Fresh takes on film classics celebrate disabled people dancing

Fresh takes on film classics celebrate disabled people dancing

Striking images from a photographic exhibition featuring D/deaf, sight impaired and disabled people who dance, which has already thrilled more than 100,000 people in the UK and across the world, have been reinvented online, challenging stereotyped views of the dance world.

Launched four years ago, the 11 Million Reasons to Dance exhibition, which features 20 memorable images by photographer Sean Goldthorpe working with disabled dance artists, has impressed audiences from the UK to Hong Kong, Korea, Spain, Croatia and Ukraine, delighting them with its iconoclastic reimagining of famous dance scenes from film.

Now, thanks to new funding from digital commissioning body The Space, images inspired by classic dance scenes from Singin’ in the Rain, Black Swan and Chicago have been reinvented as a series of short films.

A complete set of exhibition images has also been presented with the addition of new audio descriptions.

It’s expected this digital initiative will see the exhibition, originally commissioned by People Dancing and supported by Unlimited Impact, in 2014, to celebrate the then 11 million people in the UK registered disabled*, reach a global audience of millions.

The early success of the photography exhibition also led to People Dancing securing Arts Council England funding for an 11 Million Reasons to Dance Strategic Touring Programme, promoting long-term engagement with D/deaf and disabled people as participants in dance programmes, as audiences for dance and as artists themselves

Dance artist Laura Dajao, a wheel chair user who has forged a hip hop and contemporary style influenced by other dance forms like dancehall, waacking and locking, is featured (second left) in the image and film inspired by ‘Cell Block Tango’, from Chicago.

Kimberley Harvey, Louise Dickson, Beth Gardiner, Laura Dajao and Sian Green reimagine the sassy Cell Block Tango for this Chicago inspired image.

Laura, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007, has trained and performed with East London Dance, Candoco, Gloucestershire Dance, Moxie Brawl, Casson & Friends and Stopgap Dance Company. She also performed with Bboy Mickael Marso Riviere in the People Dancing film, Adaption.

What does a dancer look like to Laura? Her view is clear: “When you feel movement and communicate something through dance – that’s what makes you a dancer; technique and style come later,” she says.

Meanwhile Mickel Smithen, who is partially sighted/registered blind, was inspired by Gene Kelly in the all-time classic film dance from Singin’ in the Rain. Performance artist Mickel, who lost most of his sight aged five due to a brain tumour, believes “everyone is capable of movement.”

This image is a take on the classic pavement scene in the film Singin’ in the Rain, with dancer Mickel Smithen as the one and only Gene Kelly.

What does a dancer look like to Mickel? “To me a dancer is a body that moves; a dancer is community; a dancer is a rainbow of colours and abilities; a dancer is anyone; a dancer is me,” he claims.

“The 11 Million Reasons to Dance photography exhibition set out to make change and positively profile D/deaf and disabled people who dance,” said People Dancing Producer Louise Wildish.

“Through the success of the exhibition tour, and the work with venues and organisations through the Strategic Touring Programme, the exhibition has facilitated discussions and debates around inclusive dance, forged a programme of dance activity for, and with disabled people, commissioned new performances for touring, and provided training and development for a number of disabled dance artists,” she added.

“Sean Goldthorpe’s wonderful images have had an impact on many thousands of people all over the world and continue, under the 11 Million Reasons to Dance brand, to offer ways of changing our perceptions of disability and, above all, provide opportunities for disabled people to take part in dance.”

An emotional scene in the film Billy Elliot, as Billy tells his father he wants to dance. Reimagined here by father and son Gil and Jake Maguire.

Photographer Sean Goldthorpe, who cites US photographer Gregory Crewdson as a major influence, used a 16×9 format to achieve a wide-screen, set-back feel that would have the scope to include a lot of action, yet keep the dancers centre stage.

“I didn’t want to have any crazy angles or effects that might detract from the dancers and their amazing ability to get past the physical challenges they face as disabled artists to achieve such high levels of artistic expression and skill,” said Sean.

“I think people will look at these images and smile, sense what a great time we all had making them and see disabled dance artists – and disabled people more generally – in a new and refreshing light.”

Enhanced images from the 11 Million Reasons to Dance photography exhibition and a series of short films inspired by three of these images, as well as a promotional trailer, can be seen on the People Dancing website.

* Family Resource Survey 2011/12 (this figure rose to 13.3 million – 1 in 5 people – in 2015/16)

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