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Penny Pepper's Blog - disability arts online
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Penny Pepper's DadaFest Part One: Fun, Frantic, Provocative / 10 December 2010

Tanya Raabe's wall painting of The Three Graces

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I'm pulling my guilty face as I write this because I didn't manage to blog while I was working at DadaFest, and I really wanted to share this amazing experience. I've read the blog by Tanya, the reviews, and comments by Colin and echo the sentiments. This felt historic and it was a huge privileged to be there. Yet what a whirlwind, what an awesome frenzy. I loved every minute, even the exhausting ones.

My participation in DadaFest happened despite the odds. Earlier in the year my extreme mental distress had me trapped in a fog of tears and futility. I thought I'd missed my chance, and wasn't especially worthy of one. Somehow I muddled through with help from super friends and colleagues, did some proposals, and was offered work at DadaFest in the end.

I was at the happy launch night, ready for an early start the following day modelling for lovely Tanya Raabe once more. It was quite a thrill to pose under the awesome R.Evolve installation in the Bluecoat, and see people gazing at it, turning the cubes. It was especially funny if people caught my eye and realised then that it was me, one of the naked models they had been peering at.

With some to-ing and fro-ing on the train, London-Liverpool, I was at DadaFest for almost 12 days in total. My work began with being one of the models for The Three Graces for Tanya's life class. This was a moving and empowering event. Fellow model Julia Dean-Richards has written a poignant poem about this on DAO's DaDaFest review pages.

I loved what Tanya did with us, including the silhouette piece, in which we stood against a wall, set up with a paper, to capture our unique shapes. The class included people who had never drawn life models before, including Kath Duncan, a creative from Australia, who I was to work with later. The Guardian have a photo of Tanya working on this piece, in their DaDaFest Gallery.

My next job was with the burlesque project 'Criptease', in which six women had been brought together, mostly through the efforts of Liz Carr, to work with the queen of New York burlesque, Jo Weldon and her partner Jonny Porkpie. Three solid days of crazy glitz and glam rehearsals resulted in an open showing on Sunday 28th November. Each of us presented a 3-4 minute piece, exploring our own take on stripping. I went from dowdy, splinted and bored, to an Arabian shimmying dancer, stripped by the Genie (Jonny), who popped from the lamp. Of course, I had to end with some fast cheeky tassel twirling on my breasts - which the audience seemed to like!

In tandem with the Criptease work, I was also doing a 'Bed-In' performance on the Saturday. This event was to commemorate John and Yoko's peace protest, and other artists included Julie McNamara and The Feral Four. I did some story telling, recalling how certain events in my life had coincided with times of conflict and unrest. Two were most memorable; firstly that of being in a hospital bed when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. How us teenage girls feared a nuclear war! The second was the day of the invasion of Iraq by the West, which happened to be the day my book 'Desires' was officially released, thus wiping out many of my planned interviews. All I can say is – no comment.

I ended my Bed-In with a protest song I'd written in some panic the night before as time was incredibly tight - set to the tune of Yellow Submarine - hopefully I can supply a link soon. It was a powerful moment for me to hear the public joining in on the chorus:

"What do we think of Cameron and Clegg?
They'd rather we were dead
So I'll protest from this bed..."

Part two tomorrow as I am being very naughty now by staying up too late. There'll be trouble if I can't wake up bright and bouncy.

Keywords: burlesque,cuts to services,dadafest,disability art,disability arts festival,disabled people's protest,poetry,spoken word,story telling