The circus arts have a chequered history when it comes to disability. However, the world has come a long way from the 19th-century freak-shows made popular by PT Barnum’s travelling players, where physical difference was regarded as a spectacle in and of itself. The flagship event at this year’s Carlow Arts Festival is a piece of community circus that includes artists who are disabled and non-disabled, and asks just what value we place upon difference and equality in the contemporary world.
What Am I Worth? is spearheaded by the British circus company Extraordinary Bodies, which was formed as a creative partnership between sensational showmakers Cirque Bijou and arts activists Diverse City, with the purpose of increasing integration between artists who are disabled and non-disabled. As founding member Claire Hodgson explains, the company was born in the wake of her involvement with the opening ceremony for the Olympics in London in 2012. Hodgson had been working with a group of young people with intellectual disabilities and physical impairments on a project that involved sharing circus skills. When the opportunity to showcase their talents was presented “they were adamant that they wanted to perform at the Olympic opening ceremony [rather than the Paralympics]. The Paralympics was an incredible cultural moment, because it shifted people’s view of disabled people, but they wanted to be seen at the Olympics and to be seen to be part of it.”
After their short performance, Hodgson committed herself to the idea of artistic inclusivity. “I didn’t want to live in a world where people are segregated based on their abilities,” she says, “and artistic work is a great way to counter that. Placing artists with and without disabilities side-by-side is a way of challenging people’s prejudices, but also of working towards a more integrated world in a practical way.”
Link to Full Article at The Irish Times