Time Out speaks with Janice Florence about Weave Movement Theatre's bouffon and impro inspired dance-theatre piece
Weave Movement Theatre is a Melbourne based, ability inclusive theatre company that develop physical theatre works for people with and without a disability. Premièring at this year's Fringe Festival, the groups new work, Flock, explores our tendency to insist on insiders and outsiders, power figures and outcasts.
Time Out Spoke to artistic director Janice Florence, who is a performer and also a paraplegic, about the group's latest work.
Hi Janice, tells us about some of the metaphorical images you're playing with in this show -- the weaving and the flocking?
Weave Movement Theatre has been the name of the company for 16 years. People with different types of disability and without disability are woven together, theatrical forms are woven together in a loose, colourful fabric that unknots, flies apart and re-entangles. The flock is the idea of the invisible, instinctual threads that tie humans, a flocking creature, together, though we can break away or cast individuals out. We can collide and we can tend to eye other nearby flocks with suspicion. Feathers can fly.
Did this show emerge from the same improvisational techniques the company has been working with this past decade?
This show began in two creative development phases with the Melbourne company Born in Taxi leading. We worked with dance and movement improvisation and also with the theatrical style called "bouffon", derived from a French style where in medieval times the poor and other social outcasts performed in a way that mocked their betters, jumping between flattering them and being very rude and outrageous. They performed in groups backing each other up, egging each other on. There are obvious connections with the experience of disability, still a disadvantaged state that society isn’t really comfortable with. A number of Weave performers love creating characters and working with text. The bouffon style has been freely interpreted by Weave performers in their own style and forms part of this show. Movement and dance have always been basic in Weave. Performers work with improvisation tasks to produce creative material which is sifted and developed and to some degree set for performance, but there is often room for some improvisation within set 'scores'. There is a loose narrative round the theme, laced with wry, absurd humour, physical and verbal.
Tell us about your job as a disability activist. What is the overlap with your work with Weave Movement Theatre and your activist role? In what way can performance mean activism?
I think the very act of people with disability performing and doing that well, of sometimes being very funny with humour that emerges from various states and experiences is a statement. It goes against the various conventional boxes that people like to tidy disability into. In general people have very low expectations of people with disability. They seem to think that our lives are full of misery and that they must be solicitous and helpful to us constantly. The whole – ‘aren’t you brave and inspiring for even getting up in the morning?’ thing… I hope that these assumptions will be at least questioned by seeing Weave perform
What are some of the expectations that Weaves seeks to subvert? What shouldn't we expect from a Weave show?
I think there is a common expectation that all performances that involve performers with disability must be about disability issues. That is one expectation I like to shatter. Why should they be? Are people with disability only interested in disability issues? Likewise do women only want to perform about women’s issues? There is a place for performance about disability issues but the people in Weave have many interests like everyone else and these emerge in the shows we create. Any statements about disability are indirect in Weave performances and often in the eye of the audience member. Also expectations of dance and physical performance often have to do with physical perfection but there are many ways of dancing. I often think that people project onto people with disability and onto the performers their own uncomfortable vulnerable, sad and fearful emotions that they like to detach from themselves and so they often say they are ‘moved’. I feel we do get past that reaction in our performances at least part of the time. An absurd humour comes from some Weave performers partly at least from experiencing the way the world reacts to disability and from various ways of being and seeing. I encourage that.
How has Weave evolved or developed since its inception as an arts access workshop program?
Weave has worked with many guest artists and directors over the 16 years of its existence. Quite a few performers with and without disability have come and gone in the company, some have arrived and stayed for long periods. All of these artists and performers have enriched and informed the company. We started with mostly people with a physical disability working with performers without disability but gradually performers with a wider range of disability came to us, mostly from the Ignition theatre course at NMIT. This has become a really interesting and close ensemble. It is unusual and quite radical to have this mix of people. Disability companies often seem to focus on one type of disability. Gradually we have learned to find the strengths and qualities of each performer and these qualities in turn effect and develop our evolving form of theatre. I especially have learned much along the way about drawing on strengths and the forming of performance works, including leaving beloved bits on the cutting room floor to use a film analogy.