6 informonline.org.au Feature It’s a Sunday morning in Melbourne and the air is laced with a crispness that points to the changing seasons. As the sun climbs into the sky, members of Weave Movement Theatre, one of the country’s only disability-led inclusive dance and physical theatre companies, gather in a workroom at Siteworks in Brunswick. Tables and chairs that give some hint of the building’s former life as a school are pushed to the edges of the room, revealing a timber floor dotted with scuff marks from decades of use. In early May, Weave Movement Theatre performed at the ButohOUT! Festival at the Abbotsford Convent. Their performance was part of an ongoing collaboration with acclaimed Japanese-Australian artist Yumi Umiumare, the only Japanese Butoh dancer in the country. Umiumare is absent today (she’s leading a weekend workshop as part of the festival) so Weave’s co-founder and artistic director, Janice Florence leads rehearsal. Today, the group will run through various elements of their performance. Originally called the Dance of Darkness, Butoh’s genesis is in 1950s post-war Japan so it’s not surprising that there is a sombre mood to the form. Words like dark and grotesque are often used to describe Butoh, but this year’s festival challenged that by asking if the audience can laugh at Butoh. The festival explored the theme Forbidden Laughter and focused on surreal comedy. Humour is a reoccurring theme for Weave. The company’s work has been described as possessing a signature style of ‘absurd humour’, a description that Florence embraces. ‘Well that’s my sense of humour,’ she says, laughing, ‘[and] it seems to strike a chord with people in Weave.’ ‘I think it’s also tuning into a sort of reaction that you have to the situation of having a disability, in a way. Sometimes I call it cosmic humour, because you’re confronted with this world that has attitudes towards you and sometimes all you can do is laugh.’ But Florence believes that humour is also a way to subvert traditional disability themes. ‘I think I’m sort of rebelling against that in a way, you know: oh, it’s miserable, it’s horrible, oh god. But you know, that’s a burden for us to carry in a way. We don’t want to go around feeling miserable all the time. So, it’s a bit of a reaction against that and a way of coping with the world, too.’ Traditionally, the relationship between art and disability has hinged on art being a form of therapy and while Florence believes that in many ways art is a form of therapy for everyone, the company works to emphasise that they’re artists and they’re making art. Weave Movement Theatre was founded in 1997 following a series of workshops and masterclasses arranged by Arts Access Victoria with the visiting British inclusive dance company 'Can Do Co', Florence was invited to teach the workshops and after they wrapped up, the group were keen to continue and wanted to perform.
Feature informonline.org.au 7 The company’s work has been described as possessing a signature style of ‘absurd humour’ Last year, Weave celebrated its twenty-first birthday with a retrospective photographic exhibition supported by the City of Melbourne. The company has worked with a range of national and international artists, including Sally Smith and Michelle Heaven, collaborations that have offered important opportunities for Weave members. ‘People with disabilities find it really hard to get into training institutions in the performing arts and having artists come in, well-known, respected dance artists, theatre artists coming in, to teach and to direct things has been like a training ground,’ Florence said. But the collaborations also serve to provide training for the artists working with Weave. Florence likes to think that the artists who work with the company are influenced to think about the way they work and encouraged to do more inclusive work. The arts have long been a part of Florence’s life. She studied ballet as a child and was a voracious reader. After university, she became involved in community theatre but felt something was missing when she was on stage. She enrolled in the graduate diploma of movement and dance at Melbourne University and became interested in a range of dance forms. Florence credits this training and the many classes she took both at home in Australia and overseas to assisting her when she acquired a spinal injury after an accident. ‘I found my own mode of expression in dance…I sort of came home to enjoying things my body could do and not feeling I had to be a certain size and shape and just taking on the joy of movement more,'