July 15, 2024

The ArtsAbility Festival, presented annually by UNMUTE Dance Company, is Africa’s premier inclusive arts festival.  In its sixth year, ArtsAbility 2020 continues to present an exciting, innovative space for both disabled and able-bodied artists and performers, offering a plethora of performances, webinars and creative works. This year the festival moves online to present a FREE virtual experience commencing on 3 November until 3 December 2020. It pays tribute to International Month of Persons living with Disabilities.  Under the overarching theme, Spaces & Homes Invasion Festival of Transmission (SHIFT) ONLINE it has taken advantage of the constraints of the Corona Virus Pandemic, by using the virtual space to increase the usually six-day event to a month-long online feast of inclusive talent and creative genius.  ArtsAbility 2020 has opened its doors to not only local South African creators, but also Africa and the World.

“The theme is a striving to return to the core value of the original focus of taking inclusivity in the arts to community spaces and people, says Nadine McKenzie, Unmute Artistic Director.  “Over the years the festival has tended to move away from this vision, but last year saw a re-emergence of this core value.  This year, with the virtual innovation, Unmute has taken the opportunity presented by a month-long event to incorporate many more artists and performances. This has not been possible in previous festivals.”  

This year the objectives are three-fold, firstly to provide exposure for those young inclusive artists who are already producing works in communities.  Then, to provide a platform for collaborative works between South African, African and global inclusive artists. Lastly, to provide learning opportunities through the Access Lecture, Inclusive Webinars, Sign Language lessons, Integrated Dance workshop programme.

The golden thread running through ArtsAbility 2020 is the vision of Unmute; Inclusivity, Accessibility and Integration.  The aim is to SHIFT perceptions, to aid society in a way that inclusivity becomes a daily practice and not a once off event.


A must-see is Access Denied; a video presentation/film where three artists from Unmute Dance Theatre explores the different accessibility challenges these artists deal with daily as individuals in a society that overlooks persons with disabilities and their need to move around freely and independently, without the assistance from another. Through their art, these artists interrogate thediscriminations they experience.

In order to create clarity for the viewers, ArtsAbility 2020 has been further divided into daily sub themes. However, each day will offer a different performance or learning opportunity, with some performances only living online for 24 hours.


A series a of lectures and workshops will be taking place over the course the programme.


As part of the Unmute ArtsAbility Festival hosted live by Unmute Dance Company from Artscape Theatre Cape Town, South Africa.  Over the course of 4 weeks we will be focussing on different challenges, strategies and thinking paradigms within the world of inclusive dance and performance. 

Every Mondays we will be having live streamed discussions with a panel of artists from all over the world doing inclusive work. The main theme of the webinars will be based on inclusivity, access and how inclusive arts are made more sustainable and how donors can assist this sector.


Performances by South African based artists who are working in the field of inclusive arts.


The world premiere of the Four Letter Word by Flatfoot Dance Company

Made entirely under the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa with dancers separated from one another, and (in most parts) shot off mobile phones, “FOUR LETTER WORDS” has been made as a way to keep our connection (with each other as dancers) alive while our embodied dance work has come to a halt. Lliane Loots wanted to make a dance film that somehow connected the dancers again and remembered 4 years of working together; of spaces of hard work, training and infinite hope. Collaborating with slam poet/artist Iain ewok Robinson, who took Loots’s first ‘four letter word’ (HOPE) and wrote a whole poem made only of four letter words – this became the soundtrack of the film and the impulse for editing and the visual choreography. Sensitively edited by Wesley Maherry, this short dance film is a brief inhalation and exhalation … The images of the balloon (carried, held, swatted away, and danced with … ) speaks to the incredible strength and fragility of all of us at this time, and to assense of absence.


Performance outcomes of Artists in Residence programme with inclusive artists from Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Congolese/South African artists.


Deus Nos Acudi by Pak

In Africa and in the world, magic is seen as a way to achieve powers with rituals of certain sects or, simply by repeating patterns of behavior. Tradition, whether through orality, symbols, manuscripts, sacred objects and even body movements, evokes the ancestry of an entire society. In the contemporary world for the globalized individual, racial difference is ambivalent, since it confers power but also marginalizes. Moments when everything is black, and we do not see with our eyes, we feel life in a deep dream of anguish and pain, bringing in all this experience, even the unconscious. Fiction is placed in a real way in spaces in the imagination of the incarnation: The strong image and the physicality of the body in motion, generate different moments of doubt, choice and opinions.


Inclusive dance companies and artists from the USA, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Cambodia will be showcased.  These will only be live on the festival’s YouTube channel for 24 hours.


USA – Radical Impact by Axis Dance Company

Radical Impact, choreographed by AXIS Artistic Director Marc Brew, was created in collaboration with Composer/Pianist JooWan Kim, Artistic Director of Hip-Hop Orchestra Ensemble Mik Nawooj. Working together for the first time, Marc and Joowan explore what it means to be human through music and movement, investigating themes around politics and identity. The work draws on each dancer’s unique experiences and how their stories can be told through the medium of dance.

Europe – Landscape by BewegGrund

«Landscapes» was planned as a live performance with 20 dancers.

The work was guided by the following questions: What landscapes do we see in music and how do we translate them into movement? How do we relate the ephemeral movement that is created in the moment to a given notation? The music is interpreted by Dina Kehlon the viola da gamba, whereby her instrument, like the dancers’ instrument (her/his own body), also embodies body, sound and landscape.


Residencies for ten young South Africans from various provinces worked with 4 mentors (Andile Vellem, Babalwa Makwetu, Calvin Ratladi and Mpotseng Shuping) on how to create and produce inclusive dance pieces.


A series of documentaries, films, exhibitions and a book launch.



A showcase for professional artists who have been working over the last five years in different genres such as film, visual art and creative writing, these pieces will also be interspersed throughout the week.


The second week is dedicated to the works of well-known, award winning filmmaker, Shelley Barry. ONLINE FILM FESTIVAL | Shelley Barry Retrospective

ArtsAbility 2020 is made possible by the National Arts Council of South Africa, in partnership with Artscape Theatre Centre and SurvéPhilanthropies.

For more information follow the Unmute Dance Company on:

Website: www.artsability.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/artsabilityfes

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/artsabilityfes/

Youtube: https://youtube.com/channel/UC7ZLr5TYIWE1TnofgYxOtwg

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