The international breakdance crew ILL-ABILITIES’s newest production Dis-Connect was presented live and in person on Oct. 27 at Meridian Theatres at Centrepointe in Ottawa.
The crew enters the space with explosive energy to a fast-paced, upbeat track. One by one, each member takes a turn to share a signature move, some of the dancers using crutches and skateboards. The stage is set with a live DJ and turntable on the left and a black platform on the right.
“We are ILL-ABILITIES. We have one simple message, and it’s helped us overcome a lot of challenges in our lives: NO EXCUSES, NO LIMITS.” The crowd’s volume instantly increases tenfold as the message echoes through the theatre, voices chiming in as if to the lyrics of a familiar song. When this segues into a seated, follow-along warm-up with the crew, I look around to see that every person in the audience is moving to the music.
The international breakdance crew ILL-ABILITIES, whose name plays with the hip-hop standard of using a negative term to refer to something positive, was created in 2007 by Montreal-based dancer Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli. The crew now counts seven active members from six different countries who all identify as having disabilities. Dis-Connect explores each member’s personal experiences with dance and disability as a series of solos, and they manage to seamlessly include opportunities for audience inclusion through a demo presentation format.
B-boy Redouan “Redo” Ait Chitt begins his solo by sharing that dance freed him from the fear of other’s opinions and, he says, it sparked “The idea that my difference is a superpower.” His movements reach and carve through the air with sudden explosions, twirls and balances, transitioning in and out of the floor, limbs flying.
Samuel Henrique “Samuka” da Silveira Lima enters, sliding into centre stage, as Redo exits. The music increases in tempo as he travels to his right, pushes up onto crutches, windmilling his arms back and waving down to the floor. Closer to the audience, he swivels his hips into a floor spin. With a sudden drop, he sees the audience and balances on his head. “I had the same cancer as Terry Fox,” he says. “I was lost; I didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, I discovered breaking and it changed my life.”
Dancer-turned DJ Jung Soo “Krops” Lee steps away from the turntable to introduce himself. He was part of the legendary Fusion MC crew before he was paralyzed from the neck down by a dance injury. It took him more than three years to stand and walk out of the hospital, and when he did, Krops turned to DJing as a way to “be inside hip-hop culture and also rehabilitate.”
At this point, Lazylegz sweeps the audience into the fold, explaining and teaching different aspects of hip-hop culture to the crowd while DJ Krops spins Justin Timberlake. “On the last freeze, you’re going to shout ‘superstars’ ” Lazylegz booms into the mic, “because you are all superstars!”
“I am travelling the world with ILL-ABILITIES, trying to changes mindsets and motivate you,” b-boy Lucas “Perninha” Machado says. Speaking turns into movement through long reaches and slow strides as sensual music clangs with a bell. The tempo picks up: Perninha responds with fast to slow shifts, quick turns and backward crawls, his legs suspended in the air.
Jacob “Kujo” Lyons quietly enters, initiating movement through touch. He floats, then spins, covering ground quickly across the floor. Gravity takes over before being upended. A Deaf artist with 30 years’ experience, Kujo came to hip hop and breaking as an outlet to express himself physically and artistically.
Here Luca jumps in to MC a demo featuring a mock gymnastics competition, Macarena and a martial art fight to show how breaking is informed by many things. “The beauty about breaking is that no matter what age, ability, race or gender, anyone can participate,” he says.
Sergio “Checho” Carvajal taught himself to walk on his hands by practising every day for three months. The moment he discovered breaking, he says, “I understood that I could use any part of my body to dance. It gave me the confidence to do anything.” Sitting on the floor, he touches his lower limbs. Travelling forward, he sees the audience, quickly rolls and balances on his hands. With one hand off the ground, he flips and crosses his arms.
Founder Lazylegz finally takes the floor. He starts low, head bowed. A quick piano-like hand movement, balance and slow descent move into a wild spin and reach, face tense. His hand waves then locates his crutch. With a deep breath, he presses up. Joints twist and articulate quickly. Head to floor, he somersaults, slowly returning upright.
“We want to encourage taking the time to do things your own way,” he says. Message received.
All in all, ILL-ABILITIES’s Dis-Connect resonates with the potential to create deep change on a personal level and within the wider entertainment industry, making space for differently abled movers on and offstage.
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