There are parts of the world where disabled people face much greater challenges than here in the UK. How can a dance company help? Pedro Machado shares his experiences of taking Candoco and its mission overseas.
La’ Royal 2015
This year Candoco Dance Company is celebrating 25 years of creating work with disabled and non-disabled dancers. Just as the dance and disability scene has evolved during this time so have our priorities and activities. Today we focus on creating an eclectic repertory, furthering training and employment possibilities for disabled artists and advocating for greater inclusion in dance. We have commissioned over 50 original works from a variety of choreographers, which we have toured to as many countries. Recently, we have been working abroad and have supported the creation of like-minded companies in countries such as Nigeria and Armenia, where disabled dancers face similar challenges to disabled dancers in the UK, but often to a greater extent.
Disabled people, who are frequently ostracised, are empowered and a new community begins to form
We work with local dance artists to find the potential talent and then support training, rehearsal, performance and audience development. We provide ongoing mentoring both in situ and via Skype, not just for weeks and months but for years. There are challenges, from poor practical access for disabled people to a lack of infrastructure more generally. For example, we visited Lagos in October. It’s Nigeria’s largest city but it doesn’t even have a fully functioning theatre, let alone an accessible theatre. For our performance the local British Council team had to build a pop-up venue. Furthermore, in direct contrast to the tranquil, creative spaces we are used to working in here in the UK, the general enthusiasm and love for very, very loud music meant we often worked in noisy, hyper environments. The energy was quite contagious all the same.
Despite these fairly fundamental issues, we’ve found the results are overwhelming. Disabled people, who are frequently ostracised, are empowered and a new community begins to form. Importantly, captivating work is presented on stage and new artists are ‘born’, with greater confidence, full of the desire to perform and aware of the power they experience when on stage. The press, local leaders, politicians and society in general begin to listen.
Disabled people in the places we have visited recently, namely Nigeria, Armenia and Palestine, have a rough deal all round. There are very few opportunities to work and welfare support is almost non-existent, and even when the constitution grants disabled people rights against discrimination, most people are unaware of it. On top of this, there is the need to overcome a general lack of access and the taboo of ‘bringing shame to your family’ as a disabled person. It’s that bad. When even a primary school education is out of reach, as a dance company what difference can we really make?
When the British Council invited us to run workshops with local education services and businesses in Armenia, it was clear that our role was as a catalyst. As a professional dance company we demonstrate diversity as positive, interesting and important, and disability as active and contributory rather than negative and a problem to be fixed. Dance can genuinely make a difference and can inspire broader action and change beyond dance. Therefore as ‘experts’ in changing minds, we were the catalyst for a conversation that highlighted positive attitudes and stories from within Armenia itself. We have found that when these come from within, they are ultimately more empowering. Our job is often to help draw out these perception-challenging stories and spread them more widely.
Twenty-five years ago when the first Candoco workshops took place no one imagined we would be where we are today, so it’s hard to know where we will be in 25 years’ time. Our hope is that disabled people in developing countries will have acquired the rights they deserve, and the opportunity to dance professionally will be a part of that. I can’t wait that long – let’s make it ten years.
Pedro Machado is Artistic Co-Director at Candoco Dance Company.