DanceWorks presents Flesh & Spokes / Spasticus, two programs from Propeller Dance, a contemporary integrated dance company that celebrates diverse bodies and perspectives. Aesthetically, the pieces shown together here are quite different, but they share a distinctive common thread—providing a showcase for the beautiful possibilities within experiences of disability.
Spasticus is the more narrative of the two. Inspired by the life and work of new wave musician and disability activist, Ian Dury, the title is a play on Dury’s (once BBC-banned) disability anthem “Spasticus Autisticus”—itself a reference to the solidarity of Roman gladiators protecting their leader: “I am Spartacus.”
An old educational film about polio leads into video footage of water—a square of light centre stage indicates a pool. The dancers scamper about, bounding in and out of this pool in playful, joyous strides—until, suddenly, a force pulls one figure down, his body caught in paralytic contortions.
Video footage of cold, unwelcoming hospital hallways provide a grim backdrop for a series of stylized entrapments that depict callous institutional care. With a cruelly deployed bedsheet, uniformed nurses restrain residents before flinging them out onto the floor. As a succinct depiction of the dehumanizing effect of bullying, the sequence is as uncomfortable to watch as it is mesmerizing.
This torment leads to a thrilling burst of rebellious activity. With torn jeans and leather jackets, escapees defy the system to the anarchic strains of Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ “Spasticus Autisticus.”
Flesh & Spokes is more abstract—conjuring vivid, dreamlike episodes that suggests an expansive interconnection between our flesh and the mechanisms we’ve created to allow us to function where our bodies, alone, cannot.
The choreography is innovative, blending human figures with manual and motorized wheelchairs. A collection of metal rings also figure prominently, weaving in and out of the action. The elegant and hypnotic movement the performers can achieve with their mobility devices is truly astonishing.
Another beguiling aspect of this production is the percussive soundscape. The score—an intricate blend of clangs, bangs and chimes—is composed by Jesse Stewart and performed, entirely on the components of a wheelchair, by Dominique St-Pierre. One particularly intriguing segment was, I think, an homage to the iconic aria “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Bizet’s opera, Carmen.
Melding brawny athleticism with delicate sensuality, co-creator/choreographers, Liz Winkelaar and Renata Soutter, have crafted two distinctive and compelling works that display precise and persuasive work from all performers—Cee Ancheta, Sylvain Bouchard, Bella Bowes, Ada Chan, Robert Chartier, Geoff Dollar, Amelia Griffin, Moni Hoffman, Jessie Huggett, Nicolas Benoit Mariaca, Liz Winkelaar, and Russell Winkelaar.