Manifesto of a Good Cripple

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

29/10/2019 - 31/10/2019

Production Details

Manifesto of a Good Cripple is a collision of disability humour, dance, multiple landscapes and a subversion of inspiration porn.

The solo show reflects on the career of disability dancer, Suzanne Cowan, whose journey takes her across the world and deep into the politics of diversity.
Cowan’s autobiographical journey transports us into the depths of a vast, stark, Canadian landscape and back onto the European stage of mixed ability contemporary dance. It subverts expectations associated with inspiration porn and juxtaposes them with dynamic dreamscapes. The show explores the ambiguity of a shifting identity and the transformational impact of place in the unfolding of a dancer’s life.

Daily at 8pm. Tickets $25 – $28 with $15 and $20 Basement Mates tickets available for this event. 

Solo , Performance installation , Multi-discipline , Integrated dance/mixed ability dance , Dance-theatre , Dance ,

55 minutes

Happenstance and reverie

Review by Raewyn Whyte 01st Nov 2019

Entrance into the black space of the Basement Theatre is never easy. A low light-beam reminds me of my height and the seats are as black as the paint on the walls. A dancer is scribbling snow-capped mountains with white chalk on the wall upstage, enfolding our entry in purposeful symbolism. The pathway, the sound of the scribbles and the golden light infuse my senses and I am reminded of the multifaceted imagination of artistic expressivity.

Music, in a more direct version of rhythmicality, soundscape scored by Charlie Rose and Kristian Larsen, softly swells sensualism. I recognise I am in for an evening of sumptuous corporeal display. The dancer, Suzanne Cowan languidly finds her light and extends her arms facing the back wall, through wrists and hands right to the end of her fingertips. I treasure the moment she turns to reveal her face, arched from the neck and bathed in soft light designed by Sean Curham, still and golden like the greeting of old friends. Neck arching and arms long are an invitation to be realised.

Overlapping vignettes of this short performance reference an autobiographical account of happenstance and reverie through dance, visuals and script. In this work, Suzanne wears a wheelchair like a costume and introduces a second wheelchair like a partner in dance. As friends then in embodiment mode, the machines carve her space, keeping time in soft and squeaking pace. As I sit near the back of this tiny theatre, a brief dance of exploratory movement on the floor is somewhat concealed by other audience members. I sit in quiet wonder as I am enabled to see by this restriction, tiny fragments of delicate movement. I experience a carefully crafted deconstruction of sensory sainthood.

The result of the just as exquisite visual enhancements, on film and the backdrop by Adam-Luka Turjak, is shimmering vibration; visceral, three-dimensional connections to land and body. In autoethnographic reflective mode, Suzanne spreads filmed dance from Candoco (UK) and Touch Compass (NZ) and her more recent PhD work across the backdrop landscape. Light, movement and chalked mountain shimmer with vitality and undisrupted conversation.

Without mortification, each artistic choice produces a feast of perceptual and metaphorical intelligence. Towards the end of the evening Suzanne reveals her manifestos: good and bad inviting audience to shout their participation. Even with sardonic humour, the dancer holds her own.


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Reframing a dancing life

Review by Raewyn Whyte 31st Oct 2019

For the past twenty years, dancer/choreographer and disability artist Suzanne Cowan has been challenging definitions of what is to be a dancer. Dancing in and out of her wheelchair with Touch Compass integrated dance company in New Zealand, and Candoco mixed ability dance company throughout Europe, and subsequently through her choreography and academic studies, she has contributed to the expansion of dance as an art form which engages with a wide range of bodies, experiences, artistic perspectives and approaches.  

In Manifesto of a Good Cripple, an hour-long solo performance, Cowan puts her own life on stage, bringing together dance, text, film and design around themes of reviewing the past, learning from experience, and remaining open to new possibilities which emerge. She shares insights into her life, her travels around the world, the implications and ethics of disability, the conundrum of identity, and the future potentialities of being in the world.

The material with the most impact, of course, is that performed live: a series of short dances on key themes, and the presentation of two wickedly witty manifestos which play along the boundaries of political correctness and offer wry wisdom but nevertheless hit home with the audience. Received with laughter, Manifesto of a Good Cripple offers advice about providing what she calls “social grease” that makes others feel comfortable, how and why “inspiration porn” is to be avoided, and when social exchanges can be enriched by the crip’s observations.  Manifesto of a Bad Cripple, by contrast, encourages the relishing of crip experience to the exclusion of any other experience.

While a series of film clips show Cowan dancing with Touch Compass and Candoco, and dancing in her own choreographies for Grotteschi (with Adrian Smith) and her PhD creative practice presentation (with Emilia Rubio), it is the live dance solos which show Cowan at her best.

In the opening sequence, she rolls slowly to and fro, chalking a profile of the Canadian Rockies on the back wall, gazing contemplatively at their peaks and valleys, adjusting a line here, smudging a snow field there, pausing under a light to exult in the warmth as she curves and stretches her back and shoulders. A little later, she is tipped onto the floor at the base of the mountains, only to push herself through an agonizing, extended scrabble to escape from the wreckage of the pivotal, traumatic road accident which has injured her spine and added a wheelchair to her existence.   

Dancing in the chair that extends her dancing body and which she now experiences as a kind of hybrid exoskeleton, we experience Cowan’s strength and control, agility and expression of finely nuanced movement. She luxuriantly reprises her much loved dance for Ava the Spiderwoman from Grotteschi, exulting in Ava’s many-legged form, stroking her face sensuously with legs raised around her ears, and creating a cat’s cradle of limbs on her lap. Most poignantly, though, she dances with a second wheelchair, empty but kept in sync through her dexterous shifting and adjustments as the two chairs trace serpentine patterns and make super-fast crossings of the space. The empty chair can stand for many things – her stand-alone independence and individuality, the person she might have become, the loss of a dance partner or dear friend, but it is also open to the as yet unknown possibilities of future developments which she is committed to continuing to explore.

Though billed as a solo show, Manifesto of a Good Cripple is an interdisciplinary production with a full creative team behind it, and it is to their credit that the team’s contributions are beautifully intermeshed and deftly unobtrusive  Cowan’s team includes creative director Lara Liew, lighting designer, Sean Curham, choreographic adviser Clare Luiten, video and projection editors, Alyx Duncan and Adam Luka Turjak, and sound design by Charlie Rose and Kristian Larsen.


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