Language barriers don’t exist for disabled dancers; dance and music are universal languages. Through this exciting project, a series of three documentaries, celebrate and connect disability arts communities in Korea and Australia. The documentaries highlight the extraordinary career pursuits of dancers with disability who succeed against all odds during a pandemic.
The documentaries, entitled Dancing Against the Odds will be co-produced over three years and is being led by University of South Australia academics, Professor Ruth Rentschler and Dr Boram Lee, leaders in the Arts and Cultural Management program at the university.
The documentaries follow the innovative, creative and diverse journeys of disabled artists across three organisations, Restless Dance Theatre in Adelaide, the Korean Music Project and 29Dong Dance Theater in Korea in a new dance theatre collaboration, Counterpoise.
Professor Rentschler and Dr Lee have developed an intercultural collaboration platform, Connect 2Abilities, which has enabled these artists to communicate directly with each other, building relationships and fostering cross-cultural engagement.
These powerful interactions film the creative development, digital and stage performances over the next three years. They form the basis of each documentary, shining a light on the transformative power of dance and what can be achieved through cross-cultural inclusion, involvement and understanding.
All communication for the project has been done through the language of dance, supported by English, Korean and sign language.
In this way, Connect2Abilities has helped develop the artists socially by creating a sense of belonging, being connected (virtually) with others with similar interests and skills, sharing and learning from each other regardless of cultural background.
Creating this sense of belonging for disabled artists has produced amazing results, boosting their careers and forming life-long friendships across cultural borders.
The project has been made possible through funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program. Other sponsorship has been provided by the Australia-Korea Foundation and Arts Council Korea, bolstering more than 60 years of bilateral relations between Australia and Korea.
The wider long-term goals of Connect2Abilities are to pave the way for ongoing collaborations and partnerships between Australian and Korean arts organisations.
Dr Boram Lee:
We see our project as timely and contemporary, but also socially and economically worthwhile for the disrupted creative industries post-COVID-19.
COVID-19 turned the creative industries and our project upside down. But pivoting to the digital brought far more opportunities than hurdles. It transformed people’s lives.
These documentaries will be raw, honest and confronting to people’s stereotypes of what disabled artists can do, even in the face of a global pandemic.
The documentaries will be screened at international festivals, symposia, as well as across television and digital platforms celebrating cultural diversity and inclusion.
The announcement of Dancing Against the Odds documentary co-production on Counterpoise coincides with The World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. This day is a United Nations-sanctioned event which promotes diversity and inclusion. This project, academically informed and practically led, is at the forefront of social change.
Project Leader Bios
Dr Ruth Rentschler OAM is professor of arts and cultural leadership in UniSA Business. Ruth’s interests focus on diversity and inclusion in arts management and the creative and cultural industries. Ruth has lived experience of disability through caring for her son, who has a serious mental health disability. Ruth is Chair of the Board of No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability and Australian Dance Theatre. She publishes widely and has obtained numerous grants over the years, with a long history of success.
Dr Boram Lee is a Senior Lecturer in Arts and Cultural Management, University of South Australia. Boram has developed expertise in disability and the arts through her publications and grants. Her professional involvement and life-long interest in theatre and the visual arts sectors led her to her current active research interests. She has a number of grants with Australia-Korea Foundation and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on arts, disability and technology, demonstrating her commitment to inclusion. She is a deputy chair of Nexus Arts and board member of Patch Theatre.
Restless Dance Theatre is Australia’s leading dance theatre company working with artists with and without disability. Their artistic voice is loud, strong and original. In the past seven years the Company has presented award winning works in Festival contexts nationally and internationally. Restless, as a Company, has been one of the leaders of the development of disability culture in Australia for the last 30 years. Their collaborative working methods have pioneered the expression of this culture in a distinctive movement language. Counterpoise will use this language to create a cross-cultural celebration of diversity. This non-verbal dance theatre work will eloquently address and express the dancer’s individual voices allowing audience members to reassess both dance, disability and differing cultures at the one time.
29Dong Dance Theater, based in Seoul, is a contemporary dance theatre company led by choreographer Sunyoung Lee. 29Dong, strives to fulfill the motto “contain the times with an awakening consciousness,” and prioritises those living contemporaneously. The company promotes artistic value and makes work that share lives while breathing art. 29Dong works with dancers with and without disability as well as deaf dancers.
The name 29Dong is a combination of the atomic number of copper, 29, and the Chinese character of copper which is pronounced as ‘Dong’ which has another meaning, ‘movement’. It was made with the will to play the role of a water pipe that conveys the beauty of art, aiming for a creative life that can be shaped and made of anything like copper’s characteristics of ductility, malleability, and heat passing through the water pipe.
Korean Music Project is a Korean traditional music organisation. They are pioneers, creating a new genre of music by embedding digital technology into their music practice. The organisation aims to share their musical expertise to further social innovation and to become ambassadors for Korean culture worldwide. By recruiting members who can play not only traditional music but also modern music, we are actively striving to expand the possibilities and horizons of Korean music and promote Korean culture more widely. Participating in Korea’s leading music festivals not only strengthens Korean traditional culture and pioneers new possibilities of modern music, but also contributes greatly to spreading Korean culture by being invited to various music festivals around the world, including Germany, France, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, and the United States.
Documentary Announcement from Dr Boram Lee and Professor Ruth Rentschler from UniSA and Connect2Abilities.
Documentary Announcement from Michelle Ryan, Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre:
World Diversity Day message from the Australian and Korean artists from Restless Dance Theatre, 29Dong Dance Theater and Korean Music Project.