Touch Compass pushes the boundaries

Two dance works exploring limitations, scale and physical boundaries, were staged in 2015 by a dance company devoted to giving disabled people the chance to dance at a professional level.

Touch Compass is an inclusive national dance company based in Auckland. In August 2015 it staged a multi-media show, Acquisitions, in Hamilton and Wellington. The production was made of up of two performance works, Undertide and Watching Windows, alongside a series of short films. Three of the seven dancers who performed the works have disabilities.

Undertide examines how human beings experience living within a body – from the inside out. Watching Windows explores humanity as seen through little windows. In each work, the dancers used boxes as props – dancing inside them and around them.

Touch Compass Artistic Director Catherine Chappell says the intent is always to stick to the choreography of the works, but the works were slightly modified to suit the dancers’ particular physicalities. “Different bodies can do totally unique movements,” she says. This was true for any dance company, because there are always particular qualities that a dancer brings to the work. “But it’s more pronounced with our company.”

Catherine says the dancers are challenged to push beyond what they believe are their own capabilities. “That is our whole ethos in Touch Compass. When someone comes in, they have to work really, really hard.” The company works hard to find strategies, such as visual cues, to help dancers recall their moves.

She says Touch Compass is one of the few dance companies in the country offering a career path to dancers with disabilities. It sets out to challenge and change views on what dance is and who can do it.

“I actually get very frustrated that we can’t reach more people and we can’t do more shows,” Catherine says. “I think people who come to see us, their attitudes change. You just want to be able to reach more people and touch more people.”

The company is also evolving in the way it thinks about itself. Catherine says they have stopped using the terms mixed abilities and integrated dance and instead uses ‘inclusive’ to describe their practice. “Eventually we won’t need labels.”