Over the course of several months, five artists from the National accessArts Centre (NaAC) have been working hard on stage to tell their stories on screen. Moving Pictures / Pictures Moving is an eight-minute dance film that explores how the people we interact with throughout our lives influence us as individuals.
It started with a painting. In November 2020, multidisciplinary artist Kathy Austin was commissioned to create a piece that would form the backdrop of the performance. She approached the painting in three parts: first, a dark background to resemble a black box theatre; second, paint splatter to symbolize the movement of the dancers on stage; and third, a set of footprints to signify their feet. But as time went on, she began to see the artwork differently. Or rather, see herself differently.
After watching The Peanut Butter Falcon (a film in which a man who has Down syndrome pursues his dream of becoming a pro wrestler), Kathy became obsessed with wrestling. She adopted a wrestling name – Blue Cheese Hyena – and researched wrestling drills to create choreography. The black box theatre she had initially envisioned for her artwork became a wrestling mat.
“When I was throwing the paint, I started to think of it as the blood and sweat from the wrestlers. I saw the footprints as footprints of the wrestler,” Kathy says.
Similar transitions started happening all around her. As they interacted with the painting and the musical score, other members of the ensemble saw outer space and fireworks. And more characters – like the Blue Cheese Hyena – began to form.
“The ensemble worked with a professional choreographer [named Shannon Parker] who took all of the movements they were leaning into and created individual solos or duets that conveyed their characters,” says Katie Wackett, Coordinator of Artistic Projects at the NaAC. Those solos and duets were then woven between group work, resulting in one performance piece that is presented in six sections.
It was exciting to see different processes unfold as the artists leaned into elements of the project that appealed to them, says Katie, who specializes in filmmaking. While some were interested in the music, others were drawn to the costumes. “A lot of the artists found inspiration in ways that they might not have necessarily guessed at the start.”
That’s the beauty of a multidisciplinary project, she adds. “It opens possibilities. [Participants] might be introduced to something that they love, and never would have tried before. It gives the artists a lot of confidence.”
Kathy agrees. She says, “People with disabilities often have so many barriers to exploring or even learning about these creative pursuits.” Let alone getting paid for them. By presenting opportunities to participate in multidisciplinary projects, the NaAC is breaking down those barriers one by one.
The ensemble plans to premiere Moving Pictures / Pictures Moving at a film festival hosted by the NaAC this spring. Pending COVID-19 public health restrictions, the festival will include a number of artist films and, in true NaAC fashion, a dance party for participants. Watch for more details in the coming months at accessarts.ca
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