As part of a programme Footnote New Zealand Dance began in 2016 in partnership with Arts Access Aotearoa, we’ve been working on building conversations around accessibility into the planning of our New Zealand tours, whenever possible.
We believe that contemporary dance, and art in general, should be seen and absorbed by all New Zealanders, regardless of ability.
While there are many ways to do this and many conversations to have around this topic, one way that we have been reaching a wider audience is by providing open access performances to community groups during our tours around Aotearoa.
This began as a trial in 2016. Then last year during our CONTRAST tour, which featured new dance works by Sarah Foster-Sproull and Emma Murray, we expanded our outreach by inviting disability, community and arts access groups to attend our dress rehearsals or matinees, free of charge.
Many of these groups were appreciative of the opportunity to see professional dance in a theatre – but without the pressure of having to follow the traditional “rules” of a theatre audience.
It was explained to our audiences, including groups from Parent to Parent, Arts on High, Women’s Refuge, IHC and The Shed Project, that they were being welcomed into a relaxed environment, where vocalisation and movement was allowed and where staff from Women’s Refuge who were on call could leave their phones turned on in case a client called.
"Experiencing incredible art"
Naomi Pears-Scown, a staff member at MIX creative space in Hutt City, attended our Wellington matinee with a group of its artists and said: “These kinds of performances are so worthwhile. They allow people to experience incredible pieces of art who would not otherwise be able to, because of the many barriers in their lives.”
Another audience member from the Wellington matinee told us that “It was so nice to see a performance that was complex in nature but accessible to our community.”
Footnote’s General Manager, Richard Aindow, believes shared arts experiences and accessibility are also incredibly valuable for the performers and the organisation.
“These more relaxed performances have produced some of the most powerful moments for us all in the last two years. It is such a privilege to be in a position to connect in this way, and we look forward to welcoming more people into theatres around New Zealand in 2018.
“In planning this programme with Claire Noble at Arts Access Aotearoa, we have also learnt what questions to ask our venues. Not all theatres around the country are fully accessible and this will play an increasing role in our decision-making around the bookings we make.”
"Champions of increasing access to dance and the arts"
Claire Noble, Community Development Co-ordinator at Arts Access Aotearoa, is “proud to be a part of it” and says, “It’s a fantastic initiative by Richard and his team. They are champions of increasing access to dance and the arts. Their inclusive attitude to their work and their audiences is awesome.”
In 2017, CONTRAST toured to eight centres around the country and was well-received by both reviewers and audience members. Raewyn Whyte of the NZ Herald described it as a “superb performance, the kind you want to see more than once”.
We plan to continue with this accessibility programme during our 2018 tours and keep expanding on our mission of bringing high-quality dance to everyone in Aotearoa!
Footnote New Zealand Dance is a member of the Arts For all Wellington Network.