Winnipeg actor performs as dancer despite multiple sclerosis

Debbie Patterson knows no bounds. The veteran actor and director has just completed a successful run of her newest play, Sargent and Victor and Me, which dealt with her multiple sclerosis head on.

Debbie Patterson performs "Crutch" as part of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers

Johanna Riley of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers joins Debbie Patterson onstage for this very personal exploration of Patterson's struggle with multiple sclerosis. (Leif Norman)

Veteran Winnipeg actor and director Debbie Patterson knows no bounds. She's just completed a successful run of her newest play, Sargent and Victor and Me, which dealt with her multiple sclerosis head on.

Now she is trying her hand at dancing. She shares the stage with dancer Johanna Riley in a new work by Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers' artistic director Brent Lott, a full length piece called Crutch.

The work is an exploration of mobility and different ways of moving through space. Patterson and Riley have a fluid and varied relationship with each other on stage. Sometimes Riley is a support to Patterson, sometimes she is her assistant or slave.           

"There's a huge element of trust between us in this piece," she said.

The work also incorporates text, a lot of it "found" text, Patterson explained. 

Debbie Patterson in "Crutch" at Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers. (Leif Norman)
"We explored the ideas of body image and how we choose to present ourselves in society and looked at different forms of advice for women." 

Brent Lott spent a great deal of time with Patterson while creating the work. He says it has been a joy working with her.

"Her bravery is why this piece exists," he said. "It's a journey to triumph. I admire her artistry and her spirit. She's just lovely to be around."

Patterson said before she was disabled she was a very physical actor. After MS started to take hold, she turned her back on her body and gave up performing for a time. 

"But after a couple of years I decided I wanted to use my body again, even though it works differently from most peoples' bodies. I decided there must be something interesting and compelling in the way my body works."

While Crutch definitely explores her disability, Patterson tells us not to expect a sad and gloomy piece.

"I hope people are somehow inspired by the playfulness of the piece, that it's not all heavy, 'oh disability, oh so sad, oh we all don't want to be disabled,' that there's so much fun and joy in the piece," she said.

Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers presents Crutch with Debbie Patterson and Johanna Riley at the Rachel Browne Theatre March 26 - 29 and April 3 - 5. Hear Debbie Patterson on Information Radio on Wednesday March 26.