“It’s very, very valuable to have non-normative bodies on stage,” Brooke Leifso says. “It makes us realize how much we don’t have that in culture, whether it be other intersections like race, or gender, or non-normative bodies, what have you. And so by actually having our bodies onstage, it’s inherently a political act.”
Around Leifso sit Lindsay Eales, Danielle Peers and Kelsie Acton, gathered at a table in the University of Alberta’s Education building, considering the statement and its implications. As members of the Mindhive Collective and CRIPSiE dance—the former a theatre company devoted to radical art that gives voice to those we don’t often hear from, the later doing something similar with movement and dance—it’s the sort of thing they’ve all been deeply aware of, and working with, for some time now.
“There’s bodily difference, and inherent bodily difference, but that it’s when we can’t get up stairs, or we can’t access education systems, or transportation systems, that that’s the point at which bodies that are different become disabled,” Eales adds. “And that there’s a lot of joy and possibility in non-normative bodies. But there’s a lot of oppression that comes when your body doesn’t fit an idealized norm.”
These ideas are coalescing in (Dis)integration, a trio of movement works exploring that mix of personal and political that emerges when we see non-normative bodies on stage. “Swallowed the Fly” sees Eales exploring madness, medicalization, and “how my body moves in and through experiences of madness, but also in and through a medical system around psychiatry,” she says. The second, “Unraveling the Dis/abled,” is a solo by Leifso that finds her unpacking her mild Cerebral Palsy diagnosis, and how it’s shaped her identity and perspective. The third, bringing Acton, Peers and Eales together on stage, is “(Dis)integrated Dance,” a movement piece exploring how “different combinations of tools and bodies make us move,” Acton says.
In presenting all of this, they’re hoping to open up the broader dialogue about the narratives we cast on our own and others bodies, as well as dissolve some of the stereotypes—they’re very cautious about perpetuating what’s perhaps the most common disability narrative: inspiration.
“I think one of the interesting things about inspiration is it always starts from a place of pity,” Peers explains. “If you listen to the stories, people say, ‘Oh my God you’re so inspiring’ … It’s a compliment like, ‘Oh, you don’t play like a girl.’ It’s part of that story which has to do with the belittling of disabled lives before you can hold up one of them. So undoing that a bit, and celebrating and exploring our lives as they are—which is difficult and beautiful and nuanced—as opposed to tragic, and then overcoming.”
Accessibility is part of the show’s esthetic, they note, and not just in terms of content: the cost is pay what you can, with a resolute promise that nobody will be turned away for financial reasons. Close captioning and visual description are available nightly, and childcare can be provided at the theatre upon request. There’s also ASL interpretation for the October 17 performance, and bus tickets available to those who require them for transport.
While the focus is on representing the non-normative, both Mindhive and CRIPSiE have found their works to have deeper resonance with a wider population than just those who find themselves outside the norm.
“It’s a common saying in disability work that there’s two kinds of people: there’s people who experience disability, and then there are the temporary able-bodied,” Acton says. “We’re all going to experience difference within our body and our minds as we age. In addition, we’ve talked a little bit about the intersectionality of gender and sexuality. And so every single human out there experiences, or has particular narratives put on them because of their bodies. I think there’s a lot of room for people to see themselves, and also to see how they might also have stories put on them, in the work.”
Thu, Oct 16 – Sat, Oct 18 (8 pm)
PCL studio at ATB Financial Arts Barns, Pay what you can