Atypical Artists and the Creative Process of Les Productions des Pieds des Mains – A Practitioner’s Reflections
(with a screening of Eurêka)
Sponsored by H’art Centre
Presented by Menka Nagrani

Do preconceived ideas about the abilities of artists with disabilities affect the level of training offered? Should we be more indulgent towards these artists or, on the contrary, push them further? After 20 years of teaching dance, movement and theater to artists with intellectual disabilities, Menka Nagrani has developed an array of pedagogical methods aimed at readying these performers for the professional stage.

In 2004, Nagrani launched Les Productions des Pieds des Mains as a dance and theater company that integrates an atypical cast of dancers and actors in its creations, including many of her students. They take an interdisciplinary approach to their performances, which are at the crossroads between contemporary dance and experimental theater. Though they sometimes appear in venues specifically for disabled artists, their creations are mainly featured in an artistic context unrelated to disabilities, such as within the regular programming of professional theaters and dance or theater festivals in Montreal and internationally (France, Belgium and Japan). In her view, her role as director and choreographer is to ensure that performers shine on stage by playing a part that brings out their best, whether disabled or non-disabled. In submitting their pieces to the same competitions as companies without artists with intellectual disabilities, they are required to meet the same selection criteria as any other production company. She always welcomes criticism from the audience or journalists regarding the performances they put on with Les Productions des Pieds des Mains, and encourages them not to censor themselves just because they integrate people with a disability in their creations.

Thanks to the company’s numerous successful shows and international acclaim, Nagrani is regularly invited to give workshops and master classes to other mixed ability groups or integrated dance companies at home and abroad. Unfortunately, the low level of technique on display often strikes her, and she is surprised that more technical classes have not been developed for these artists whose end goal is to perform on stage in a professional capacity.

When forming atypical artists, she sets out with the idea that producers interested in working with her students will find ways to build upon their strengths and particularities, just as she does in her productions. She tries to give them as many tools as she can so that they may be in a position to meet a director or choreographer’s needs in the best way possible. Her goal is that they maintain a level of precision and, above all, that they be present and engaged in everything they perform on stage. It all boils down to the idea that, although we will be providing adapted support and tools to develop their artistic abilities, we have the same requirements of artists with an intellectual disability as we would of any other artist.

In this conference, Nagrani will highlight some of her approaches and techniques used in forming atypical artists. In doing so, she hopes to lift the horizon for her peers in this domain and to show that, with enough hard work and dedication, you can accomplish more than you might expect.

Eurêka, the short film

In order to demonstrate the breadth of her work with Les Productions des pieds des mains, Nagrani and her team of artists will present a short artistic dance film, Eurêka, which is currently touring film festivals around the world. The film was created with three star artists, all of whom have Down Syndrome, and a cast of 20 extras who also have Down Syndrome.

The synopsis: a society entirely made up of people with Down Syndrome get their hands on an automaton and train her to perform in a circus act! In addition to bringing our attention to the artistic movements and corporal aesthetics of these unique artists, this piece questions social norms and reverses current power relationships in today’s society.

Sponsored by:

The H’art Centre’s mission as a non-profit, charitable arts hub is to offer high quality opportunities for people with disabilities and those facing barriers to create, study, and produce works in the arts. Their mandate includes the development programs, activities, events, partnerships, collaborations, and enterprises, to foster such opportunities so all people can participate in the arts throughout their lives and as they age.

This screening is presented as part of the Able Artists Program. Able Artists is an ongoing series of talks, performances and workshops that brings professional Canadian artists with disability and leaders in the inclusive arts movement to Kingston to share their work and insights with future leaders.

Wednesday May 30, 2018 16:30 – 18:00
Screening Room, Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts