What does it mean To Belong?

To Belong - Bart Grietens-13.jpg

As part of SICK! Festival 2017, The Lowry will be staging the UK Premiere of To Belong, by TheatreSTAP, a new dance performance about what it means to be part of a group, devised and performed by actors with learning disabilities.

It’s a timely presentation. A national debate about the quality of work by learning disabled artists is ongoing in the UK, led by movements such as Creative Minds and pioneered by companies such as Hijinx, Mind The Gap and Dark Horse.

TheaterSTAP creates professional performances in which people with disabilities take centre stage – and has been doing so for more than 30 years.

Marc Bryssinck, TheaterSTAP’s Artistic Director, has this to say: “Since its foundation TheaterSTAP has positioned itself as a professional company aiming to be part of the mainstream theatrical landscape. This puts great demands on our actors and the quality of our work.

“More than once we have decided to stop a creation process or to postpone the opening night of a performance. Not all people with disabilities have an artistic soul, a talent for acting or the attitude that’s necessary for being part of a professional theatre company.

“In order to create artistic performances, you need time and money and collaborations with passionate and skilful theatre-makers and designers. If these conditions are not met, companies could create a piece that is performed locally, but I don’t think it should be performed in the professional circuit. To build up the support of this circuit, work by disabled artists needs a level of quality.”

For To Belong, learning disabled performers have collaborated with Belgian choreographer Koen De Preter, an artist whose work is driven by a quest to present movements that are natural, honest and unaffected. This approach often leads De Preter to work with atypical performers such as 90-year-old Alphea Pouget (JOURNEY) and with groups of non-professional performers of various ages (While Things Can Change and The House That Built Us).

To Belong sees learning disabled performers explore what brings people together, what connects them and what causes people to care about one another.

“I am interested in authentic rather than virtuoso performance and all of my dancers are deeply involved in the creative process. Of course I teach them certain things, but most of the movements in To Belong were created by the performers themselves while improvising,” says De Preter. “In my work I mainly want to show vulnerability and sincerity. TheatreSTAP’s actors are the most sincere and generous I have ever worked with.”

The artists that play the piano, the guitar and the drums in the performance came up with the scores themselves. As a result To Belong is a performance that is both abstract and very close to the dancers’ world.

De Preter continues: “The sequence in which the dancers are in their underwear reminds the audience it is watching performers with disabilities, something it might have almost forgotten at that moment. At the same time, compared to professionally trained dancers’ bodies, the bodies of TheaterSTAP’s performers might be closer to the spectators.”

Written by Astrid Wijnants @ TheatreSTAP