It is a Thursday afternoon and 25-year-old dance trainer Subastian Tan is in a studio with three other dancers preparing for a Children’s Day performance on Oct 2.
They listen attentively to Tan and follow his lead, creating Bharatanatyam-inspired hand movements as they move gracefully around the room.
There is something different about these dancers though.
Most of these dancers from the Diverse Ability Dance Collective have Down syndrome, and Tan, the programme leader, hopes to provide a platform for their stories to be shared with others.
DADC, a division of Maya Dance Theatre (MDT), was started in 2018 to provide semi-professional dance opportunities for people of all abilities. It is a community initiative by the company to create a co-existing space for persons with disabilities and art-makers.
Tan, who recently graduated from SMU, works as a full-time project artist with MDT. He tells The Pride that he sees the special-needs dancers he works with no differently from any other performer.
He says: “When we tap on the perspectives, stories and backgrounds of each person, we get to see them holistically and that comes out through their dance, their art, their music.”
“We want people to recognise that everyone is unique and we have our own set of lived experiences and all of that is useful and worthy to be shared.”
Presented as a performance video, Mighty Mousedeer of the Forest features a light-hearted combination of dance, music, drama and storytelling, taking viewers through the journey of the Mighty Mouse Deer Sang Kanchil, as she finds her family and overcomes challenges faced with the help of her friends.
It is the culmination of the dancers’ hard work throughout the year, having had to adapt to Covid-19 with weekly rehearsals on Zoom during the circuit breaker, resuming physical sessions with a maximum of five dancers in the studio since the reopening of Phase 2.
Initially, the production was planned to be a live performance as part of the Arts in Your Neighbourhood programme spearheaded by the National Arts Council. But due to safe distancing measures, the live performance was cancelled and DADC has adapted the piece into a video recording, to be live-streamed for children and their families on Children’s Day.
“The dancers were initially disappointed, but they quickly found the drive to continue working on Mighty Mousedeer of the Forest again when we got the opportunity to present it digitally,” Tan says. “We are very excited to present it this Friday as a Children’s Day dedication.”
The video performance was shot by Millenia Motion Pictures at Gateway Theatre in Bukit Merah and it is DADC’s first time recording and sharing a work in this medium.
“With the dancers each owning their characters, we went scene by scene and completed the filming in just four hours!” Tan says.
“There’s a bit of Indian dance nuance to it, so there might be some fun to play with the hand gestures,” Tan says, explaining that during the post-show activity, dancers will share some of the movements in the show.
“More importantly, because we are sharing the stage with persons with disabilities, I hope that children from a young age will get to see that they might be different, but we can still coexist, we can play with each other, dance with each other. And there’s nothing that’s stopping us from doing that.”
Proceeds will go towards keeping DADC running and sharing more of such empowering initiatives to give back to the community. It will also go towards the ultimate goal of fuelling the dreams of its members to dance semi-professionally.
Tickets to watch Mighty Mousedeer of the Forest on Oct 2 (Fri), 8pm are available at https://mightymousedeer.peatix.com/