Earlier this year, Angela Alves, a performer, artist and activist based in Berlin, was due to start the creation of her newest work when lockdown descended. Perhaps surprisingly, she was relieved. ‘For me, it was a gift,’ she recalls. ‘I was having an MS relapse, I didn’t know how I would even be able to walk to the studio. So to have the opportunity to make a remote performance from home was perfect.’
As soon as the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the optimists among us began to imagine the positive change it might bring – a reshaping of the global political order perhaps, or an environmental revolution. Most agreed, however, that it was an unmitigated crisis for the performing arts, decimated overnight by the banning of public gatherings. Yet five months on, and some dance artists are already sifting through the wreckage to find new questions to put to their audiences, and new ways of asking them.
The piece Alves ended up creating from home, No Limit, had its June premiere via Zoom, and proposed a world in which disabled people are the majority and the norm. For most of us, being consigned to our homes with no choice but to participate online was a strange, novel experience, yet for others it was nothing new.
‘For decades the crip community [those identifying as belonging to or allied with the disability community] has been fighting for remote access,’ says Alves, ‘because, for various reasons, some people cannot come to the theatre.’ Lockdown meant that, for the first time, those disparate experiences were brought together on a large scale, something which Alves sees as essential. ‘It is really dangerous to separate remote accessibility from what is viewed as the “real thing”, because that way the people benefiting from it remain out of sight; we make them a conveniently invisible part of our society. Yet if I had proposed a remote performance pre-Covid19, it would never have been funded – online accessibility is still so undervalued, it is seen as a poor substitute.’
Perhaps that will change. Recently, time has seemed to give up all pretence at solidity, bending and warping differently around each of us, and those who have felt as though life was on pause might be eager for a return to ‘normality’. Yet for some who are fighting for progress, the remote is set to fast forward. ‘This is our time,’ beams Alves. ‘We need to shout it from the rooftops that remote performance is great for people with disabilities. It’s a different experience, of course, but that is how diversity works!’