I’ve been collaborating with Barrowland Ballet to adapt their brilliant performance Tiger Tale for young audiences with profound autism. This has been a full creative process involving research and development, a school residency, venue/artist training, and rehearsals. This new version, Playful Tiger, stands up as a piece of work in its own right. It’s something I have been wanting to do for a while, and even wrote a blog about it a while back.
My practice is rooted in sensory performance. The sensory performance sector is extremely small, and currently led by three or four main players. For me, the Playful Tiger process has been the chance to break out of any set ideas about what performances for neurodiverse audiences should look like. I have been excited and challenged to explore how contemporary dance can translate for young audiences with profound autism.
Although access is of course everyone’s responsibility, I have realised that when making work for audiences with more profound needs, there should be a synergy between the artist’s interests and the audience’s. I have been inspired by Barrowland Ballet’s boldness, and how they have not approached this audience with fear, but with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. The company and audience feel a natural match, both thrive on disruption/improvisation and have an uninhibited way of making/viewing theatre. I am always looking to introduce more diverse companies and artists to making for neurodiverse audiences, so for me, it has been a glorious meeting to observe!
Compacting not simplifying Throughout the adaption process Natasha Gilmore and I have been exploring ways of compacting rather than simplifying the show’s content. Some of my favourite parts are the bitter-sweet, emotionally complex moments. Even if a young person in the audience doesn’t follow the plot, they are sensitive to rhythm, tone and atmosphere, so it feels really satisfying that this show offers them such a rich emotional palette. Playful Tiger feels equally art and audience driven. I have enjoyed exploring how to keep the dramatic tension going, even in highly interactive, sensory sections and Natasha has really pushed this, which I love.
Risk Playful Tiger is all about risk. The first image is the daughter character (played by Jade Adamson) lighting a match onstage and putting her hand through it. The show is full of physical risk, with a daring, dynamic range of movement. For young people who are so often in institutional contexts where risk is avoided at all costs, I think this show offers a healthy celebration of risk and its creative possibilities which is refreshing.
Positive touch The young audiences, who are mainly non-verbal, seem to really respond to the performance language of communicating through the body. The dancers have the strength and skill to give individuals in the audience high octane kinesthetic experiences if they desire, such as being lifted and swung around. They also can offer deep pressure through contact improvisation, which many of the young people find very relaxing. Of course, this runs into all sorts of conversations around child protection and how this type of physical interaction will be perceived by the adults accompanying the young people. What’s great about Barrowland Ballet is that they do not let fear of this dilute their artistic intention or the experience they want to give their audiences. Many of the most moving moments in the process have been when a young person interacts with a dancer and a duet emerges. I have been blown away by the dancer’s sensitivity in these moments. It is at these points you really see the performers and audience as equals.
We are half way through rehearsals and I am genuinely really excited to get this show on tour. Playful Tiger is not complete until it meets its audiences. I know that some amazing, spontaneous moments and adventures are going to happen.
Playful Tiger is touring Scotland this autumn along with internationally renowned Tiger Tale and Tiger.
21st September- Playful Tiger, 1.30pm | Tiger, 7pm
22nd September- Tiger Tale, 11am
0141 276 9696 (opt 1)
Eden Court, Inverness
24th September- Playful Tiger, 11am
01463 234 234
The Byre Theatre, St Andrews
27th September- Playful Tiger, 11.30am | Tiger Tale,7pm
01334 475 000
Johnstone Town Hall, Johnstone
30th September- Tiger, 7pm
1st October- Playful Tiger, 11am
0300 300 1210
Perth Theatre, Perth
2nd October- Tiger Tale, 7pm
3rd October- Playful Tiger, 6pm
01738 621 031
The Barn, Banchory
6th October- Tiger, 8pm
7th October- Playful Tiger, 11am | Tiger Tale, 2.30pm
01330 825 431
Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling
12th October- Playful Tiger, 10.30am & 1.30pm
13th October- Tiger Tale, 2pm | Tiger, 7.30pm
01786 466 666