Meet the team dancing on the 24-foot ramp that's taking disability art to new heights

Descent is the title of a new dance performance that's transporting dancers and audiences alike into a different understanding of disability art and movement.
Alice Sheppard, Laurel Lawson and Michael Maag are all sitting in their wheelchairs in profile. Alice leans onto Laurel who is leaning onto Michael. They are all smiling. (Photo by Robbie Sweeny)

When you think of a wheelchair and a ramp, the first thing that probably comes to mind is basic accessibility, a simple architectural standard. For the team of dancers at Kinetic Light, a ramp represents so much more.

In a performance titled Descent, dancers in wheelchairs bring to life Auguste Rodin's famous sculpture, Venus and Andromeda, on stage. The dancers move across a 24-foot ramp that looks more like the perfect surf swell than your standard building access ramp, mimicking the waves in the sea. 

Descent transports dancers and audiences alike into a different understanding of disability art and movement. The team from Kinetic Light, Alice Sheppard, Laurel Lawson and Michael Maag, joined Tom Power to tell us more.

The 24-foot ramp that Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson perform Descent on. Seen here lit by Michael Maag. The ramp is awash with cool colored light and water ripples, in the background a starry night sky sparkles. (Photo by Chris Cameron/MANCC)

Alice Sheppard on how Descent reimagines disability art

"I think disabled people have always made art of a number of kinds, but I think what we see on stage thus far tends to get put into one or two boxes. It's either work that has direct connection to the lived experience of living with an impairment or living with a disability. It can often be directly politicised to have to do with a message of social justice. And this other kind of work that comes alongside this that I really want to begin to investigate is work that feels invested in the culture of disability and the art-forms and the aesthetics that are enabled by disability."

Laurel Lawson on the strong connection between Rodin's work and disability art

"Rodin was one of the first Western sculptors to engage with what we might call a realistic body. He dealt with racialized images, he was not working solely with the Western, European, perfect white figure. He talked about the beauty in the incomplete. Well, to him it was incomplete, but to us we see amputation. Art historians talk about his grotesques, well we see palsy, we see spasm. When we look at Rodin, we see our people."

Laurel Lawson as Venus is flying in the air with arms spread wide, wheels spinning, and supported by Alice Sheppard as Andromeda who is lifting from the ground below. They are making eye contact and smiling. A starry sky fills the background and moonlight glints off their rims. (Photo by Jay Newman/BRITT)
Two silver wheelchairs, stacked, make an infinity shape with colourful stage light glinting off their spokes. (Photo by Jay Newman/BRITT)

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Produced by ​Ben Jamieson

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