This project – Collective IDentity, Creative Individuality, Complete Inspiration! – has all been inspired by and will continue to draw from the lives and experiences of those people with Parkinson’s that I have the pleasure to dance with.
A number of years ago I set out to delve into the concept of identity and how this impacts our way of being, moving, thinking, talking about ourselves, talking to each other when affected by a life change such as Parkinson’s. That’s what I observe in my brilliant dancer collaborators – a shift in focus and a determination to evolve alongside a new identity – a life change unlike any other which changes movement expectations, reduces sphere of influence, separates from everyday life and forces the dancers to unpick habits without warning.
Three simple descriptions of self, but one features the P-word, and has become such a fundamental part of existence that it is worthy of being listed in the ‘three ways of describing who you are’ – a question asked at the beginning of the project…
In the last two months however, we have not talked about Parkinson’s. We have danced; we have seen ourselves in the frame of artists work; we have been the feature subjects of portraits; curated music; choreographed; written poetry; learned a new language of the body; discussed beauty; had our opinions heard; had our dances observed; been applauded, acknowledged and celebrated; moved people to tears, exhaustion and hysterics! We have reached the widest potential for human expression and we’ve enjoyed every second of it! This project has not just been an opportunity to dance each week, to free ourselves from physical restriction and rigidity; far more than that, it has been a safe space for artistic experimentation, a chance to be the subject of art, to inspire art, and to be an artist in our own right.
Working with the brilliant photographer Sara Hibbert in 2017, I was inspired to explore further how the lens of another can influence and shape our perspectives on ourselves. I wanted the dancers I work with to see themselves framed by an artists gaze; to see how this would impact their self perception and identity as a person with Parkinson’s, whilst also making visible the wonderful artistic contributions that they make weekly in my workshops and classes. Community dance can so often by invisible; contained within the intimate spaces of hospitals, care homes, schools, community centres, not always shared or acknowledged for the beauty of the intimate act of dancing together. Rightly so at times, when dancers are vulnerable and could feel exposed in front of an audience – it is the process and experience that is most important, not the performance. However in this project, the process has stood alone as a fundamentally moving and affecting experience in its own right, not detracted from in any way by the fact that we have decided to share live dance performance at the end of the process.
The CID Exhibition of artwork stands alone as a sharing of our process. There was never an expectation or promise that the sharing would include live dance. Yet the anticipation of this possibility, coupled with the freedom, determination and abandon, with which the dancers have embraced this experience means it feels it would almost be wrong to deny them a chance to share physically what they have achieved.
The sharing event on 20 July will place the performers in amongst the art work. The piece is set up in this way as I often struggle with the framing of performance on stage, lifted up away from the audience like it’s untouchable. I wanted the dancers to feel seen, and part of the fabric of the space; an extension of the artwork from paper into human form. Like in an art gallery, the dancers will be the subject of the audiences gaze in a different way; more visceral and human; without expectation of perfection. This for me feels most fitting to the project as a whole, which has celebrated individuality, quirkiness, personality and eccentricity; as well as supported vulnerability and demanded wholeheartedness from every contributor. A demand that has been absolutely met from the outset.
I am delighted to present the first performance of the Dancing with Parkinson’s Company, and even more delighted that this process has been so moving and inspiring for all involved. It will take a long time to process the sheer volume of outcomes around how this project has made us think, feel, connect and shift our self perception and identity as a collective and as individuals. More to come on this soon…