It’s a rare occurrence to witness an auditorium buzzing with fourth grade students, let alone high schoolers, watch a performance without so much as a peep or a mischievous impulse to disrupt the happenings on stage.
Their polite attentiveness might be marked up to the well-mannered nature of the students from the American Community School and Cranleigh Abu Dhabi. Or it could be that none in attendance had ever seen someone in a wheelchair and another on crutches move with the grace, energy, and poise of the Candoco dancers.
As part of The Arts Center’s community outreach initiatives, Candoco Dance Company, dedicated to the inclusive integration of people of determination alongside dancers without disabilities, put on a matinee for Abu Dhabi school students and people of determination.
The performance of Trisha Brown’s landmark work Set & Reset/Reset, adapted specifically for Candoco, was sensory modified, with adjustments to lighting and volume, to ensure the performance was accessible for neurodivergent audience members looking to attend.
The performance was followed by a question and answer for the students with Joel Brown and Olivia Edginton, two of the dancers from the troupe, moderated by The Arts Center’s Reem Saleh, Associate Director of External Relations.
“How do you do all this cool stuff?” one of the fourth-grade students asked, clearly a question marked for Brown, who performs using a wheelchair.
His response gave an insight into his childhood and could resonate with any athletically inclined child, “I liked to play sports, and I found a lot of discoveries through athletics and trying to go fast and turn. I mentioned skateboarding [earlier]. While I was a teenager, my friends were skateboarders and I would do all these tricks and wheelies, just in my wheelchair.”
This community engagement is a central component of The Arts Center’s purpose. Along with organizing creative and intellectually engaging performances, Bill Bragin, executive artistic director at The Arts Center, says that audience development and accessible community outreach is a main consideration whenever they are organizing any performance.
“We know that for many of our audiences, whether young people or adults, that their visit to a performance at The Arts Center may be their first time experiencing a certain artist’s work, or even a certain art form. I love that for many of the young audience members, their first encounter with contemporary dance was with an inclusive dance company, so the presence of people with and without disabilities on stage becomes normative from the start. We believe strongly that their immediate, visceral response, is totally valid. And then through discussion and engagement, we can help them to deepen their appreciation and understanding,” said Bragin.
This student matinee was presented as part of a new partnership with Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels and with the support of the US Mission to the UAE, highlighting the role The Arts Center has played in growing the dance ecosystem in the country, through presentation, commissioning, transmission, and education.
Sensory modified performances are regularly scheduled by The Arts Center as part of their effort towards providing rich artistic experiences that are accessible to the UAE community, and through advisors such as Special Olympics UAE, the special needs of diverse audiences can be accommodated, expanding the reach and impact of the work of NYU Abu Dhabi’s engagement in the community.