Fluid Fest show Dancing Difference asks us to reimagine the body and the mobility tool

Most people have a fairly clear idea of what a wheelchair does.

Until, that is, the All Bodies Dance Project get their hands on one in See and Be Seen.

That’s the name of one of two pieces the Vancouver-based dance company are presenting during Dancing Difference, at the 2017 Fluid Festival in Calgary. (The other is also a duet called Verbatim.)

In See and Be Seen, manual wheelchair user Adam Warren performs a duet with standing dancer Carolina Bergonzoni, using Warren’s wheelchair in unexpected ways, says All Bodies artistic director Naomi Brand.

“They both stand in and out of Adam’s chair,” says Brand. “The chair sort of becomes a creative tool (in a way).”

See and Be Seen dares the audience to re-contextualize the idea of disabled.

“We don’t necessarily use the kind of mobility tool in its fully functional way that you might expect a wheelchair to be used, so it sort of becomes a character in and of its own,” Brand says. “It’s really like a good demonstration of what I think good disability dance can be: using the bodies and their mobility tools and mobility aids in different choreographic ways.”

That juxtaposition is kind of what All Bodies Dance Project is, in a nutshell, says Brand, who, prior to relocating to Vancouver, spent seven years in Calgary working at MoMo Dance Theatre.

Dancing Difference is being co-presented by the Fluid Fest with Inside/Out Theatre, Calgary’s disability theatre company.

Along with All Bodies Dance Project, Dancing Difference features What’s Left of Us, a performance by Calgary’s Justin Many Fingers and Toronto’s Brian Solomon, and a screening of We Regret to Inform You… a documentary film about Edmonton playwright Heidi Janz, a PhD who also has cerebral palsy.

Many Fingers, who was recently part of the Making Treaty 7 project, before departing to perform in the National Arts Centre presentation of Riel, has a unique physical condition: he’s missing part of his left hand. At least he thought it was unique, until he discovered Solomon had the same condition.

“The play explores their coming together as they were living it these very unique circumstances,” Inside Out artistic director Col Cseke says. “Both indigenous men, both living on different reserves across the country, both coming to terms with their sexuality, but also they were both born with a physical condition that they (share).

“They’re (also) the same age,” he adds, “and (also), in their twenties, both went into performance and trained as dancers. Really, these remarkably parallel lives.”

One day, Many Fingers met Solomon.

“They found each other,” Cseke adds, “and started to explore their sort of pairing in a (new) show.”

That was the launch point for What’s Left of Us.

“The most remarkable thing to me that happens in the show,” Cseke says, “is (that) they set up their moms on two different ends of the country, on a phone call, and recorded the phone call, and much of the dance is danced to the soundtrack of their moms speaking to one another.”

The third piece of Dancing Difference documents Janz’s battle with the federal government to convince them she is disabled, because once they become aware of her long, successful career as both an academic (at the University of Alberta) and playwright, they make a bureaucratic decision to deny her a disability benefit — despite the fact that her cerebral palsy leaves her physically incapable of caring for her daily needs.

“They’re really calling into question her disability, based on the idea that she’s this intellectual powerhouse and physically dependent on care,” Cseke says. 

“And so this very, very funny documentary follows Heidi on a day in her life,” he says, “and shows her, all the logistics — everything from getting up in the morning, having a day and going to bed at night — intermixed with these sort of correspondence between her and the government.”

“It’s very funny,” he says, “and (also) ultimately begs the question: what do we mean by disability?

“What do we mean by that culturally,” he adds, “and what do we mean by that legally?”

The 2017 Fluid Festival and Inside Out Theatre present Dancing Difference Friday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the DJD Dance Centre. For tickets please click here.

Stephen Hunt is the 2017 Fluid Festival writer in residence. He wrote about theatre for the Calgary Herald for 10 years, and teaches playwriting at UBC. He is also the author of The White Guy: A Field Guide. You can reach him at, follow him on Twitter here, and read his blog The Halfstep here.