Based in Glasgow, Paragon Music is an inclusive music company inspiring people to create and perform their own music’ (Paragon Music, 2020).
In 2019, the British Council / Creative Scotland partnership supported a collaboration between Paragon and Italy’s Fattoria Vittadini in Milan to develop and deliver a Scotland-Italy Inclusive Arts Training Exchange (SIIATE) leading to a ‘new youth inclusive performing arts movement’ (Paragon Music, 2019).
At the heart of this collaboration was training, knowledge exchange and the development of inclusive dance practice in Scotland and Italy. The project was the culmination of more than a year of discussion between the partners, who share a mutual aim of broadening access for d/Deaf and disabled artists and a commitment to inclusivity.
The project in action
The project kicked off with an invitation to Paragon’s Creative Director, Ninian Perry, to deliver a seminar and workshops on inclusive arts practice at the IETM conference in Milan in May 2019 which was hosted by Fattoria.
The partners then brought together 20 dance teaching artists with a range of experience in mainstream and inclusive dance as trainees with 20 participants in workshops in Milan. Both trainees and participants comprised disabled and non-disabled people, though most of the participants were disabled and connected to likeminded organisation, Piccolo Academia.
Workshops concluded with a performance to an audience of members of the local dance scene, press, participants’ family and dance students. Paragon and Fattoria Vittadini jointly led the training, as either trainers, interpreters or in ‘contributing to the dialogue of inclusive arts practice at the IETM conference’ (Ninian Perry, 2020).
Renewing international connections
The project allowed Paragon to renew European connections and forge strong relationships not only with Fattoria Vittadini but with a network of other Italian organisations including Piccola Accademia in Milan, CLAPS in Brescia and Oriente Occidente in Rovereto.
Ties in Scotland were also strengthened, with a new partnership with Edinburgh’s Dance Base to host future training and to invite participation from dance teaching artists attached to Dance Base partners, such as Scottish Ballet, Scottish Dance Theatre, City Moves and the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance.
That these connections have sparked an ‘appetite for the arts community in Milan to embrace Scotland’s inclusive arts practice promoted by Paragon’ speaks of the successful, lasting outcomes from this collaboration (Ninian Perry, 2020).
Success is also borne out by post training evaluation with 100% of trainees confirming that ‘their perspectives on dance, disability and inclusion had all been broadened significantly’ (Paragon, 2020).
As Ninian Perry comments ‘training was a resounding success and a strong, multi-skilled and mutually supportive teaching ensemble, as well as a compelling performance ensemble, has emerged with its own unique identity and value system nourished by the workshop process’.
The training highlighted the hugely influential part that language plays in shaping reality and perceptions of disability. As one trainee teacher reflected ‘I had never before thought of people as being disabled by society rather than inherently disabled, nor had I ever thought about the importance of language and of how I communicate the exercises I propose.’
Refreshingly, other trainees remarked on the criticality of learning from the disabled participants through a learner-centred approach: ‘I’d never before thought of handing over creative leadership to my students … it surprised me to see just how capable my disabled students were at creating their own performance’
‘I was struck by how truly interesting the final choreographies … were; true performances of high merit … The thing that will be most useful for me was to come to understand the potential of my students’ (Trainee dance practitioner).
The project continues
The coronavirus pandemic put paid to the final part of the exchange involving Italian disabled performing artist Chiara Bersani visiting Scotland to work with Paragon’s lead inclusive dancer and choreographer, Alex McCabe, to deliver training workshops in Glasgow. The visit will now take place in January 2021.
In the meantime, not to be outdone by a global pandemic, Paragon’s Alex McCabe worked with videographer Rachel Watson of Shootsweet to record a virtual gathering of dancers from Italy and Scotland, producing an uplifting illustration of dance-based joy and solidarity.
Stay at home and dance!
You can watch the video here and might want to take up the invite extended in it to ‘stay at home and dance’!