Reflections on Hidcote. By Sarah Whatley

Stuck in the Mud, Choreographer Marc Brew
The performance was interesting in many ways. As an audience we were marshalled around and through the performance that was sited within many different places within the gardens and succeeded in 'bringing alive' the gardens in different ways. The marshalling was entirely needed for 'herding' us in the right direction but does mean it can detract from the 'magic' of the event. There was a community cast of various young dancers and an adult group, at least one group with learning disabilities. At times the groups were clearly segregated in spatial and choreographic terms, which at times reinforced differences, which may have been intended. Of the 14 'professional dancers' there were 3 visibly disabled performers and whilst there were some wonderful moments where disability was definitely not 'the focus' there were other times were the differences were more stark, perhaps because the non-disabled dancers were drawn from Ballet Cymru so the ballet aesthetic was dominant. A particular favourite section took place on a raised tree bed, the ballet dancers were regularly spaced and performed a series of leg extensions, with only their legs visible – so the effect was to reveal only the lower bodies, as partial/fragmented/divided bodies. Dancing between and fully visible was a dancer of very short height, dancing complex foot patterns drawing partially from tap dance, with a classical bodily alignment – asking us to question preconceptions of virtuosity. The juxtaposition was very compelling and whilst it had an 'Alice in Wonderland' quality it served to 'equalise' the dancers in their visible difference. As it developed we saw more of the ballet dancers' bodies and the dance developed to include pas de deux (the small dancer being lifted etc by the other dancers) and although it was effective, I personally wanted the choreography to be braver, and to resist giving more attention to the ballet dancers who then took on the dominant role to match the dominant aesthetic at play - the dancer who had previously been so 'in command' of her very particular spatial environment now had to accept a more 'normalised' spatial dimension, so she appeared more childlike, infantalised by the full height dancers (although it returned later to what we saw at the start). Another memorable section was on the island in an ornamental pond; two dancers moving fluidly, as water, through and around each other, as if to animate the water on which they were moving. It would not be known to many in the audience that one of the dancers, Susie Birchwood, usually dances in her wheelchair but here was moving with, supported by, and supporting her partner; equalised in their close partnering. Elsewhere there were moments of awe when a wheelchair dancer left her chair to roll, cartwheel and display the athleticism usually reserved for the non–disabled dancer, and an acknowledgement from both of us that we were 'looking for' the disability. In the context of our project it seemed to have a very clear 'authoring' hand by the choreographer, visible in the overall artistic vision and chosen aesthetic, which is perhaps necessary with such a diverse cast of performers but also interesting given the range of performers. Whilst there were some clear sections where the individual bodies of the dancers was clearly the source for the choreography and therefore the dance that emerged, the strong classical aesthetic and the majority of non-disabled classical dancers in the cast meant that it was hard to resist the easier 'lure' of the classical vocabulary; is it inevitable that if the choreography makes a virtue of the 'super human' body (of the largely identical body) of the ballet dancer that the body that is different has to be choreographed to produce a similar 'super human' effect, and given that there is nothing 'identical' in the disabled dancer then the equivalence of achieving something 'super human' means 'overcoming' what might be expected to be the limitation provided by a wheelchair etc. Overall this was a highly engaging afternoon that offered us much to think about our in relation to one of our main questions – who owns the dance?
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