Choreographer leads people from society's periphery onto the stage

'Guest' dancers with Down syndrome have been paired with professionals in a special performance for Durban’s annual dance festival

01 September 2017 - 10:24 By SHELLEY SEID
'Guest' performer Karl Hebbelmann dances up a storm with Dutch choreographer Adriaan Luteijn.
'Guest' performer Karl Hebbelmann dances up a storm with Dutch choreographer Adriaan Luteijn.
Image: Jackie Clausen

Dutch choreographer Adriaan Luteijn is celebrated for his inclusive modern dance pieces.

In them, he blends professional dancers with his “guests”, individuals who make us feel uncomfortable, who are kept invisible or forced to the periphery of society.

He has had dancers in their teens partner with women over 75; people with autism choreograph their own work; and created a dance between a ballerina and four young men with severe muscular disease.

He is currently in Durban working with four professional dancers from the Flatfoot Dance Company and four young “guests”, in this instance three men and one woman, all with Down syndrome.

The work, Cardiac Output, is being staged as part of Durban’s annual dance festival JOMBA!, which runs until Sunday, September 3, at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. 

Luteijn works for Introdans, a renowned Netherlands-based modern ballet company and is artistic manager of the Introdans Interactive programme. Its maxim - “Everyone can dance!"

This is his and his company’s fourth visit to South Africa, but his first time producing a local work with local dancers and local guests.

“We wanted to perform as Introdans and we also wanted to do something extra this time. The main ingredient is the professional dancer. The guests are people you wouldn’t necessarily imagine on stage but have aspirations of their own and often some experience.”

Karl Hebbelmann, Kevin Govender, Charles Phillips and Michaela Munro made it through the audition process and Luteijn has been pleasantly surprised by the outcome. 

Between them, he says he has someone who has been dancing her whole life, a Michael Jackson aficionado and a ballroom dancer. “All four are remarkably good, with a great relationship towards their dance partners and to dance, which is what I look for.”

It’s not only a unique experience for the guests, but also a challenge for the professional dancers.

“They need to maintain the attitude of professional dancers, and I insist on a strict division between caretaking and art,” said Luteijn. "That [the guests] all have Downs Syndrome is not at the core of the work. The overarching impetus is to create beauty and magic on stage. 

“If the dancers try to become caretakers, the relationship is skewed. They must relate [to the guest dancers] on an equal level. The point of inclusion is to be equal artistically in every way.

"The idea of inclusion is very current in the Netherlands. We look to emancipate people and dance is, I think, the best medium. It is important to open [the] eyes of the audience.”

• 'Cardiac Output' will close this year’s JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. The performance is taking place at 6pm on Sunday, September 3, at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Tickets at Computicket.

Introdans will be performing 'Wonderland' at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town from September 5-9.

• This article was originally published in The Times.