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Navigating distorted sensory experiences to tell real life differently

How might a sensory lens generate new insight?

Some ideas, from restricted bodies…

REwired is a movement, light and sound-based enquiry into the distorted sensory experiences of living with Multiple Sclerosis [1] and other ‘conditions’ that fall under the umbrella term of Neuro-Disability [2].

A series of dance-based workshops and cross-art form collaborative residencies [3] have been exploring the unusual physical sensations and neural activity associated with the condition, moving towards the creation of CoDa Dance Company’s new artistic work whilst challenging them to move away from a familiar mode of production.

The practitioner-researcher is the least informed

Each practitioner in the process relates to the idea or lived experience of knowing/loving/supporting somebody with MS differently. We navigate terms like MS Warrior, relapsing, progressive, build-up of disability, patient agency, with care - fully acknowledging that the glossary of disability is emotionally weighted, that the terminology is personalised and above all, that we know nothing or, at best, very little about the complex reality of living with MS.

Thanks to a partnership with The Royal Hospital of Disability and The Marjorie Collins Centre we are collaborating with 51 individuals who are experts in their conditions.

We learn mostly from an exchange of movements rather than dialogue.

A different narrative emerges.

Levelling the ground doesn’t make balance easier

Each body works within its limitations on that day- dancers, support workers and experts offering and responding to movements.

Where there are words they are descriptive, inherently theatrical.

The floor moves away from me

A fog of sound

Balance is disrupted

Patience is tested

Freedom is squeezed & wobbly

Like a yoga, this is not a comparative practice. None of us can move the same.

We have different ingredients to work with. For some of us the floor is level and static, for others it moves.

Inhabiting the role of expert/consultant/collaborator/ingredient

The participants self-define their role as our consultants, advising us on how to develop a restorative dance methodology for people living with MS, helping us to consider how we might share a sense of this distorted realitywith others, with people who have no connection.

We are hungry learners.

People move between the workshops and the residencies, one informing the other. At moments, people from outside the process are invited in to hold mirrors up to it from different angles – providing a kaleidoscoped view and posing new questions.

We are collaborators searching for potential solutions together.

Most theatres and dance studios can accommodate a maximum of 4 wheelchair users – How might we take the work outside of traditional ‘art’ spaces?

What might a performance installation in public space look like?

Audiences are used to searching for linear narratives -

How might we invite Audiences to explore their own sensory experience of distorted reality?

How can we bring many non-linear narratives into the space at the same time?

How can we disrupt people’s expectations? What does an off-balanced audience feel like?

All of our consultants’ lived experiences offer incredible insight but it feels impossible to bring them all into one space -

How do we map and navigate multiple narratives?

How might this manifest or be represented in a scalable way within a shared artistic expression?

How might we begin to think differently about bringing them into the space?

Moved by brain waves

We start working with an EEG monitor to bring some of our consultants into the space via their brain waves. The EEG enables us to project the electric signals produced when their brain cells message each other. We project them onto the floor, the walls, the ceiling, onto moving plumes of smoke that punctuate darkness. The data captured from the EEG can also control sound.

Our dancers are now able to collaborate physically with our consultants’ brain waves, responding to their undulating expressions, their dynamic range and shifts.

The ensemble has grown.

From restricted bodies, new provocations emerge.

How can movement-based exchanges (both physical and electrical) fuel new sensory insight for an unsuspecting audience?

How do we use multi-sensory arts experience to challenge assumptions?

How might a sensory lens support us to move beyond the binary language of participant/artist-facilitator, researcher/researched to a space of exchange?


To be part of the ongoing #REwired conversation or find out about how the work continues to evolve follow:

Inst: @codadanceco

Twitter: @codadance

FB: @CoDa Dance


[1] Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a range of signs and symptoms, including physical, mental, and sometimes psychiatric problems.

[2] Neurodisability describes a group of conditions that, are attributed to impairment of the brain and/or neuromuscular system and create functional limitations.

A specific diagnosis may not be identified. Conditions may vary over time, occur alone or in combination, and include a broad range of severity and complexity.

[3] Contributors to the residency are both fixed and fluid. At every residency there are 4 consistent ingredients: Choreographic Direction – CoD

a Dance AD, Nikki Kavanagh; Sound - Jeph Vanger; Lights and Projection – Bertie Sampson; Dancer – Jodie Honeybourne. Other dancers, consultants, creative practitioners and outside eyes are present at various times throughout.

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