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LeanerFasterStronger: Bodies in motion, extraordinary moves / 13 October 2011

Kiruna Stamell being 'dotted up' by Laura Haughey. Photo by Kaite O'Reilly

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I'm in Canada, revising the next draft of LeanerFasterStronger, the Cultural Olympiad commission from Chol Theatre in a co-production with Sheffield Theatres. The project is part of Extraordinary Moves, a major strand of the imove programme, which celebrates and challenges the relationship between people and their moving bodies through a series of arts projects across Yorkshire.

One of the processes I use when redrafting is to go back and revisit all the source material I've found that when there is a 'hole' in a developed draft, or a problem to be solved, invariably the missing link is offered up somewhere in the research material and earlier drafts. So it is with delight I'm in the process of reviewing my documentation of our research week at Sheffield Hallam Sports Science Lab, organised by Susan Burns of Chol Theatre in partnership with XMoves co-producer Dr David James I'm further aided in my revision by a documentary directed by Andy Duggan to be shown later this year at Leeds International Film Festival.

'Extraordinary moves celebrates human movement', Laura Haughey said, introducing me to the motion capture lab, where performers, choreographers, dancers, directors, scientists and this writer spent a week exploring movement potential and our relationship to moving bodies

My first introduction to sports science technology was through infra red cameras 'Dots' applied to the joints and other parts of the body 'captured' the subject in space and reproduced the physical sequence on a computer screen as lines of movement This in effect erased the human form, creating instead an arresting constellation of dots When these were joined up, 'stick' men and women moved on the computer screen, clearly revealing how very different bodies move in space.

Some participants didn't distinguish the avatar body as their own until they saw a recognisable movement trait, or an interaction with a cane, or what we coined the 'magic carpet' levitation provided by an unmarked moving wheelchair.

There has been a long cultural and linguistic practice of assigning meaning to the impaired body and I was particularly interested in discovering how this changed when the body was represented in such a different form Part of my role was to facilitate discussion and reflection after the sessions, so I asked the politicised disabled performer/ dancers how they responded to this 'new' mode of representation of themselves.

'I liked the experience of seeing a non-disabled version of myself' Kiruna Stamell said. 'It meant the movement could be analysed without social judgement of the body, without judgement of the politics Just to see the pure movement! The judgement around my physicality is more about my physical relationship as a disabled woman to an environment I'm in, not a judgement on my body as a judgement on my body'

Other activity that week included a physical workshop led by Andrew Loretto, working with two disabled and two non-disabled dancers, working with high speed cameras to capture the subtle movements and interactions not seen by the naked eye.

'We're interested in how people move, and what moves them' Laura said t'We're interested in how people move, and what moves them' Laura said to camera at the start of the day What struck me was the speed and intensity of engagement - the immediate and complex negotiations of equal bodies and space - the marked moments of tenderness, or of pure joy

For further footage of this extraordinary research week, please view Andy Duggan's award-nominated film at: