World Down Syndrome Day 2020 – Day 17
‘I could watch that all day’
Tara Coughlan and Max McAuley are two young professional artists working as senior dancers with Sprung!!, an integrated dance theatre company based in Ballina, northern NSW. Both Tara and Max are heavily involved in the creation of the dance works in which they perform, from the character development to the choreography, under the guidance of Creative Director Michael Hennessy.
Michael, who has had a long and successful career in performing arts including nine years with Sydney Dance Company, has found the experience of working with Max and Tara quite extraordinary.
‘It’s incredibly exciting to see the depth of their talent and the ongoing development of their skills,’ says Michael. ‘Their rich vocabulary of movement makes working with them (as a choreographer) a real joy.’
When describing the preparation for their 2020 performance O How I Dreamt of Things Impossible, Michael says, ‘I hope to portray what I am privileged to be witness to – a process that comes directly through the dancer’s experiences. What is starting to emerge in the work is a sense of extended time; it comes from viewing some of the work and saying “I could watch that all day”’
Robyn Brady, president of Sprung!! recalls a pivotal moment for a number of people when Sprung!! collaborated with a local youth theatre on a project a few years ago.
‘At first the two groups of youths were sitting in different camps, and the facilitators were feeling a bit unsure about how to interact with our dancers with Down syndrome,’ says Robyn.
‘But once they started the movement exercises, the actors were quite stunned by the skills of the Sprung!! dancers and how they threw themselves into the work. It was like a wall came down and suddenly they were all just young people exploring new ways to express their feelings and stories in dance together.’
This sentiment is echoed by audiences who have come to Sprung!! performances, sometimes with low expectations of the participants’ abilities. Yet time and time again, they are blown away.
Max loves developing his skills and says, ‘Michael helps me become a strong performer by working me really hard, teaching me moves I want using his choreography.’
And Michael agrees that he does push the dancers, as he refuses to lower the bar to fit in with a disability stereotype.
‘I work with dancers who happen to have a disability,’ he says. ‘The training is adapted to each individual dancer and not informed by their perceived disability.’
But the final words lie with Tara, who beautifully sums up this incredible synergy of humanity, artistic expression and belonging:
‘By being with Sprung!! we can show people how capable we are. I work hard, be patient and learn to be a professional dancer. We respect and support each other.
‘The audience thinks we are special. It makes me feel special.’
Photo Credit (group) – Sprung!! Integrated Theatre, Kate Holmes
Photo Credit (Max and Tara) – Sprung!! Integrated Theatre, Morgan Roberts