From the day we are born to the day we die, we are reminded of all the things we cannot do; our bedtime stories are recycled cautionary tales of dreamers whose dreams crashed and burned, and our schools are where our potential and capacity for hope and change go to die. Ahmed is blissfully unaware of all the limitations that come with his genetic disorder. Born with Down syndrome, Ahmed lives with the additional burden of mankind’s self-fulfilling prophecies.
For the second year in a row, D-CAF (Downtown Contemporary Art Festival) is bringing disability in performing arts to the forefront – as if to confront a society that continues to refuse to address the subject. With three exciting acts, Disabled Theater, Theater Hora, and Stop Gap, the festival intends to challenge everything we know about persons with disability and their perceived lack of abilities.
A school teacher-turned-theatre director, Michael Elber is no stranger to potential, having taught children for most of his adult life, until he founded Theater Hora in Zurich, Switzerland in 1993. “I’ve worked in theatre before with children, and by chance I met children with disabilities, and I was very surprised by their presence on stage. And as a director, it is always my aim to work with interesting actors,” he says.
Another milestone was when he met his partner in crime, Chris Weinheimer, and together, the two made it their lives mission to forge a path in which persons with disabilities are seen for the artistic assets they are, rather than charity cases. “When we got together, it was never about politics for us. We always spoke about aesthetic and art,” Winheimer remarks. “The discussion surrounding disability in society was always about the theatre’s relationship with society and never within the theatre itself; sometimes our pieces addressed that, and sometimes they dealt with completely different themes.”
With disability as a periphery, D-CAF is pressing ahead with the plan to show that art can be transcended by great actors no matter their life chances. This year, the theatre company has packed its members and took the first flight to Cairo for Into the Wild, an interactive creative learning workshop for disabled actors, as part of D-CAF.
Together with French dancer and choreographer Jérôme Bel, Theater Hora will be celebrating World Down Syndrome Day, March 21st, with Disabled Theatre, a contemporary dance that will feature the company’s dancers, many of whom are Egyptian dancers who joined the workshop.
But disability can manifest itself in other ways, and as such, is redefined using other art forms. Nadeh Poan contracted polio as a child. Polio had already crippled his body, but the Cambodian dancer wouldn’t let it have his soul too; so, in 2013, he joined British contemporary dance company Stop Gap – which employs dancers with disabilities. Poan has been with the company ever since, performing, touring, teaching, and doing what he does best: winning at life. “I started dancing when I was 17, I discovered my desire to dance in a workshop I had participated in,” Poan recounts. “I didn’t quite see myself dancing in Cambodia, because I couldn’t find myself in Cambodian folk dance and that’s when I decided to join Stop Gap.”
Poan, along with British dancer Christian Brinklow and Marixell Checa, came to Cairo, where they are collaborating with Egyptian dancers from all backgrounds and all walks of life, for a street performance titled The Birds’ Murmuration.
Also, as part of D-CAF’s Arts & Disability focus, there will be two more street dance performance collaborations with Dutch dance company Misciconi and Irish collective Croi Glan titled Blocks and Square One, respectively.
Find out more about D-CAF 2017's Arts & Disability focus here.