which was divided into different small rooms with closeable doors. We were then explained that in each room, there would be performers, and that they could select us, one at a time, to be intivited into the rooms. As the music started playing, a few people were taken instantly by the hand and led into one of the rooms. Sometimes, doors were left opened, and all the rooms had little holes through which the performance could be seen from the outside, but I was very keen to be invited in and became slightly disappointed when it didn't happen for a while.

When I did finally get invited,  I felt very intrusive entering the girl's 'room'. Yes, I had been invited in by the person guarding the door, but I still felt voyeuristic, watching as the girl danced in front of a cluttered desk, and was glad when the short performance was over. However, when I left the room I almost instantly felt a light touch on my shoulder and was invited into the next room. In there was a middle-aged woman with grey hair, sat in a wheelchair. She got up from the chair for her performance, and her dancing had a fascinating frailty and strength at the same time. She had a naughty twinkle in her eyes, which reminded me of Zoe Wanamaker, while my boyfriend, who was invited into her room too, compared her to Helen Mirren.  It was a joy to watch her, and I felt incredibly lucky to be chosen to go into her room. After that, I was invited into another room, in which two girls where performing. It seemed less personal and intimate to watch two people, but almost had the feel of going to the house of a friend and having a little dance before going clubbing.

The construct of 'Private Dancer'
What I think is fascinating about Private Dancer is that the experience is different for everyone in the audience.  Even if you have seen the same people as someone else, you have not seen them at the same time and you will never know whether the performance was the same or completely different. The production makes you go through a roller-coaster of emotions: the anxiety of whether you will be invited in, possible unease as you enter someone's space, and an intimate connection with a dancer, which seems very special, as dance performances usually happen for a big audience, which always made me feel somewhat detached from performances. Before the event was over, all the dancers left their rooms and created, together with all of the audience members, a massive disco moment as Blondie's 'Atomic' came on.  It felt really relieving to celebrate and move around, and to have a moment shared with everyone in the room.

The production made me think about intimacy and privacy, things that are often not respected by your environment when you are a disabled person. For many people with a learning disability, it is very difficult to have a space where you can be intimate with someone, and for many people with physical impairments even the most private acts, like having a bath or getting dressed, require the help of a carer. From my own experience I feel that privacy and intimacy did not come easily - as a child, I needed the help of my parents for many things a lot longer than my brother did, and I spent a lot of time at hospitals where people wander in and out of your room all the time without having to ask for permission. I think the idea to give disabled people a space where they can create intimate and autonomous performances is very subversive and it felt like a big privilege to see such a performance.

No comments:

Post a Comment