Wed 22 Apr 2015
A performance art work created by learning disabled artist Ian Johnston (pictured), in collaboration with Gary Gardiner and the late Adrian Howells, a new show opening at Behaviour Festival this weekend is a gentle provocation on what is is to be a ‘Dancer.’ Ian and Gary both love to dance in public. Neither are trained dancers. They are two artists asking questions about visbility, opportunity and experiences; as well as sharing a few of their moves to songs by some of their favourite artists, including Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga and Nick Cave. We sat down with co-creator Gary Gardiner to ask about the music, the moves and the hard work that went into the making of this beguiling show.
Is it true that Dancer was the last piece that Adrian Howells worked on? What was he like as a collaborator, and what are your thoughts about his lasting contribution to the arts in Scotland?
Adrian was collaborating on a new show FAG for Behaviour last year at the time of his death so technically Dancer was the last show he made, rather than worked on. This of course makes Dancer all the more poignant for both Ian and I, but definitely creates a new level to the work for the audiences that knew him. Adrian was a friend and collaborating with him was logical and easy in this context. We were both motivated by the possibility of realising to some extent Ian Johnston’s desire to be recognised as the artist he is, and this was the driving force in the collaboration. It was always 3 men of varying ages playing with ideas relating to visibility and friendship. Adrian was particularly special in a rehearsal room, he most certainly had a way of drawing out the very best camaraderie in a space with his wit and kindness. It’s difficult without talking extensively to say how Adrian’s legacy will contribute to the arts in Scotland. I think it will always be his personality, candidness and generosity that will stick with people and influence their practice and these are such important qualities for him to have imparted.
With the popularity of Strictly and other shows, and the rise of clubbing culture as a mainstream activity, dancing is in many ways more popular than it has ever been. In what ways are opportunities for dancing and access to dance-based activities restricted for learning disabled people, and what do you think can be done about this?
I don’t believe dancing in a social/pastoral context is restricted for adults with learning disability. The Arches itself hosts an inclusive club night LATE, and certainly in terms of provision in the city I think there is access to various activities. The significant thing about Dancer is that Ian is an artist who uses dance as his primary tool to communicate and the gentle provocation in Dancer is more concerned with Ian’s (and mine) lack of professional training, aesthetic and right to assert our legitimacy to call ourself artists/dancers. Dancer has been funded by The Unlimited Commission, which supports and profiles the work of disabled artists but in terms of the theme of Dancer I think the visibility of disabled artists and access to the arts industry is probably a key conversation point.
The musical selections for Dancer are taken straight from the pop charts – what did you and your collaborators hope to achieve by using recognisable, memorable songs, and was there any satirical intent in your choices?
Ha! No satire intended at all. The songs are Ian’s choices and reflect his favourite music. It has changed slightly actually- he no longer likes Gangnam Style! I think the song choices enable us to create a relaxed and open environment for our audience; we invite them to indulge a little in the music.
At Behaviour this year we are examining the theme of ‘Futures.’ What can dancing teach us about ourselves and our fellow human beings that would be useful to know in the future?
Adrian would talk about ‘dancing with pure abandonment’ and felt he had learnt this from Ian, who does. There is an invitation in Dancer for us all to consider the way we feel, truly feel in the gut and we look at forcing the cerebral out for an hour. Not that we don’t want the audience to think, but we want the audience to feel first. In terms of futures I feel there is something in this for us all.
Your other collaborator on this piece is Ian Johnston. What was the experience of working with him like, and have you any plans to collaborate again?
Ian is a fantastic collaborator. We are very similar in the way we interpret, move and create, and Ian often acts as a barometer for creating material. If he likes it, is inspired by it, then its probably working very well. Ian and I will definitely continue to work together. We are about to begin a development for a new piece of work which will be in collaboration with Jon Reid and performed by Ian and I.
This is not your first Behaviour – what do you think the value of a festival like Behaviour is, and what effect did it have on your career when you won the Platform 18 Award?
Behaviour is the only festival of its kind in Scotland and is an important festival for Scottish based artists and audiences to see the work of our international peers. The breadth of the festival is always impressive and there is much to learn from this exposure. In terms of my own practice; I consider myself a portfolio practitioner and work in a variety of artistic contexts. Platform 18 enabled me to explore and experiment with an idea with the full support of a venue, and to take risks. This is always essential for artists.
Part of Behaviour Festival