Before the bus broke down, Brenda Gough never dreamed of taking up modern dance.
These days, as she rehearses for her debut performance at Dusk Dances 2001,
she can't help laughing at the circumstances that find her swooping and
turning across an empty wading pool in Dufferin Grove Park.
"It's the first time for all of us," she says of the trio in electric wheelchairs
who will take part in choreographer Eryn Dace Trudell's improvisation number "Real Wheels!"
starting July 24. "But we want the idea to grow."
Studio spaces are rarely barrier-free for wheelchair users
Gough was part of a group that was formed to go on regular outings beyond the city's boundaries.
When the bus they had been using gave up the ghost, they started meeting at the March of Dimes
in Toronto and inviting guests to come to them. In this way, they met dance teacher Calla Lachance,
founder of Canadian Dance- Ability and a firm believer in "mixed mobility."
The workshop Lachance gave the group became the basis for what Gough hopes will be a long-term
relationship with dance.
And when Lachance told her that dancer/choreographer Trudell was interested in mounting a performance,
she was quick to sign up.
If the combination of wheelchairs and dance brings to mind some sort of Hollywood musical extravaganza,
with carefully choreographed patterns shot from above, think again. Trudell's vision is one of free-flowing energy.
"I don't dictate the steps," she says. At rehearsals in the park, she talks about movement, about open
sky, about dancing in one another's auras.
Gough, Christene Rowntree and Bob Gerrie glide in power chairs. Trudell and Lachance are on foot
some of the time, but the performance may incorporate everything from the wheels of in-line skates
to a low dolly from a loading dock.
When Trudell, a graduate of North York's Claude Watson Program for the Performing Arts and New York's
Juilliard School, first thought about working with dancers in wheelchairs, she says she had this
vision of "a whole company of them coming up over a hill like a cascade of water."
Reality changed that vision of mixed mobility.
"There were things I just hadn't thought about," she says. "Certain parts of the body shouldn't bear weight."
And parts of the wheelchair are not for standing on.
But if the vision has been altered, it is no less compelling. Dusk Dances, where the audience can stroll through
the park from performance to performance, is the perfect setting to make improvisation accessible to all.
"Too often, modern dance is isolated from the public," says Trudell.
And for people who use wheelchairs, dance studio spaces are rarely barrier-free, she says. "They're either
not accessible, on the third floor of a walk-up, or they're not affordable."
"Real Wheels!" she hopes, will be just the beginning of a different approach.
Lachance is used to working with people who have always expressed themselves in ways that lend new meaning to society's
preconceived ideas of motion. The performance with Dusk Dances adds a new dimension to the improvisation work.
As part of a literacy program at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, she worked with people who are both deaf and blind,
then continued her exploration of movement and abilities through courses at George Brown College and Ryerson.
But it was at an improvisation teacher-training program in Oregon that things really started falling into place. Through Alito Alessi,
Emery Blackwell and their DanceAbility project, she went to Switzerland, working on integrated dance programs for children with and
"Movement of the upper body, the eyes, the head, the shoulders can be simple and beautiful," she says of Canadian DanceAbility and the
classes she teaches.
"Dancers in mixed mobility projects connect on a level that's very real to both of them. This isn't about disability, it's about dance."
For more information about DanceAbility, call 416-515- 8666.
"Real Wheels!'' will be part of Dusk Dances pay-what-you-can performances starting at 7:30 p.m. in Dufferin Grove Park, July 24 to 29.
Wheel-Trans drop-off is at Havelock and Dewson Sts. For details of other Dusk Dances performances, call 416-533-5028.