by Lauren Mackenzie
If a performer’s disability was masked, would it change the way you viewed his or her work? This was one of the questions put to the audience at a recent contemporary dance performance Inside Out, part of this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival.
Inside Out documents the lives of four young performers living with Down Syndrome – Emma Brodie, James Penny, Josh Gray and Joanna Rix – who work together with dancers who do not have a disability – Athelyna Swee, Jess King and Fenix Icaatu – to perform an integrated, moving and vibrant contemporary dance piece.
The performance was a 30-minute ensemble showcase featuring contemporary dance pieces that engaged rhythm, jazz, and video to create a theatrical performance that was both integrated and modern.
The dance was filmed as part of an ongoing feature length documentary produced by the Sydney Creative Movement’s film director Hannah Bent about the four young talented entertainers and highlighted what it was like to be an artist living with a disability.
The aim of the performance was to break down preconceived ideas and misconceptions associated with Down Syndrome, focusing on the individual abilities of James, Josh, Joanna and Emma, with a exploration of their humour, love and talents.
The performance began with all seven performers seated on an empty stage with minimal props. All of the performers wore black clothing, with a hooded jumper masking their faces. Music played and, as it stopped and started, so did the dancers who were in constant rhythmic movement.
As the show progressed, the movements became more rhythmic and combined as each artist demonstrated his or her talent, bodies moved in sync with light and sound. The hooded jumpers hung low over their faces.
Midway through the show, the performers removed their hooded jumpers revealing their true identity, each an artist in his or her own right.
As musicians appeared on stage and begun to play jazz music, the silhouettes of two figures dancing together behind a white screen were visible. Their movements projected love and humour as they ended in a tight embrace.
James Penny, 24, an aspiring actor and comedian who has studied at NIDA, was part of Riverside Theatre production See in Me, at the Riverside Theatre.
He believes that production played an integral role in developing his acting skills. At the end of the show, he thanked the audience and stressed importance of having the opportunity to be heard.
“Thank you so much for coming; it means so much to us to be able to perform and express ourselves,” he said.
Former Para-Olympian, Joshua Gray, 24, won six gold and one bronze medal at the 2011 Summer Special Olympics in Athens. He also attends NIDA and AIPA.
It’s hard to believe it all came together so well considering these performers only had 10 short weeks to practise and memorise all the movements.
Dancer Fenix Icaatu said they all practised for three or four hours each week. “I feel it was a great result considering the short amount of time we had,” he said.
Inside Out’s Kirsty Fromholtz, a dance movement therapist and associate member for the Dance Therapy Association of Australia, said the show was a fantastic way to allow the people involved to express themselves through creative practice. She is driven by her desire to make dance accessible to everyone.
“It started as part of a documentary. I was approached by the Hannah Bent, and was eager to come onboard. The major theme was masking and unmasking. We worked with video and a lot with mirrors, which represented the way you scrutinise yourself,” she said.
Margot Emilie, a choreographer and movement teacher, has worked closely with people living with a disability and runs her own disability program as the Accessibility Director at Shopfront, a contemporary arts program for young people under 25. She believes integration and collaboration between performers is important for the audience and public.
“I thought it was great; Kirsty works well with people with disability. There is a mutual respect; it’s really important no one upstages anyone else, like non-disabled persons upstaging disabled persons,” she said.
Kirsty Fromholtz said she was “extremely grateful” that the performance was well-received and was appreciative of the support of the Festival, NSW’s largest alternative arts festival celebrating contemporary, visual and performing arts.
She hopes the ABC or SBS will pick up the documentary. “At the moment, the film crew are in the final process of putting it all together and trying to get some funding, SBS or ABC would be a great achievement for us,” she said.