Making Dance Accessible: Iris Cheung

By True Colors Festival Team

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March 31, 2023

da:ns festival at Esplanade Singapore returns with da:ns focus, a series of dance programs spread out over five weekends this year. Each weekend will focus on a particular theme or genre and the first weekend, happening over April 14-16, titled EveryBody spotlights works created with inclusivity and diversity in mind. The goal is to show that everybody and every body has the ability to dance and enjoy dance.

By True Colors Festival Team

This image shows the ILL-Abilities standing in a line on stage. Their shadows can be seen against the wall, there are 7 members and each dons a black tee and black pants

Q: EveryBody features works created with inclusivity and diversity in mind. Please share with us the reason for choosing this theme for one of the da:ns focus weekends.

To offer some background, since 2005, Esplanade has presented da:ns festival annually, with the aim of introducing diverse dance genres, showing the different ways bodies can dance and ultimately, building a foundation of dance knowledge among our local audiences. After 17 editions of the festival, we have successfully built a strong following, and audiences have matured in their knowledge of the art form. We now are bringing audiences to the next level of appreciation with da:ns focus—comprising five weekends of dance programs throughout the year, each focusing on a particular theme or genre. The programs, experiences and activities within each dance weekend will offer focused explorations and opportunities for counterpoints, dialogues and perspectives.

To kick-start da:ns focus, we have EveryBody. The idea of the perfect body is one that has been perpetuated in dance, and EveryBody expands out from this limited definition to focus on works of inclusivity and diversity, featuring dance projects that work with and empower diversely-abled dancing bodies as well as non-professionals. The weekend also includes participatory programs, celebrating the spirits of community and joy of movement—ranging from workshops for families, youths, differently-abled participants and professionals, a fun and relaxing dance party that brings together different communities of migrant workers in Singapore, as well as free-to-participate 101 short dance sessions with nine different dance genres.

All in all, through EveryBody, we hope to convey the message that all of us—everybody and every body—have the ability to experience dance and enjoy dance.

The image shows people dancing in a dance studio with their left hand on their head. Their eyes appear to be closed.

Q: What new insights have you gained from working on EveryBody?

Given that it is the first edition of da:ns focus (hence the first edition of EveryBody), we have spent much time researching not only on quality works by diversely-abled artists from around the world, but also looked into projects which creatively engage diverse marginalized communities and embrace diverse needs and expressions such as a production by migrant workers

I would say an impactful insight I gained working on EveryBody is how it has broadened my understanding on how we value and speak about inclusivity and diversity in dance and performance. It is important that we not perpetuate stereotypes and language that is reductive or patronizing.

It is important for us to first of all be aware of the social construction and stigmas which are commonplace on disability and diversity in performances, and to embrace a broader aesthetic and value towards dance and movement. Deepening our efforts on audience development and dance appreciation is also one key focus of da:ns focus. Thus, in EveryBody, we have planned more interaction between the invited artists to local communities—public members, artists and professionals—via a range of channels, such as performance-sharing, workshops, collaborations, and where possibly, inviting the artists to communicate more of their meanings and contexts to our local audiences.

Q: As the programs revolve around the theme of inclusion and diversity, what kind of accessibility measures can we expect during the weekend?

The weekend will embrace accessibility features for selected programs, such as Relaxed Environment, Sign Language Interpretation and wheelchair access.

No Excuses, No Limits by ILL-Abilities and LET’S DANCE! A party for migrants & friends will be Relaxed Environment performances/events, where we embrace everyone’s diverse needs and expressions; audiences are also free to exit and re-enter the theatre freely.

There will also be Singapore Sign Language Interpretation for A Space for EveryBody, a performance-sharing by Candoco Dance Company in collaboration with 10 Singapore dancers with disabilities and without disabilities, as well as EveryBody Dance Now (Accessible Sessions) where Danz People and Down Syndrome Association will teach participants their favourite K-pop moves, while Spanish Dance Singapore inspires self-expression through Flamenco for diverse participants.

It will also be Esplanade’s first ever Integrated Dance Workshop specially customized to participants with disabilities (physical, sensory, developmental and/or intellectual). Open to differently-abled participants between 15 to 30 years old who are able to follow simple verbal cues and instructions, ILL-Abilities will be conducting this creative movement-exploration workshop, encouraging participants to discover their strengths through creative movements, team activities, exercises and challenges.

Lastly, all of Esplanade’s venues are wheel-chair accessible.

At this point, while we are unable to make every session or every program of this weekend fully accessible by everyone, we endeavor to ensure that our programs offer various degrees of access to different communities.

To me, access is not a checklist, but an opportunity to understand wider audience needs, and deepen our engagement. We look forward to welcoming more diverse communities to come to Esplanade and experience dance at EveryBody.

This image shows a group of about 8 people in a dance. The dancers in the first row are dressed in a black-and-white striped tee with black pants while the dancers in the second row sport white tees and black pants.

Q: The message of the True Colors Festival is “One World One Family” – what do these words mean to you?

To me, “One World One Family” is about removing barriers, and a broader acceptance of all bodies and all communities as “one”. We are all unique in our own ways; each one of us has the right to be seen and heard as equal.

da:ns focus – EveryBody takes place at the Esplanade from 14-16 April 2023. Its full program line-up can be found here.

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True Colors Festival

TCF is a long-running international festival of performing arts. We celebrate diversity and inclusion, and embrace the fact that we are One World, One Family. We choose the arts as our platform, for its power to move, inspire and heal.

As a festival, TCF brings people together to generate exchanges, innovation and creativity; and transform the way we relate to each other.

Presented by The Nippon Foundation, TCF brings diverse artists and audiences together through concerts, documentaries, music videos, film screenings, children's programs, musicals, workshops and other activities. Since 2006, festivals have been organized in Southeast Asia and Japan, with more than 1,200 artists from more than 30 countries connecting with a global audience in more than 80 countries.

TCF invites you to journey with us, to enjoy, experience, share and spread our consciousness of being One World, One Family.

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