You don’t really need wings to fly, or in this case, legs to dance. Dance companies Artscape and Unmute Dance Company broke down those perceptions at the National Arts Festival yesterday with their novel integrated dance number, Unmute, which features three disabled dancers.
Andile Vellum, who is himself deaf, set about finding different dancers from various backgrounds who could relate to one another and together “un-mute the feelings, perceptions, social norms and expectations of what society perceives as dance”.
With a limited set and no added special effects, Vellum’s routine left the audience in awe as physically disabled dancers Zama Sonjica and Nadine Mckenzie – who are both in wheelchairs – performed moves that involved twirling, spinning and dipping. The high energy routine is performed to deep haunting music and they received a standing ovation from the audience.
Vellum said the routine was designed to change public perceptions about what dancing is and to break down all barriers between able-bodied people and the physically disabled.
This is Unmute’s first showing at the Grahamstown festival. “I looked specifically for dancers with different backgrounds because I wanted each of them to bring something different to the dance number,” Vellum said.
“Each of us face different challenges in life, so I left it up to the dancers to decide what it is they wanted to unmute.”
Born in rural Tsomo, Sonjica said he lost both his legs after a tragic car accident.
Sonjica said he had never considered dance a career, until a friend introduced him to Remix dance company, which later closed its doors, but not before paving the way for him to meet Vellum.
Cape Town-born dancer Nadine Mckenzie lost the use of her legs as a toddler, also after a car accident, and had been drawn to dance from childhood. The group also features able-bodied dancer Yaseen Manuel.
“We started performing together in 2012, with our first festival being Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg. The audience really responded positively to us, but it was then that I realised that I don’t do this for people to see me, I do it because I have to,” Sonjica said.
With a gruelling schedule that begins at 8am and goes on to 5pm every day, Mckenzie said it was the dancing that ensured they stayed fit.
“I did ballroom dancing before I saw an integrated show which came to my school one day. I admit that this kind of dancing is physically tougher but we have intense workouts to ensure that we are are fit enough,” she said.
Unmute is on today and tomorrow at 12pm at the Gymnasium. — firstname.lastname@example.org