Disability In Performance at the Flynn

The past weekend we spent engaged with other artists with disabilities. Thursday night we got the weekend off to an early start by attending a VSA VT fundraiser, complete with brief performances. The event took place in a venue overlooking Lake Champlain, and the lake gave her sound endorsement by providing a memorable sunset. The wine sampling, courtesy of Shelurne Vinyards, was exceptional.

Friday evening we attended a performance of Caterpillar Soup, written and performed by Lyena Strelkoff. The performance was sponsored by the Flynn Center, and involved a collaboration with Sandglass theater. (Sandglass is one of our favorite companies; although they are Vermont based, we don’t get to see them perform nearly as often as we would like.) Caterpillar is the story of Lyena’s spinal chord injury, and the two years that follow. It is funny, filled with pathos, and, as Lyena would say, “Sexy”. Strelkoff proved an immensely talented artist and dancer, and a riveting storyteller.

Saturday night we attended a performance of vocal music by Bella Voce Women’s Chorus. For this concert, the chorus was joined by the Alturas Duo, a string duo featuring music from Latin America. As one might guess, Latin American music was the concert theme. The evening held resonance to Friday night; the music alternately playful and heartbreaking. (One song, the American folk classic, “The River Is Wide”, contains a reference, in the second verse, to a tree breaking, a seminal event and metaphor in Caterpillar Soup.)  A fabulous concert, indeed!

Sunday night we attended a performance by Ping Chong and Company, also at the Flynn Center. The piece, Inside-Out, tells the stories of several actors with disabilities. It also questions the term, “disability”, providing a multivalent rendering of the politics of language. Inside-Out is part of a larger performance series, Undesirable Elements,” that challenges the representations of minorities in mainstream media and thought. Inside-Out was a fascinating, profoundly engaging, work of theater.

Both Caterpillar and Inside-Out remind the audience that disability is subjective, cultural derived, and unpredictable. We have all been disabled at one time or another, and will be so again. Disability is created through relationship between persons, and given form through the interplay of person, culture, and experience. One can become Other at any moment, and without warning.

Saturday the Flynn also hosted, with VSA VT, a gathering of disabled performance artists from around the state. At the same time, Ping Chong and Company were leading a workshop exploring their unique working style. Somehow, neither Jennie nor I knoew about either event until too late to change our plans for the day.

By the end of the weekend I was feeling great admiration and appreciation for the Flynn’s Director, John Killacky, and for Judy Chalmer, VSA’s Executive Director, and the rest of the staff of VSA. I look forward to promised future collaborations between the two institutions. I am also considering, for the first tie in ages, the possibility of creating new performances, shows friendly to my limitations and experience. We shall see.

 

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