June 15, 2024

The ArtsAbility Festival, presented annually by UNMUTE Dance Theatre in partnership with Artscape Theatre, is Africa’s premier inclusive arts festival celebrating International Day for persons with disabilities. It is the 9th edition; the festival continues to create and showcase innovative space for disabled and non-disabled artists and performers. We offer a wide range of artistic productions by local and international artists and workshops facilitated by choreographers and artists from different art forms worldwide.

This year’s festival will commence on 30 November and run until 3 December 2023 at Artscape Theatre. The ArtsAbility Festival is a platform that pays tribute to the International Month of Persons Living with Disabilities. The focus this year is to showcase and celebrate artists with and without disabilities who continue to bring awareness to disability and inclusion through their cutting-edge work. This year, the festival will have a different twist than previous years, with only solo performances. We once again open and welcome not only local artists but also artists from France and Madagascar.

The objective is to continue paying homage to young artists working in inclusive dance. There will be performances by local and international artists, workshops, and showcasing the outcomes of two residency works. Before the festival, UNMUTE will work with a group of young people from Scotland and create work together, as well as the ArtsAbility Residency, a 3-week residency with local dancers and choreographers with and without disabilities from around the country.

Unmute Dance Theatre is a company of artists with mixed abilities/disabilities using Physical Theatre and contemporary and Integrated Dance to create awareness of accessibility, integration and inclusion of people with disability within mainstream society. They aim to address and challenge society’s state of mental misconception on disability(s); encouraging people to break barriers and to be aware that we are all abled and have our abilities. They believe that having a disability doesn’t make any person less human or less capable; therefore, removing shame and stigma from society is their company’s mission towards building an integrated community.

The company began in 2013 after a performance creation entitled ‘Unmute’. Unmute was the first ensemble choreographic piece by Andile Vellem. It is based on his experience as a dancer who is deaf. This work allowed Andile to find his voice as a choreographer, using sign language as the source of the movement vocabulary. He brought together artists from different backgrounds to investigate and explore what they would like to unmute: feelings, perceptions, social norms and expectations, while endeavouring to deconstruct what society perceives as dance. The company’s inception developed in 2014 after a successful run of the Unmute Production, and it was cofounded by Nadine Mckenzie, Mpotseng Shuping, Andile Vellem and Themba Mbuli. Within the eight years of the company’s existence, we have developed five inclusive projects that have helped create access and integrate people with and without disability in one environment:

They created seven productions, of which some have toured nationally and abroad in Switzerland, Germany and Russia. The company has had several collaborations with Artists both locally and Internationally, such as Vuyani Dance Theatre, Jazzart Dance Theatre, Flatfoot Dance Company, Alessandro Schiattarella from Switzerland, and Timbuka Dance Company from Zimbabwe, to name a few.

Thursday: 30 November | 19:00
A must-see is Liberation Machine – The Unmute Dance Company Story (24 minutes), A film on the past ten years of Unmute’s work. They are written, directed and produced by Mariza Matshaya and presented by Seismic Media.

Isikhalo Sendoda (The Cry of a Man) by Andile Vellem (20 minutes)
A brand new solo work by UNMUTES Andile Vellem. The work was created after Vellem lost his firstborn son in late 2022. The result is the beginning of his healing
journey as an African man. In a world where many men are told they are not allowed to show emotion or cry. Vellem takes us on an emotional journey of healing
and remembering his late son.

Adulting by Philasande Majikela (20 minutes)
A performance work on his perspective on adulting, “Adulting is the ice breaker to a conversation about individuality in the adult world. Society always tells us how we should be adults and conform to their ideologies and just be a Number instead of a person.”

Friday: 1 December
Ability Day | 12:00 – 13:00
Ability Day aims to encourage the pupils/youth to break the barriers and stigma attached to disability and make them realise that we are all abled and have our own abilities. This Theatre for Young Audiences aims to create a bridge of integration between mainstream and special needs schools/students.
This showcases works created during Unmute Schools Outreach with Filia School, Astra School, Project Playground (PPG) and Dance for All, featuring works by Unmute Dance Company, youth organisations and other collaborators/companies.

SingaBantu’s “We Are People” (34 minutes) Is a body of work about humanity, the relaxation of movement in the present through themes of emotions, feelings and the power of the mind.

Lovatiana is the director artistic of the Lovatiana dance company, which is based in Madagascar. Rich in the experiences acquired as a performer, she decided in 2002 to set up her own dance company. For several years, she has been developing artistic projects to make dance accessible to people with disabilities. Through her research, she can transmit dance to visually impaired people. Nacelle joined the company in 2009, where she discovered contemporary dance.

She danced several choreographic pieces from Lovatiana dance company, including Voninkazo adaladala, presented in Burkina Faso as part of dance l’Afrique dance in 2016 and followed by a workshop with a foreign choreographer in Antananarivo. She is very committed to the social integration of people with disabilities.
Teaches computer science to blind people. She started creating his artistic projects. The choreographic piece “Chosen” is inspired by a true story in the south of Madagascar. A young girl from a remote village was offered as a sacrifice for the survival of the people and to protect them from a flood… Performed by Somoh Nacelle Larissa and Lovatiana Erica Rakotobe

UK collaboration – Diversity in Dance vol 2.
A partnership between Artscape, Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Edinburgh Festival Carnival and Edinburgh College in Scotland. During November, Unmute hosted a group of students from Edinburgh College for a week and a half; during this period, the company, in collaboration with the artists, explored and created work centred around coming together as artists from different backgrounds, cultures, art forms and countries. An exploration of ‘coming together.’ This will be presented on the 2nd and 3rd of December. This programme aims to expose all artists to different cultures through performing arts and engagement, creating a standard of work that is recognised on a global stage while creating moving experiences for audiences to enjoy.

ArtsAbility Residency Outcomes (SA)
The ArtsAbility residency program is an annual residency hosted and led by UNMUTE Dance Theatre, a professional, inclusive company pioneering inclusive dance in South Africa. This residency aims to bring together artists, choreographers, and directors of different art forms, communities and countries to explore work together. Work centred around Inclusivity and Integration. This residency is a platform to encourage more artists to work together and to work more inclusively, specifically artists with and without disabilities. During November, Unmute invited two choreographers and a group of dancers with and without disabilities to participate in a residency program whereby they get to explore and get to know each other and work in an inclusive environment with young
artists from different backgrounds and abilities. They create two works which will be presented on this day.

Seize by Sasha Fourie (SA)
An experience of the extreme opposites when in the unconsciousness of a seizure. This is not a reenactment, it is an exploration of a threshold. This work attempts to show the opportunity given when seizing to observe the distant, calm view of the edges of death. The space of limbo between consciousness and unconsciousness. The relationship with disability and its ever-changing impact. It allows for fearfully drowning but blissfully floating together.

Title: WoMxn in Me Performed by: Lethabo Shai Director: Teresa Phuti Mojela (20 minutes)

This dance piece explores the African idiom that says, “It takes a village to raise a child”, as I take the audience on a journey with me. I look back at specific moments and memories of different people and how they shaped me into the individual I am today. After my mother and father entrusted me in the hands of strangers at school 4 hours from our village, there were defining moments and lessons I could only learn in the absence of everything I was familiar with.
This work cultivates my relationships with these people and my relationship with myself as a woman. It celebrates those who played very significant and outstanding roles in my life, from my grandmother, mother, and aunts to the teachers, housemothers and many others, whilst acknowledging the complexities and the dualities that exist in each individual: hurt and healed, strong and weak, alive and dead. For I know I do not stand alone.

Professional artists, people with disabilities, non-artists, academics and dance pupils are invited to take part in integrated dance workshops facilitated by Andile Vellem (Unmute / Cape Town), Fanny Vandersande (Belgium) and Lovatiana Rakotobe (France).

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