Tonight marks the debut of The Garage’s latest dance company, In Cahoots. An inclusive group that proves our strengths are often in our differences.
The seven diverse dancers will perform contemporary piece Eye to Eye for a sold out Norwich Playhouse as part of our annual showcase Turnstyle. Rehearsal time has been a challenge, cramming as much as they can into just nine hours in the studio.
Choreographer Abby Page said: “I think it possibly takes longer to put a piece like this together because I can't just create material outside of the rehearsal and ask the dancers to learn it as I really have no idea if it will be suitable for half the dancers in the company. It has to be made with their real bodies in the space. This is much more satisfying but maybe takes more time.”
In Cahoots only formed in January. They spent the first term getting to know each other and how to move together. This term the focus has been on Turnstyle, which this year has "Headlines" as its theme.
Rather than taking the obvious route of looking at the news, Abby decided to keep things light and fun and play with the vast differences in height among members instead.
“While we were in Alicante as part of the DAN.ce AcCEssbility INclusion (DAN.CE IN) conference, half of the group stayed in an apartment and half in a hotel. I was staying in the hotel with Liesl (Hammer) and Lee (Baker) who are wheelchair users and Alice (Lambert) who has restricted growth. As such I was the one who had an unusual height,” said Abby.
“The others talked about how they were always having to look up to talk to people and Alice said 'it’s really nice to be with people I can see eye to eye with'. This is something I wanted to draw on in our piece, where a company of varying heights but also varying experiences of life, come together as equals to really appreciate the way each other moves and the unique strengths we can all bring.”
For music loving Lee, it’s about being able to enjoy dance again.
“One of the things I’ve missed is not being able to properly dance. Now I get to. I can take my wheelchair into the middle of the dance floor of other people moving and wiggle but I can’t dance. Being able to find a way to properly move to music is lovely.”
She was surprised by how much she enjoyed the Friday night rehearsals.
“I avoided anything that was specifically for wheelchair users like the plague. I think it draws more attention to it. That’s why I love inclusive dance, that able-bodied people are included. It makes it much more interesting. Having more people join the group has been really good. It’d be lovely if we could have more.
“Now we’re getting ready for our first ever performance at Turnstyle. We’re using our wheelchairs as equipment. Alice has been climbing all over mine, balancing on it. We use them to pull people around. I certainly see a lot of options for us. Abby’s been bombarded with everybody going ‘can we try this?’ Liesl sent her a video of a wheelchair dancer who’s being lifted...”
Abby’s style is already pretty inclusive, having worked with the likes of Stopgap Dance Company to name but one. It’s been a gradual process, but she feels dance is becoming more open to diversity.
She said: “Many of the dance artists I know expect to be inclusive in their practice. The trip to Alicante was a lovely experience. The workshops were led in a way that everyone felt included and that this was where they were meant to be. Without wanting to speak for the diverse dancers among us, it seemed it was an unusual experience for them because they were often the first people other dancers would choose to partner instead of being left until last.
“We all had the desire to really understand what it meant to be inclusive and to have that experience of dancing with people who tackled dance in a different way to us. When audiences see quality work being made they enjoy seeing what’s possible.
“The ethos of In Cahoots is that everyone should be allowed to play. Our strengths are often in our differences, whether that involves our personalities, our experiences, our creativity or our physicality. When we all bring these elements of us it makes for a rich melting pot.”
Carrie Mansfield, The Garage’s creative director, said tonight would be an emotional moment for everybody.
“Five years ago we were inspired by a brilliant organisation called Stopgap and we knew we had to start creating work similar to them. What were we inspired by? That dance is for everyone, dance is part of our human Makeup. In Cahoots opening tonight’s show is extra special.”
Photos: Teele Photography / The Garage