In January 2018, the Laboratory of the Unlimited: Making the Right Moves Programme was held in Kyiv. I decided to fill out an open call application, although I was sure that I did not fit into the format. But they chose me! A creative inclusive group of professional performers and disabled people from different regions of Ukraine was created. From February to May, we worked at the intersection of various performative practices — theatre, dance and bodily improvisation. The process was led by Susanna Recchia and Victoria Malin, artists from Candoco, and Marina Lymar, performer and art-director at UviMkneni.
I’ve never done anything like it before. In fact, then I first met my body, learned to listen to it. It was difficult both physically and emotionally. Many internal complexes rose to the surface, and, thanks to this creative laboratory, they were worked out, and some were overcome. The result of the four-month team work was the Kyiv production of “A Place to ...” in the Mystetskyi Arsenal. So, there I got my first artistic experience.
After this performance, one of the teachers noted that I ought to continue to engage in performance and told about the International Summer Lab — the annual creative laboratory of Candoco Dance Company in London. I doubted that I would pass the selection process — I’m not a professional dancer, to which my interlocutor remarked in surprise: “Sorry, what have you been doing here all this time? This is a dance!” Her words made a strong impression on me and convinced me that it was worth sending an application. I know English well, but I had to check the Acceptance Letter four times in Google Translate — I couldn’t believe that I was selected!
It was scary for a person in a wheelchair to go to an unfamiliar country. But way greater was interest and desire to try. Fortunately, Natalia Bespalova, my best companion, a wonderful person and dancer of the national team in wheelchair dancing, got into the programme with me. Together we studied movements, practiced English, and traveled around London to the point we could not feel our hands. If it hadn’t been for her support I wouldn’t have handled it.
The main thing that I understood is that if you don’t try, the answer will always be “no”. The worst thing that can happen when you come to such a project is to try it, understand that it’s not yours, and set off to conquer other peaks.
No need to be afraid to be ridiculed — all of us are funny and ridiculous. On equal footing, we explore the boundaries of how stupid we can be. If you’re scared, imagine: healthy, serious people with arms and legs, who have received a choreographic education, who know how to point toes “correctly”, begin to look closely at you, at your wheelchair movements, adapt their movements to yours... And now you are already dancing together, you are in the same cosmos, breathing the same air, and no one is laughing at anyone. There is no fear of being inappropriate and ridiculous, no right answers, no boundaries.
A year later, I received an invitation to “The Argonauts” casting. I passed it as well, but still I don’t fully realize that they took me to such a large-scale project! This performance is about how our stories become myths and myths become personal stories. It is very touching and real. We do not make great artists of ourselves, do not pretend, but simply open in a new way. We come to a better understanding of our beings. The viewer is convinced that people with disabilities are able to be professional artists.
It is conventionally assumed to feel sorry for people with disabilities but absolutely forbidden – an artist. They can only be admired! This change of perception, which is extremely necessary for everyone, happened to me on Unlimited projects. In the post-Soviet space, people with disabilities are still trying to be inconspicuous, so as not to inconvenience by their existence, as if they are “apologizing” for taking place. And here on the stage everything comes into harmony, and you understand: I have come, this is my place, I won’t give it to anyone.
“The Argonauts” was created in 20 days at three residences in Kyiv. There are ten professional and non-professional dancers in the troupe, with and without disabilities. Very quickly we merged into a single organism. Moreover, each of us is an individualist. This connection helps insanely during performances, especially when there is a language barrier.
Emotions on the stage are always ups and downs starting from — I’m the worst of all, how can you look at me, to — I’m on top of the world. We manage to survive everything during the training! But we all help each other quite a lot, physically — we feel each other’s backs. Together we studied the myths about Jason and the Argonauts to understand the psychology of the characters. Many shared their life stories. I think all this has paid off.
Since childhood, I loved the ambiguous characters and here I am one of them! They announced to me: “Vicki, you are Glaucus, the daughter of Creon, the new love of Jason” According to the plot, Jason dumps Medea, but not out of love for Glaucus — this is only a political calculation. For me as a woman it was an interesting and, at the same time, painful experience. I am both an antagonist and a victim overnight! In addition, I realized how taboo the topic of disability and sexuality was, I literally felt that I did not know how to seduce, there was an internal search.
Before the curtains open, I am always sure I do not remember anything. Nevertheless, every time my body helps me out — it knows every movement and emotion. If difficulties arise, I remind myself that the project has a mission, which is more than my ambitions. I may not be a good enough artist, but let my work shed the light for someone next who is more talented.
Interesting movements are born if you just don’t think about how you look. How much fun do we take away from each other with unnecessary constraints. If earlier I did not dare to dance when I heard the music, now I can calmly tell my friends: “Let’s go to the disco, we will light it up!” And I will have fun there and spin in full swing, while others will stand at the wall and say that they do not know how to dance. None of this would have happened if it had not been for participation in the project.
I dream of participating in such a performance, which would be a completely Ukrainian product – to toured around the world, so that it will be at everyone’s hearing. I hope someday this will be possible.
The main thing is an idea that will be interesting to both – actors and viewers. Once in a youth camp in Germany I had an opportunity to stage performances for children diagnosed with Down syndrome and autism. At first I had a panic: how to introduce such children into the play? But then, looking closely at them, observing what is peculiar to them, we created a little fairy tale about a boy who liked to beat the drums — so he explored the world through sound. It turned out great, I would love to buy tickets for such a show. The Argonauts have the same story. But we did not fully understand the scale. And when everything turned out — we were shocked at how much work, ideas, design was invested in us! I am grateful to our trainers for parental care, support and the fact that they always found the key to each of us.
Unlimited: Making the Right Moves is an international British Council programme that supports the professional development of disabled artists. The programme includes educational events, research and consulting work, support for the production of professional works in performative art.
More about the Unlimited project – www.britishcouncil.org.ua/programmes/arts/unlimited
More about “The Argonauts” – http://www.britishcouncil.org.ua/programmes/arts/unlimited/activities-2019