Laban told me when I applied to train on their Masters Degree in Choreography that my physical disability would not hamper training because "Contemporary choreographers don't use their bodies”.
During what became an examination of esoteric practices in conceptual performance making, almost all the practitioners brought in to 'show' us how they made work didn't make any Choreography anyway.
The same lecturer answered my fellow students' complaints of the shortage of dancers to practice their Choreography on by saying, “You can always slip into a studio and work it out on your own body.”
“Really?” I thought, “So this is how Choreographers don't use their own body?” I had already abandoned my many interviews with the person delegated Disability Officer at Laban. My lack of access complaints had produced almost nothing. The use of the few delegated Disabled toilets, as comfy changing rooms for Dance Students meant I had to travel several floors to find an empty cubicle and consequently my breaks in classes took longer than anybody else's.
Classes would always re-commence before my return implying that it was all my fault. The solution to this problem was offered as a plan for me to visit each class of young dancers in the building by turn and explain to each group of the able bodied people just what my Disabled toilet going process was and how I actually used the toilet and why I needed a Disabled one. As a sixty five year old disabled man even the thought of this was humiliation enough.
Visiting practitioners/lecturers were never informed that they had to accommodate at least one Disabled participant in their workshops. Told on their arrival in the dance studio of my disabled existence for the very first time and with a pre-prepared workshop they could only shout, ”Do as much as you can,” before commencing a routine I couldn't even consider commencing.
Once, whilst using my wheelchair, I was left locked for an hour in an empty theatre, into which I had been carried, whilst everyone else went out for lunch. The staff locked the door with me still inside. "Sorry about that".
Studying on what had been sold to me as a 'Taught Degree' and believing that the word 'taught' meant taught as in teach, I felt severely lacking in the receipt of teaching. As I approached the making of my final performance at Laban, which was to decide if I got the degree or not, I was feeling totally unprepared to complete the set task. I knew I hadn't been given what I needed.
Add to this the weekly commute from Cardiff to London while still holding down a full time teaching job and after over six months I had to admit defeat. I announced my intention to resign from the course... TO BE CONTINUED
I don't even like dogs but, this December, whilst receiving mobility assistance, I witnessed a mass transportation of terrified canines at Malaga airport, en route to the Great Brussels Dog Show which made me question what or who Dog Shows are for? Certainly not for the poor bloody dogs!
The assumption of love by these dog owners for their pets was severely damaged as I witnessed hysterical screaming dogs reluctantly let out from their too small travel cage. They were and had been, shitting with terror and now were doing the same all over the check-in area floor. Their owners' means of controlling them, as they tried simultaneously to wipe up the mounds of dog incontinence and immobilize these unhinged creatures, was to ram them in twos, head to head, with what might as well, in terms of effect, been choke-chain leads. The smell of terror and shit was humungous; the wails, howls and screams of the dogs heart rending.
It brought back childhood nightmares of my family's fate in the Holocaust. Not because I equate my family with dumb animals, for these creatures were not even capable of having their fate explained to them. How cruel is it then to impose on sentient beings this prolonged torture, when it's reasons and justifications are impossible to communicate to them?
Their owners were using mountains of kitchen paper towels to mop up the excreta although the smell just got worse and we passengers fled from the stench. I confess that I was trivially obsessed about not getting dog shit on my wheelchair's wheels. It can ruin a blind date! In front of us at the check-in another group of 'dog lovers' were manically stuffing more dogs in cages onto the conveyor belt into the impossibly small X-ray security machine belt. Their owners seemed unhinged by the fact that the cages wouldn't go through the machine.
Now I don't wish to stereotype these German dog owners but they were obviously more upset about not obeying the security guards orders to get the cages through the opening, and clearly not at all concerned about the poor bloody animals inside them. Otherwise how could they have rapidly tipped that cage on its side with no word of comfort or warning for the, already terrified, dog inside?
If this misery is the cost of international dog shows then I for one will be campaigning to stop or at least regulate transportation of animals to them. It also made me realise just how much travel for the Disabled, in Europe at least, has been improved in the last ten years or so. I know it ain’t perfect but we are no longer treated as barely human freight that needs to be dealt with. So the question remains how do we go about making it better for the dogs? Because sure as hell, people who abuse animals in their control will do just the same to humans they have power over.
I am about to fly back to Wales from Corfu alone, and have been recommended to book wheelchair assistance. Now, my relationship with the wheelchair is problematic. It was thought to be the solution to those mobility problems that we 'Crips' will insist on creating, such as my inability to climb the Laban Dance Academy floor ramps that replace stairs between studios in the radically accessible building eagerly being copied by International Architectural students who presume this will provide equality of access.
My MA Choreography tutor turned out to be uber-keen on wheelchairs and suggested putting me in one when I complained of mobility inequality: "We can just wheel you to where we want you and that will solve all your problems". No, your problems solved, not mine!
But he had already promised me in advance that my being disabled would in no way interfere with my Choreographic studies. On this advise I enrolled, first re-mortgaging my house to pay the astronomical fees. Due to my 'unstable condition', I spent the first half of my year at Laban refusing to be put into a chair and the second half having no option but to navigate the dreaded Laban ramps in one. Their gradient is so steep that climbing them in my manual chair caused me to wrench the hand rails out of their wall fixings, whilst descending resulted in me hurtling towards the plate glass walls that awaited me below, scattering dance students as I screamed past them.
The travel agent tells me that at Corfu Airport you are either fully mobile or you are not. Living on a Greek island where being disabled is seen as a justification to beg in the streets displaying your missing or mutilated bits, I can appreciate this to be true. Previous experience of traveling alone resulted in me being knocked over, trampled on, being 'reported' because I tried to board before a young woman who had paid the early boarding supplement, and being refused an aisle seat as I ‘had not booked a meal so it would upset the serving plans’. I booked the wheelchair.
Having just been collected by my partner at Bristol Airport after my assisted journey, I have had nothing but help assistance kindness and consideration. This is the first long distance journey I can recall where I do not feel emotionally drained, exhausted and fearful of my fellow humans. Whilst weekly commuting from Laban in London to home in Cardiff, I depended on a wonderful Morrocan Taxi driver who not only drove me to school but stopped at late night garage supermarkets (meter off) while I grabbed my supper and breakfast basics. So just because I have the odd one night stand with you, wheelchair, don't call me I'll call you-maybe...
Here's to being 68, disabled, newly trained as a choreographer and about to go freelance. I had been a full time academic, teaching drama as well as running my own theatre company but I have now been compulsorily retired. I had already been told that I was a liability due to my disability and my several serious conditions.
I was just past retirement age and had worked full time, with their approval, for three years past the statutory retirement age. Done a very good job to according to all eternal assessors of these things, external examiners and my students and such like. But everyone knows that what really counts in these things is the number. 68 is clearly the mark of the beast. Having trained a huge number of highly successful theatre, television and radio scriptwriters, artistic directors, scenographers and choreographers counts for little compared to the number... and my number was clearly up.
However I am very excited about starting as a freelancer again. It is going to be so easy getting lots of producers and directors to agree to see a recently trained 68 year old disabled guy and the jobs will surely come rolling in-yes? PS I am also Gay, Jewish & Radical by nature. It is going to be an absolute shoe-in. So watch this space. I will keep you posted.
Meanwhile the word is that my university is employing someone a third of my age to do my job - and for a third of my salary of course. And they will naturally have at least a third less experience than I have, probably even less than that. And you can be sure they will have at least triple my mobility. Probably even three legs. I do see their point. Writers must have legs, as many as possible. I mean without them how could they possibly write?
Next time I want to share with you what super fun there is to be had by paying huge amounts of money to an internationally recognised dance academy, for them to train you to Masters Level as a choreographer. All this In a stunning new building, internationally acclaimed and copied for it's disability access. As long as you aren't disabled and/ or in a manual wheelchair that is.