Choreographer: Koen De Preter
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Theater Stap is a Belgian theatre company that puts people with a learning disability at the core of their work. They bring their dance performance, To Belong, to the Lowry as part of the Sick! Festival. The company make work that puts the performers’ authenticity first, increasing the visibility of disabled performers. They aim to liven up the discussion about what makes theatre, and who can make it.
Their collaboration with Choreographer Koen De Preter, then, is hardly surprising. De Preter works widely with non-traditional performers, drawing on the power of the human touch rather than technical perfection. It opens up the opportunity for all performers to find their own level of technical perfection, depending on their ability.
The commitment that has gone into To Belong is inherent in it, with the company making a tightly choreographed piece look like fifty minutes of playful improvisation. It explores the nature of belonging, and the human need to be accepted as a member of a group. Loneliness, and the sense of being the outsider, happens at some time to us all, whether it’s a long- term struggle to fit in or a temporary state of feeling ostracised. People with learning disabilities have to work harder than many for acceptance, so this piece is heavy with personal feeling. In a series of simple movements they depict moments of coming together as one, in quiet meditation (just knowing the others are there), celebration (dancing, arm in arm, hand in hand), but amongst them, flashes of isolation and quiet despair.
To Belong is a performance packed with humanity. It is a celebration of imperfection, not least when the performers strip to their underwear and perform slow, intimate moves, standing close to one another but not touching, and often making direct eye contact with the audience. We are invited to study them, perhaps to judge them, and to compare them to ourselves. Their bodies are ordinary, not how we might think of dancers’ bodies, but much like our own.
This could be a challenging piece of performance, but it somehow avoids any awkwardness or the desire to hammer home a political message about disability. Instead it uses non-traditional performers to speak of the universal. The lack of text also makes it speak equally across language barriers, and suitable for deaf audiences. The eclectic soundtrack is interesting but hardly essential.
To Belong is bit short as a stand-alone piece. It would work well back-to-back with something else, or in a festival where there were other short performances to head on to afterwards. Sick! Festival could look at this in future years. There’s no doubt there will be more from them to come. In only its second year in Manchester the Festival is bringing some great international work that would unlikely make it to the city otherwise.
Reviewed on 18 March 201