Weave Movement Theatre and Yumi Umiumare are about to bring both a brave and risky venture to the stage in the form of Butoh and disability dance. Butoh is a confronting artform and embraces grotesque imagery, and artists with a disability are also confronting as they showcase the human condition in glamorous and unglamorous ways. The work is called White Day Dream, surrealist and absurdist in style, it explores the human condition through memories and dreams.
Weave theatre has been committed to making theatrical experiences for and around artists who have physical, mental, and intellectual disabilities, and the company was one of the first in Melbourne to have an ensemble comprised of artists with and without disabilities. Artistic Director of Weave, Janice Florence, explains that Weave began 18 years ago as a series of workshops instigated by Arts Access Victoria leading up to a master class lead by visiting UK inclusive dance company CanDoCo. After this the group that formed Weave at that time wanted to continue as a performance company.
Florence was hired as a teacher in the original workshop series and fell into the role of leader. “This has been an 18 year learning experience,” she says. “Company members have moved on and new ones have joined over the years, though a number have stayed for some years. Many impressive people have passed through the company and gone on to do great things in the arts and disability arts. ”
“My original motivation was acquiring a disability myself when I became paraplegic after a falling accident. I had been involved in dance based on experimental and improvised styles. After the accident I experimented in various classes with various teachers and partners to find a way to keep dancing, eventually becoming part of a company called State of Flux with four non disabled dancers, based in the technique called Contact Improvisation. My explorations and discoveries resulted in being hired to lead the workshop series and it went from there.”
Florence is passionate about who she is, how she is perceived as a spokeswoman, and what she does. The word’ inspired’ or ‘ inspirational’ does not seem to sit well when a correlate with the very potent work she and other creatives strive towards.
“The word inspiration is always used in relation to disability, as though those not classified as having a disability are amazed that we manage to have a mind, interests, life experience, thoughts and ambitions,” she says.
“I think there is a slightly patronising assumption behind this question that people with disabilities will always be beginners who know nothing and who will achieve personal growth through this unprecedented exploration. In fact the only other founding member of Weave who is still in the company, a performer with a disability, had completed a theatre degree at the VCA. Others have completed various tertiary studies in the performing arts or have been in other companies. Some are near the beginning of their commitment to the Arts and are mentored by older artists with disability in Weave. Some members are in three other companies. ”
“What has happened though is that I have learned a huge amount about people with various disabilities I knew very little about before but also I have seen their creative potential as individuals; not as examples of a category of disability. Weave is the most diverse, inclusive company as far as the range of disabilities represented is concerned, yet it is a very cohesive ensemble with a shared performance language. It is disability led and is the company that has been so the longest.”
“One other company has recently taken on a Director with a disability. Leadership by people with disability is still rare for many reasons, not the least to do with common low assumptions about disability. I still don’t really know how acceptable or credible leadership by artists with disability is to many people in the arts who hold to standards of conventional training and pathways and styles.”
Director and Choreographer, Yumi Umiumare started the White Day Dream series to experiment through visual poetries, film work and physical theatre. Florence and team began working with Umiumare in a workshop and then went on to a creative development in 2015. “Luckily we received funding to carry it further to make a work for performance. We found her approach and her particular take on Butoh a new, re-energizing direction and learning for the company.”
“I personally find it feeds body, mind and soul, unlike some more external dance styles. Yumi herself is a great performer; shattering predictable order, building up and breaking down structures. She has a natural understanding of the transgressive nature of drawing on qualities that spring from people’s disabilities without trying to ‘normalise’.”
“Yumi is making a series called White Day Dream in various settings. Weave is one of them. I like being part of a wider, continuing plumbing of a theme with other humans. The theme is dreams and memories their transience, power and fragility. Her original inspiration came from her brother having a brain haemorrhage and losing physical function and long term memory. What if our memories were erased? Are we in a living dream? In its origins it speaks of the blurring of our accepted reality awake or asleep, and the blurring of categories of able, disable, day and night. The workings of one mind and another.”
As an artist, Florence enjoys work that is based mainly on physical theatre and dance; work that is poetic, rather than prosaic, and with an obvious narrative. She also enjoys a poetic and playful approach to language and text in physical theatre.
“It is often an expectation that performers with disability will perform on the theme of disability,” she observes. “I find this a bit tedious and limiting for myself. It has its place but people with disabilities have many and varied interests. I want to explore artistic ideas that interest me for their own sake not because they are directly related to disability, though some contemporary dance forms are more flexible and open to diverse bodies and minds.”
“I feel less interested in proscenium arch stage plays than I was some time ago. I feel imprisoned by the words in such dialogues, though sometimes you see something exceptional in this style. I also love music and like to sing but haven’t had much time for that lately. I like good films and satirical comedy and British costume dramas on TV to relax.”
Weave and White Day Dream is aimed at making disability dance accessible to a general public. ” It breaks through stuffy barriers,” says Florence. “This is beautiful. It is poetic. It is startling. It is surreal. It is unpredictable. It is hilarious at times. It has a great original music score by Dan West, projections by master digital artist Bambang N Karim. It has amazing performers you may not have seen before. This is a first time ever collaboration between an extraordinary Butoh/cabaret artist and performers with disability. This is a historical first. This is cutting edge and myth busting and you have a chance to see it. There are no confessional monologues about tragedy or heroism – what a relief!”
October 27 – November 6