May 2020: All Bodies Dance Project
Q&A with Naomi Brand, Choreographer, Dance Artist and Co-Founder of All Bodies Dance Project
Who is All Bodies Dance Project in a sentence?
We are a dance company made up of artists with and without disabilities whose work mines choreographic possibilities through our differences.
Tell us about All Bodies Dance Project.
We offer free, inclusive community programming, for both professional dancers and people new to dance, and we welcome people of all genders, abilities and backgrounds. Through mentorship and training, All Bodies Dance Project supports an under-represented group of dancemakers, facilitators and artistic leaders with a unique set of values and approach to performance making.
We have performed in theatres, airports, parks, gymnasiums, parking lots, and on screens. Our work straddles community-engaged and professional dance practice and invites different ways of experiencing dance. We put accessibility at the forefront; investigating who gets to make dances and who gets to be the audience for dance. All of our work only exists because of the unique combinations of bodies in the room: the dances we make can only be made and danced by those bodies.
What was the inspiration for forming the group?
The group was founded in 2014 by Sarah Lapp, Mirae Rosner and myself with the intention of creating a space for integrated dance practice in Vancouver. At the time there was no place where a wheelchair user could fully participate in dance, nor was there any space for mixed ability dance practice. Since then the project has expanded far beyond that to include multiple weekly classes, a performance ensemble, a youth project, a touring school show, and a broad community of collaborators, consultants, and supporters.
What is your inspiration for working with the group now?
The work that I’ve been involved in with All Bodies has been some of the most creatively challenging of my artistic life. It continually challenges the biases and assumptions that I have inherited through my typical training and upbringing in dance. In our All Bodies’ work, we try to de-center notions of “dancer”. I find the choreographic possibilities in working with groups of people that look and move and perceive the world in different ways to be very exciting. This work, and the collaborative relationships involved in it, keeps me curious and engaged in learning about the potential of dance as an art form.
Briefly describe an All Bodies workshop and the type of performance work the group makes.
Our classes and workshops most often work through improvisational structures and scores to bring people who might otherwise not ever meet (let alone dance together) into relationship through movement. Our classes emphasize and teach the skill of responsiveness and explore the dynamics of leading, following, responding, and supporting within a community of diverse movers. Our classes are filled with both “seated” and “standing” dancers; movers who use mobility devices as well as people with invisible disabilities. Participants share their access needs with the group, which operationally become creative tools to explore moving and making dances with one another.
Our repertoire of performance works is quite diverse as they have been authored by numerous members of the company and so don’t have one consistent aesthetic. Our recent works range from ensemble pieces, to dance films, to site specific pieces and most recently our large-scale project entitled Translations is an immersive performance for audiences of ten at a time.
What are the core values of All Bodies Dance Project?
Our work is based on values of inclusion and accessibility: it is at the centre of all that we do. We try to approach accessibility and inclusion not as buzz words, but as tools that open up new creative potential. We come up with innovative ways of making and presenting dance, by considering the specific needs of the diverse bodies and minds that make up our community. We aim to dismantle assumptions, biases, and default notions around contemporary dance, the theatre, and the dancing body.
As you are also an independent choreographer and dance artist working in other contexts, tell us a bit about some of your other choreographic projects. Has All Bodies Dance Project impacted on your independent work?
I have also been fortunate to dance for other choreographers both here in Vancouver and in Calgary where I was based for ten years. I’ve made many pieces both for groups and solos for myself. I love performing and being an interpreter. I used to think of my independent, professional work as something very separate and distinct from my work in community-engaged practice. I conceived of these two parts of my practice as situated in a hierarchy, with “high art” carrying more value. Now they feel much more melded; I’ve grown up, my values have shifted, and the field of dance has also fortunately expanded.
All Bodies Dance Project has had a huge impact on how I make dances and how I think of the role of dance in society. I can no longer watch dance without thinking about the culture in the studio that underlies the end product we see on stage. I’ve become much less interested in typical definitions of virtuosity or dance-as-spectacle and much more interested in the ways that dancing and dance “audiencing” can create and hold community connections.
All Bodies Dance Project is a company member with The Dance Centre because…
Membership with The Dance Centre has allowed us to be a part of the mainstream dance community in a more meaningful way. It feels important for us to take up space and be visible in the building; for other dancers to see wheelchair dancers and recognize our work as part of the landscape of dance in Vancouver.
Photos courtesy of the company