Ingrid Voorendt is a choreographer and director as well as the former Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre. Restless is an integrated dance company based in Adelaide, Australia, featuring young disabled and abled dancers. Their latest show, Beauty, has just finished its run at the Adelaide Festival Centre. You can visit the Restless Dance website for more.
I spoke to Ingrid about her thoughts on disability and dance, creativity and the nature of beauty.
Please tell our readers about what you do and about Beauty. Can you tell us about your creative process in dreaming up and putting the show together, working with the dancers and those behind the scenes?
Ingrid: It’s a collaborative process, so I come up with questions and tasks to get the dancers creating movement material. I don’t choreograph ‘on’ them, we work together to devise the movement that’s in the show. In Beauty some of the movement came from interpreting the shapes, postures and gestures we found in images of women in classical visual art. The dancers responded to the images, creating movement material. We also developed material through improvisation. My job is to initiate the process and then edit, shape and compose the developing material to create a show, and to work in collaboration with the set and costume designer, sound designer and lighting designer through dialogue and decision making.
Why was it important for you to explore the notion of beauty? What do you think it is, and how to explore it in a world in which disabled people aren’t often thought of as beautiful?
Ingrid: I was interested in exploring the notion of beauty for a range of reasons, one being simply that I’d rebelled against ‘the beautiful’ in a couple of previous Restless shows I’d directed, in terms of content and aesthetic. Beauty was inspired by some of the dancers themselves, in particular Dana Nance, who is a stunning young woman with physical and intellectual impairments. I was interested in the oscillation audience may perceive or experience between Dana’s beauty and her impairment. With Beauty, I wanted to make a work in which the disabled performers would be viewed as beautiful first and foremost. My favourite moment in the show was when Dana stepped into a projection of the Venus de Milo (a classic image of beauty), in which she fits perfectly.
I think beauty is much more than surface, as I believe we all do, but we live in a culture increasingly driven by the visual, by a world of images. It’s true that in our society disabled people aren’t often thought of as beautiful, and I hope Beauty questions this in a subtle way. Beauty is also linked to sexuality, which is also often denied in disabled people.
How do representations of women’s bodies tie in with disability in Beauty?
Ingrid: I found it interesting to discover during our research that (unsurprisingly) many of the poses found in images of women in classical visual art are echoed in contemporary fashion photography and advertising. So in a subtle way in the show we were playing with these images which reference both the past and the present, but disabled women were the ‘bodies’ being looked at, and on their own terms. The opening of the show was a solo by Jianna Georgiou, a gorgeous young woman with Down Syndrome, who is a beautiful, quite voluptuous dancer. I loved watching this solo, because the movement within it is so evocative of classic images of ‘beautiful’ women – and Jianna is very beautiful, and is also a proud disabled woman. I liked the fact that Jianna was representing herself, yet referencing the bodies of others. I hoped that the audience would question their perceptions around who is/whose bodies are beautiful.
Now that the run is over, do you have any thoughts you’d care to share looking back on the experience?
Ingrid: It’s always such a fast and intense process making a show, and there’s so much I’d like to change and develop further. I think Beauty could have gone a lot further and deeper than it did. Hopefully there’ll be a chance to revisit it in the future.