In striking contrast to Anand Bhatt’s recent Wild Card night at Sadler’s Wells, Take a Closer Look, Laura Dajao choreographed, commissioned, inspired, and adapted almost everything on her programme, and she also performs in four out of seven pieces.
There are reasons for this. Dajao was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007 and the evening is built around an exploration of this condition and its implications for both everyday and stylised movement.
Before we get to see any dance, there’s an interactive installation: various simple challenges (e.g. tie your shoelaces with boxing gloves) and a wheelchair assault course. These are conversation points and they allow us some insight into how hard, say, using a manual wheelchair to get over a speed bump might be. They’re also fun because they’re a game and we want to do it fast and we want to get praise from the facilitators. I wasn’t sure whether I should be having fun though because if you live with a condition that means you have to be in a wheelchair every day, I shouldn’t imagine that the process of using a wheelchair would be fun. I felt okay about it about it because I was given license to by the curator of the event but, retrospectively, it made me feel quite weird because it felt a bit like a fairground ride.
Like many of the other Wild Card curators, Dajao had clearly put a lot of thought into the whole user experience. Our wheelchair assault course followed particular coloured lines and we followed similar lines in order to enter the auditorium, which we did via the accessible route, one that doesn’t involve steps (except that there are steps we can take so I just did that). In the end, the attempts to make me understand what it is like to be in a wheelchair through “doing” are problematic. There’s a directness about them, yes, but at times the approach felt overly literal.
When it comes to the “watching”, there are similar moments of discomfort, as in Human, the opening duet choreographed by Hakeem Onibudo and performed by Dajao and Keanu Wilson, as the clearly able bodied Keanu sits in a wheelchair half way through while Dajao remains in a chair throughout. The fluidity of moving to and from the chair may reflect quite specifically on the life of someone is diagnosed with MS as an adult, as opposed to someone who has been in a wheelchair their whole life. As with the rest of the pieces in the evening, there’s nothing particularly exciting or particularly original about the choreography but Dajao succeeds at bringing together pieces that cumulatively form a provocative artistic exploration of disability.
The importance of the gesture meant that at times the evening felt overly worthy; so Me, Me, Me…and You? choreographed and performed by Dajao and Charlene Low as Sardines Dance Collective, came as a breathe of fresh air because of its mischievous humour.
It’s basically a send up of Strictly Come Dancing: a duet between Dajao and Low (again Dajao in her wheelchair and Low not) with moments of brilliant physical comedy as cheesy ballroom dancing descends into physical fighting. There’s a glorious slow motion section with Dajao’s shoe. What was particularly delightful about that piece is how much Dajao’s personality came through. It was delightfully idiosyncratic and that’s something that you could say about the entire evening. I might not have enjoyed all of it but, in the end, I found myself won over because it all came from such a personal place and was suffused with honesty.
Review of Wild Card: Vicki Igbokwe
Review of Wild Card: Ivan Blackstock
Review of Wild Card: Dan Canham