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Michelle Ryan lays bare some intimate moments in one of the most compelling shows in Unlimited / 6 September 2014

Michelle Ryan and Vincent Crowley from Torque Show, in 'Intimacy'

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Blog by Colin Hambrook

I was very excited when I heard Wendy Martin talking about her reasons for programming Michelle Ryan & Torque for Unlimited. Michelle had been a dancer with the Belgian Dance Company Les Ballets C De La B and Alain had encouraged Michelle to carry on dancing after the onset of MS meant that her movement changed enormously. She was frightened to dance. She was frightened she’d fall over. And Alain said “what’s to be frightened of? You just get up and carry on.”

If anyone out there remembers Les Ballets C de la B performing Foi (Faith) in the Queen Elizabeth Hall in March 2003 they are likely to recall a raving fool standing up and screaming “stop the war” at the top of his voice for five minutes at the end of the performance. I’m embarrassed to let you know that that was me! 

Foi was a dance theatre piece about dispossession and what happens to communities living through war. It had the dancers doing the most violent things to themselves and to each other that I’ve seen on a stage. And the show featured a learning disabled dancer who was there because it was important that Foi embrace community in as realistic a way as possible.

Michelle Ryan’s Intimacy is about the internal dispossession that happens with impairment. I could relate wholeheartedly to the images in the horrific dreams of being cut and sliced that Michelle tells with such a disarming, deadpan delivery.

The authenticity with which Michelle relays her experience touched on something universal that tells an 'everyman' experience about disabled peoples' lives. It reminded me of the dreams that come back to me from time to time; always about being buried; lost in caves that have no entrance or exit; of forgetting my name, or anything about myself.

And I thought these are important stories to convey. The last thing we want is pity, but in order for people to appreciate, there needs to be understanding of the reality of disabled peoples' lives. Of what it's like to live with impairment.

The show is also about the rejection and dishonesty you can face from others, from those you thought you trusted most, when impairment storms your life. 

Not that Intimacy is a tragic but brave story. It tells a tale of finding the inner resources to deal with the impact of disability and to make something poweful and authentic out of that experience. Intimacy finds it way with an all-abiding wry humour that permeates the songs, the stories, the engagement with the audience (yes, there is a fair bit of audience participation).

Intimacy doesn't set out to make its audience feel uncomfortable. Its intention is to let you know just how ridiculous life can be; and that when life undermines everything you thought you knew, the only option is to carry on and make the most of it; to make more of it than perhaps you would have made if you’d gone through life without an impairment.

Michelle Ryan is an artistic director with Restless Dance Theatre in Adelaide, whose work I'd thoroughly recommend.

Keywords: unlimited