Returning to dance with Touch Compass
18 August 2014
By Andrea Moxham
By the time Tess Connell was five, she was taking ballet classes and loved being on stage. At the age of 12, she was dancing with Auckland inclusive dance company Touch Compass.
Having a disability, she says, “wasn't an obstacle, it was an exploratory process”.
In particular, she gives credit to Catherine Chappell, Artistic Director of Touch Compass, who was very welcoming, and “got a lot of stuff out of me that I wouldn't have otherwise found”.
Aged 12 in 2003, Tess performed in Touch Compass films such as Timeless and The Picnic. “In The Picnic,” she laughs, “I thought I was the star.”
From there, she performed in some of Alyx Duncan's films until she was 14. And then she changed direction and got involved in soccer.
In early 2014, Tess rejoined Touch Compass after a nine-year break. She returned with fresh enthusiasm and a renewed passion for dance.
In the intervening years, Tess gained a BA degree and Post Graduate Diploma in Psychology from Auckland University. She has also been teaching social sciences at Unitec.
Tess was part of Touch Compass's recent show, Acquisitions’14, which featured at Auckland’s Q Theatre in August. “I think I have something different to offer to the company. I haven't studied dance like most people who have come through the Unitec dance scene.”
Acquisitions’14 included three works. Tess worked with Adrian Smith on Watching Windows, a work about “precious little moments of humanity seen through little windows”. It was performed in a two-by-two-metre box.
Offering up ideas and movements
Tess says she enjoyed offering up ideas and different movements for this work, which was driven mainly by Adrian. Another duo, Georgie and Alisha, also worked together and developed original material for this work.
These multiple elements were co-ordinated and put together by Catherine Chappell.
Tess danced in the second work in the show, called Undertide – a film and live performance work by award-winning New Zealand/United States choreographers Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad.
The third work was the interactive DanceBox project. This included four films developed during a DanceBox film project workshop held in April this year. Tess features in all of the films, which were projected in the same two-by-two-metre box in which Touch Compass filmed.
This was displayed in Q Theatre foyers throughout the Acquisitions’14 season.
Tess was a support tutor for the DanceBox film project workshop, which involved members of Touch Compass's community class. With this project, the dancers shared stories on “something that changed my life”, and Tess was involved in helping turn these stories into dance.
“Getting back into doing dance has been a big shift and I've enjoyed it a lot,” she says. “It’s nice to be in my body rather than in my head all the time.”
Return to Touch Compass
She says that until she returned to Touch Compass this year, she had little contact with the disability community.
“Now, it's been cool re-realising myself as a person with a disability because of contact with others. And realising I have no hands. I normally don't think about it.
“For example, when I move in a particular way I think I look like a person with arms. But it's about realising the different ways I move; how it’s different to non-disabled people; and how it also looks different.
“So I might adjust by moving my weight over slightly. It's about understanding and recognising the limitations and possibilities that come from my body.”
Tess is also coming to realise that the interactions she’s always thought were “normal” are actually unique to her. For example, she says, people are surprised she can do her own shopping.
“Touch Compass’ philosophy is that the dancers on stage are completely unapologetic that they have a different body,” Tess says. “It can really challenge people’s ideas of what a dancer is.”
Tess believes it’s important to “have fun”' and “give what you have to offer; to just go with it and see what happens”.
This philosophy appears to serves her well.