echoes _ VerTeDance: Simulante Bande by Orsolya Bálint
Dance yourself free
The last performance of L1danceFest 2014, Simulante Bande, choreographed by Veronika Kotlíková and Tereza Ondrová, was a deeply moving and uplifting closure to the festival, presenting us with a special point of view that we rarely get to see, or even try to avoid. Without reading the brochure, when we enter the auditorium, at first sight we would probably have no idea that two of the four dancers we see sitting on the stage are disabled. Does it matter, anyway? Hell, it does.
Disabled persons cannot take anything for granted – not even as much as others can’t. They must learn to take care of themselves and find possible ways of getting on and getting around in a world where they constantly face obstacles, reminding them of their limitations. Not just the basic, physical ones, but there is also an emotional barrier from the majority of society, reflecting mostly personal fears (what if the same happens to me or my loved ones?), ignorance (if I don’t care about this issue, it doesn’t seem to exist at all) and also a sense of guilt, which they often try to overcompensate with forcing help on the disabled, depriving them of their hard earned independence. But we shouldn’t be so harsh on the majority either, it is never obvious what we can do, or shouldn’t do for a disabled person, which way do we help them best. (Simple as it is, we should just ask them.)
But as challenge can evoke the inner strength and courage, disability can also make a person more creative, motivated to overcome the obstacles, continuously push their limits and appreciate even small accomplishments. This creativity was essential for the choreography, as the two choreographers took the given disability as a possibility to find new ways of movement and self-expression – freedom – in a very limited world.
The four dancers (Veronika Kotlíková, Alena Jančíková, Zuzana Pitterová and Petr Opavský) start out from the same position on the floor, exploring what they can do if they keep on sitting. If we look at the moves closely, we see that without the legs giving an upright posture to the body (counteracting gravity), the arms take over the lead of the movements and also provide the balance. The arms start the shifting and the spinning of the torso; they elevate the body by reaching up in the air or by pushing it away from the ground. The arms are also pulling the legs like puppets on a string – a slightly comic image, but why couldn’t we ironically laugh at our challenges? Still, the overall harmony and organic flow of the movements makes us completely forget that ‘something is missing’. Isn’t it just a matter of perspective? Or, as we say in Hungarian, the seating always defines the standpoint of a person.
In the next moment the two healthy dancers get up from the floor and move along, leaving the previous fellowship and the disabled behind. To the charming music similar to the melody of a Wurlitzer, they start dancing; swinging, jumping, spinning with an ease like floating over the stage, while the disabled dancers watch them with a wistful yearning. It is a common experience for handicapped people that we get to feel, when they suddenly find themselves all alone, being trapped within their limits, while the world impatiently rushes on without them.
There is no single storyline, we see many small episodes, sketches of everyday life, addressing the challenges of the disabled in a ‘healthy’ world (oh well, we are all handicapped in one way or another), from small pains to big heartaches – the same issues any of us faces, indeed a bit different. Somebody insists to tie a disabled person’s shoelace in spite of her will; a man finds a disabled woman attractive and special at first but leaves her for a healthy one at the end; a disabled person lashes out her frustration on others...
The situations seem familiar, we can connect to them easily, but the perspective is split between the ‘two sides of the coin’. It is the dialectic of “we are all the same/all different” that shifts our perception continuously from identifying with the current story and distancing ourselves from it, allowing us to examine our reactions to the actions seen on stage.
The duos, trios and quartets keep constantly changing, as if we would watch a revolving stage. The pace changes just as rhapsodically as the large scale of emotions the dancers show us, from the dynamic of anger and frustration to a slow, jaded resignation to trembling anticipation. Maybe the most beautiful and most touching scene is when the two healthy dancers lift one disabled dancer from both sides, holding her between their arms, and start dancing around like in a waltz, sharing their freedom of movement with her. But the healthy dancers also had the courage to be really ‘mean’, handling the situations without a faint-hearted political correctness or self-righteous empathy.
The movements of all the four dancers are equally refined and graceful, as their grace comes from their – choreographed, but still – spontaneous, natural character. They are not miming, not forcefully trying to give a meaning to their actions. It seems they are all only aiming to find a freedom, a primeval natural state through movement, like a river searches its way through rocks, grazing off the hard edges, just like we see the differences in abilities and possibilities dissolving in the artists’ common passion and their – contagious – pleasure and freedom found in dancing. We all should dance ourselves free sometimes.
Orsolya Bálint - KÖM