Indepen-dance on inclusive dance festival, Gathered Together

As Indepen-dance's Gathered Together festival returns, we take a look at this year's programme and talk to Dawn Hartley & Laisvie Ochoa

Feature by Roisin O'Brien | 01 Jul 2022
  • It's a Must, Clare and Lesley

"Anybody who is interested in cutting edge dance with a difference would be interested in this festival." Festival administrator Dawn Hartley is talking about Gathered Together, Indepen-dance’s biennial international Inclusive Dance Festival. The festival is returning for its fourth iteration at Tramway in Glasgow Wednesday 6 until Saturday 9 July after a forced hiatus in 2020 (due to… you know what).

Based in Glasgow and directed by Karen Anderson, Indepen-dance is an award-winning inclusive dance company for disabled and non-disabled people. Gathered Together has grown out of an awareness that the profile of inclusive dance within Scotland needs to be raised, explains Hartley, as well as a drive to bring international work to the stage in Glasgow so that people can connect to it. 

There is something unique about a festival, Hartley explains. "It’s a really lovely opportunity for the dancers to see that this is something they can aim for. There’s a real sense of togetherness." Additionally, "within the sector, it becomes a 'must-do'. There’s a lot of networking, especially after such a long time apart, and a lot of re-establishing things."

The festival comprises performances from Scottish companies such as Birds of Paradise Theatre Company and Barrowland Ballet, and international artists. Curtis and Co from Germany present Exploring Borders, where three dancers and an acrobat explore their own borders, while Resident Island Dance Theatre from Taiwan present Ice Age, an international inclusive choreographic collaboration between visually-impaired choreographer Chung-An Chang and disabled choreographer Maylis Arrabit. 

Ice Age, courtesy of Huang Jyong Jhe

There are also workshops for professionals and members of the public, and all workshops and performances will be audio described and BSL interpreted. The festival also includes exhibitions from Project Ability artists and dancer Dylan Lombard from Young 1’z (Indepen-dance’s youth company), as well as films, including Irish integrated dance company Croí Glan’s Armour Off which won Best Documentary at Catalyst Film Festival. 

ConCuerpos from Colombia are one of these international collaborations. The company is directed by Laisvie Ochoa and is the pioneering inclusive dance company in Colombia, she explains. Ochoa and others were inspired to start the company in 2007 after they invited people from the pioneering Candoco Dance Company (an inclusive dance company based in England) to direct an integrated dance workshop. Since then, they have been working in three main areas: education, artistic, and research. 

Ochoa is heartened by the change she has seen in Colombia since their formation: "We have influenced dance a lot because now in other companies we see the participation of people with disabilities. Not that the companies call themselves inclusive but that they are open to include different types of people, which for us is wonderful as we see more presence of artists with disabilities in different contemporary dance festivals."

One of the projects ConCuerpos is bringing to the festival is a work-in-progress looking at disability and dance in COVID times. At the time of speaking, Ochoa happily states that they are very much "in the middle of it!", taking joy in that uncertainty that comes from being deep in the creative process. The company had been doing a lot of work through online and digital mediums even before the pandemic, so were able to jump into a remote way of working with relative ease. 

They were then put in touch with Nancy Lombard, a Reader in Social Policy and Sociology at Glasgow Caledonian University, who began research to examine the role of dancing in the lives of disabled people during lockdown in Scotland and Colombia. Lombard’s son is a member of Young 1’z. The resulting creative and research collaboration between them has been a series of online workshops, which will culminate in an in-person workshop when they all physically meet in Scotland, before a final performance. Ochoa is very excited for them all finally to meet: working online has been great, but also a bit "weird" as during the workshop "you are so excited, you finish the phone call and then… you are alone in your room."

ConCuerpos are also bringing their work IRA, which translates as ‘rage’ in Spanish. The first part is directed by Diana León and the second by Ochoa, both working with the same dancers, composer and lighting designer. León’s part focuses on how rage emerges from a very subjective place, "how this feeling emerges in the face of social injustice and makes you move, like a motor source" states Ochoa. 

Ochoa’s directed part looks at rage from a collective point of view. Ochoa chose to focus on one event in Colombia’s history: 9 April 1948, also called El Bogotazo. The presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán – who "advocated for the underdogs", explains Ochoa – was assassinated, which sparked a wave of violent riots across the city and began a period in Colombia known as ‘La Violencia.’ "A collective rage took over, it was a huge social explosion." 

Ochoa noticed that this sort of explosion had happened several times throughout Colombia’s history and in response to different injustices. "I wanted to analyse it. What are we going to do with all this rage?" By putting it on stage, "we need to see it to somehow understand it – in order to heal."

Threaded throughout the festival are performances from Indepen-dance’s different performance groups. "A big focus for the whole of Indepen-dance", continues Hartley, "is to provide the chance for their dancers to show off their work on an international stage, with international performers – it’s so exciting for them."

The Adult Performance Company performing on Wednesday night are premiering Aya Kobayashi’s Huddle. "It’s got a lovely soundtrack," enthuses Hartley. "I was sitting in the hall outside the rehearsal studio a few weeks ago just listening to the amazing music. [Aya] did say 'it’s based around the lives of penguins'. And when I said that sounded interesting, she looked at me to say: ‘YES. It’s going to work!' I’m quite intrigued by that, Aya’s work is always so sensitive and on-the-button, it gets you right there."

One work that has been in the making since before the pandemic is Entwined. Directed by former Scottish Ballet principal dancer Eve Mutso, and featuring striking visuals and a new score from composer J.P Waksman, it is performed by Indepen-dance’s Small Ensemble performance group on the Saturday evening. Mutso will also perform later that evening with Joel Brown in 111, an intricately crafted duet between two powerful dancers. 

Performing in Entwined is Julie Spence, who has been working with Indepen-dance since 2015, first as Creative Dance Assistant and now as a Dance Worker. With Entwined having been on pause for many years, Spence is looking forward to that sense of ‘achievement’ when the group finally manage to perform it: "It’s going to be magical!" Mutso would regularly come to rehearsals to watch the group practice. From there, Spence explains, Mutso was able to create movements or creative tasks that she felt would show off the strengths of each individual dancer. 

There is a very strong connection within the group: "We all have that passion for dance and it makes you feel secure and trust in your own movements." It’s an enthusiasm and passion that seeps through the organisation and all those who speak for it. For Spence, there will likely be some "happy tears" on the night.

Gathered Together 2022, Tramway, 6-9 Jul