The importance of diverse bodyminds on stage
This season, Leni Van Goidsenhoven and Alexia Leysen are leaving their traces on NTGent’s programming by choosing several performances delving into sustainability and disability. Leni talked us through her choices as a guest curator and the importance of having different bodyminds on stage.
You chose some performances for the Fingerprints program, what is that exactly?
NTGent invited two guest curators to create a small program on a theme that they aim to embed in their overall activities. They invited Alexia Leysen to focus on sustainability in theatre and me to focus on disability. The plan is to bring in new ideas, teams and performances that are not present yet within the general programming. Alexia and I were the first who did this, a pilot project so to speak and NTGent wants to invite two guest curators every year to reflect on different topics.
The plan is to bring in new ideas and performances that are not present yet within the general programming
How did you become one of the guest curators?
I assume they asked me because of my expertise on the topic. As an academic, I work on disability, neurodiversity and illness in relation to art and literature. Last year, I co-edited the special volume Crip on being disabled in the arts for Rekto:Verso. Besides this academic expertise on the topic, I have lived experience as a neurodivergent person myself.
What was the vision behind the programming you chose?
I mainly aimed to focus on the diversity of bodyminds. I decided to see and approach this curatorship as a way to introduce NTGent to different aspects of disability. What's interesting about 'introducing' something is that you don't overwhelm people with complex theories or ideas. Instead, you can focus on small aspects that are inspiring and work out productively for many years.
So I chose four completely different performances. There’s one performance in which a disabled artist, Claire Cunningham, works very explicitly on the topic of disability. However, I also wanted to add a performance that was thematically not about disability at all, even though there was a disabled person on stage. It showed that disability is important as a productive force in the creation of a performance where accessibility, in the context of disability, is approached as something with aesthetic value and artistic potential.
So you wanted to address the technical aspects of accessibility issues as well?
Yes and it’s very interesting what it brings about. The performances I chose required a lot of change in terms of infrastructure. For example, there are no accessible backstage toilets or elevators to the backstage upstairs at the venue where the performances are programmed. This had to change to make it accessible for all artists.
The performances I chose required a lot of change in terms of infrastructure
Can you tell me a bit more about a specific performance you chose?
A performance I’m also involved in is the Isomo project II by Iris Bouche. The Isomo project I was a video installation of a dance performance at the KMSKA. The expertise centre for media and culture, OPEN, has made an audio description of that video which will function as the choreographic score for a live dance performance of two blind and one sighted dancer. On the basis of the new choreography, OPEN will make a new audio description, this time in collaboration with the musicians, blind people, the dancers and the choreographer. This will serve as the ‘soundtrack’ of the performance.
While an audio description is normally only an accessibility tool for blind people, this performance works with an audio description for everybody. It is integrated into the aesthetics of the performance itself and the audio description is approached as something with artistic potential.
Is it accurate to say that the intention is to change how we view and use accessibility tools?
We wanted to approach and rethink accessibility tools from a creative point of view, as something that can contribute to performance, rather than seeing accessibility tools only as some kind of 'futility' or a (financial and aesthetic) burden. An accessibility tool can be used as something that has aesthetic value on its own.
We wanted to approach and rethink accessibility tools from a creative point of view
Why was it important for you to focus on disability?
There are many reasons for this. To name just a few: often the backstage area is not accessible. That alone indicates who is expected on stage. It is important to see this symbolically as a physical barrier. Another one is that it is important to get more diverse bodyminds on stage without reducing them to their disabilities. Mira Bryssinck expressed this beautifully: she states that her physical disability is often the main signifier in her performance. This fact diminishes her to her disability, which deprives her of the ability to 'transform' into a character. Thus, different bodyminds on stage are an important step. Seeing different bodies more often will affect how people react and look.
In an ideal world: how does the future of theatre look like to you?
As diverse as possible, but in all areas and not just in terms of people with disabilities. What I’m focused on now is just a tiny piece of diversity. It’s also very important to see people of colour, the elderly and other body types on stage.
An extra note on the terminology used in this article:
This article alternates between the terms ‘disabled people’ and ‘people with disabilities’ on purpose to accommodate how people want to identify themselves. More information can be found in this blog post: [Identity First Language](https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.accessibility.com/blog/identity-first-language&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1669725315771435&usg=AOvVaw2tt9VKTydYs1bBaMSyTyL). For more information on general terminology, there’s a list with key terms on the website Terminology | Critical Disability Studies Collective._
Performance photos by Polina Ulianova & Kerlijn Van Der Cruysen