See also CODA 2022: staging diversities for a different Springback view from the festival
The twentieth anniversary of CODA Oslo International Contemporary Dance Festival, marks a pivot in its course. Stine Nilsen, artistic director since 2017 and former co-director of the London-based mixed-ability company Candoco, has always had disability in her focus, but for the first time this year the festival made mixed ability, disability, and different bodies its central theme, traced through (almost) all the shows in the programme. If there are often mixed feelings within the European contemporary dance field about some of UK’s cultural policies, there is common agreement on the considerable progress the UK has made on issues surrounding (dis)ability. Nilsen brings this knowledge and experience to Norway and is using the platform of CODA to promote structural change in the field – from education to stage representation.
A seminar giving voice to local and international artists, programmers and policymakers living and/or dealing with disability was the discursive bind that held this year’s programme together, and articulated CODA’s ambition to move from critique to action that can create change in the long term. In line with these goals, Kulturrådet, the Norwegian arts council, presented a new grant scheme which pays a full-year salary to a person with disability integrated as a professional advisor into a cultural institution to help it become more inclusive with both audiences and artists. The first panel included Norwegian actress Ipek Mehlum and director Kjersti Horn sharing their personal path to becoming professionals in the field and the obstacles they faced because of their disability. This was followed by a second international panel with both artists – Katarzyna Żeglicka (Poland), Joel Brown (US/UK/Candoco) – and programmers/producers Veera Suvalo Grimberg (Sweden/Dansekompaniet SPINN) and Anna Consolati (Italy/Oriente Occidente). One major problem that came up in these talks is that the term ‘disability’ covers a wide range of differences that require different specific needs and adjustments; that can make it difficult to build solidarity or project a common vision.
The seminar first outlined various problems that persist in the Norwegian context – in terms of education, access, diversity in the field, and far too little professional opportunity. Formal education is often not designed for difference. It aims for uniformity, as does a lot of the work on stage. Furthermore, the struggles are different if you are disabled and want to work off stage (as director or scenographer for example) or on stage, as well as if you work with theatre or dance. When performing onstage in dance, disabled artists can be confronted with two extremes: either ‘overcome’ your disability by reaching a technical level that appears to transcend difference to fit into normative professional standards, or make disability and difference the central topic of the work where you problematise your own existence.