by Catherine Blanch and Tim Mason
Michelle Ryan is unique. No one else moves the way she does. Her simplest gesture can express a level of poignancy and vulnerability, strength and courage that is beyond that of an able-bodied performer.
Michelle began dancing when she was four years old and went on to become one of Australia’s most celebrated dancers as part of Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre. At 30, at the peak of her career, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Although MS has irreparably damaged Michelle’s physical prowess, it cannot undermine a lifetime of physical artistry and creative expression.
After a 10 year hiatus from dancing, Michelle was invited by renowned Belgian choreographer Alain Platel to perform as the guest artist in the 2011 Brisbane Festival season of Out Of Context For Pina by Les Ballets C de la B. After seeing her perform, Platel asked Michelle why she had stopped. This question, from one of the world’s leading contemporary dance makers, had a profound effect on Michelle. Intimacy is her response.
Intimacy is a triumph of passion and diversity over adversity. Real, raw and tender, Intimacy is a celebration of doing, of loving, of being human.
Created and devised by Torque Show (Vincent Crowley, Ross Ganf and Ingrid Weisfelt) in collaboration with Michelle Ryan and Lavender Vs Rose (Emma Bathgate and Simon Eszeky), Intimacy is a dance theatre/live music work that takes some of our most private and vulnerable moments and examines them through a public prism of coping with disease and disability. It is an unashamedly confronting and heartfelt work about the beauty and fragility of what it is to be human.
Performing alongside dancer Vincent Crowley with a live score by Lavender Vs Rose, this dance theatre work is a fictional stage for Michelle’s real-life daily experiences; a world where highly awkward, absurdly humorous and deeply moving moments manifest in unexpected ways. A world where others are not sure where to look or how they might help.
Audience members become voyeurs and potential participants in a world where boundaries between ‘doer’ and ‘watcher’ continually shift. At times they simply enjoy the sublime music of Lavender Vs Rose. At other times, they are invited to assist Michelle with very real tasks such as walking and dressing. They are seduced into helping Vincent with his ambition of improving his own ability to be more intimate. The show asks the audience: Will you volunteer to help even though it may take you into an insecure and vulnerable place? What are you willing to risk to help someone else in need? How long can you remain uninvolved in someone else’s struggle?
The power of Intimacy is in its ability to profoundly and honestly confront people with their willingness to implicate themselves in the real struggle and suffering of someone else.
“The idea of what intimacy is, for me, has changed over the years,” Michelle Ryan says, “from, obviously, a personal connection in a relationship with someone to, even now, having to ask people for help. I have to actually allow them to give me assistance in everyday life. Yet, letting those people help me has been a difficult thing for someone who has always and still does value her independence.
“Intimacy is not a sad dance piece,” she adds. “There is some fabulous live music, lots of storytelling and text, and hopefully it will beg the question of ‘What would you do to help somebody?’.”
Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and Artistic Director Douglas Gautier says of the production, “It’s great for Adelaide Festival Centre to be able to present this important, innovative and challenging work by Torque Show and Michelle Ryan. Intimacy has had successful runs in both London and Melbourne and we’re delighted to be presenting it for South Australian audiences and to welcome Michelle Ryan back to the Space Theatre stage.”
Intimacy has been shortlisted for the 2015 Australian Dance Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance.
In her filmmaking debut, iconic Australian choreographer Meryl Tankard has created an intimate and inspirational portrait of Michelle’s journey from being one of Australia’s leading artists at the Australian Dance Theatre to living life with MS. Michelle’s Story screens at Palace Nova on Sun 25 Oct as part of the Adelaide Film Festival.
Intimacy performs at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, from 7.30pm on Wed 28 Oct until Sat 31 Oct.
Book at BASS on 131 246 or bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.