by Catherine Blanch.
Restless Dance Theatre is the Adelaide-based multi-award winning inclusive dance company who feature artists with differing intellectual and physical disabilities and those without. In her second year as Artistic Director, Michelle Ryan is happy to be presenting the world premiere of Naturally – a double bill comprising Michelle Ryan’s Touched and What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This? directed by choreographer Emma Stokes.
Michelle begins by telling us about In The Balance, her 2014 debut piece with Restless and the Youth Ensemble.
“The thing that I’m fascinated with, as is the company, is how we interact with each other. In The Balance was a party theme, but Touched is a slightly deeper look at how we interact and, looking at it even further, how we physically touch each other and the emotional connection that goes with that – either with someone else or how you feel, emotionally, when you are touched by someone.
“We have nine members of the Youth Ensemble dancing in this piece. It’s a slightly smaller cast than last year’s show, which means we can get a bit deeper into the themes.”
How long has it taken to get Touched together?
“We’ve had two very intensive workshops for the show so, basically, four weeks of rehearsal period plus Thursday night rehearsals before we move into production mode,” Michelle says. “For me, it’s been great spending the last three years getting to really know everyone, so we have found that common ground in working together – which is awesome.”
Michelle jokes about the excitement and logistical nightmare of having 21 artists on stage over the course of the evening. Along with the nine members of the Restless Youth Ensemble, What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This? has 12 artists in the Senior Ensemble [Youth Ensemble graduates], most of them performing on stage for the first time in many years, the company having created the ensemble only a couple of years ago.
“Emma Stokes, who is an emerging and award-winning choreographer, directed ‘Nice Girl’. She is a real gem in the company and has been an important tutor for many of the programs we have. Emma ran the Links Workshop for 13 to 18 year olds, and has run the open access class for 15 to 27 year olds for the last couple of years. She also worked at the Riverland Youth Theatre and Riverland Special School, and has a great way of working with people to really draw out their strengths, so when I wanted to do a double bill, as I asked her to be the choreographer for that.
“Although both works are based around relationships and attraction,” Michelle says. “Emma’s piece is really different to mine, but I feel the difference between the two shows will really complement each other quite well. My guys are younger and a bit more physical, whereas with the Senior Ensemble the youngest person is 27 and the oldest is 52. They have approached things a little differently in the way you attract someone but also how they find what is beautiful within themselves. They have taken a more animal-like approach by looking at bower birds and the way they build their nest and attract others to it.”
Two of the performance nights are Auslan signed and audio interpreted.
“The Senior Ensemble has text as a part of their show, but both shows have music where the words are quite important. Sydney songwriter and musician Liz Martin has created all of the music, but is also a woman of disability. She’s an awesome artist but that also makes for a nice connection.”
In her filmmaking debut, iconic Australian choreographer Meryl Tankard has created an intimate and inspirational portrait of Michelle journey from being one of Australia’ leading artist at the Australian Dance Theatre to her diagnosis and living life with Multiple Sclerosis. Michelle’s Story screened at Palace Nova on Sun 25 Oct as part of the Adelaide Film Festival.
“I worked with Meryl for many years and now as a director, she has made a fairly personal documentary. The piece is not about disability – it’s about me. It shows some old footage of me dancing when I was younger and what happened along the way. I’ve shared quite a lot,” she says nervously.
Is it difficult for you to watch old footage of yourself?
“I think enough years have passed now, even though it’s very surreal to see myself dancing. I kind of get lost in the story and forget that it is actually me,” Michelle says. “Watching the old footage was actually a nice thing to do because I haven’t done it for a very long time. I felt quite proud because we were all really good, which is a realisation that I’ve never had before. Of course I wish I could still do those kinds of things, but I am 44, and most dancers have already retired by that stage, it’s funny that I am now going back on stage in Intimacy – which is an interesting journey.”
Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
“Just that some of the Senior Ensemble have not performed in over 20 years, so to bring that maturity and experience back, I think, is really valuable. We have a young dynamic creative team with Elsa Patterson who does a lot of design for State Theatre Company, as well as emerging lighting designer Chris Petridis. It’s great to be supporting emerging artist of all kinds, as well as having the highest production values to support the cast.
“I never want Restless to be see a ‘poor us’ because we are leaders in so many ways,” Michelle says. “We really are seen as a theatre and dance company and not a disability company.”
Restless Dance Theatre performs Naturally: A Double Bill at Odeon Theatre, Norwood, at various times on Fri 13 Nov until Sat 21 Nov.
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Images courtesy of Shane Reid