Preparing for a date or a night out for many people might elicit images of perusing the wardrobe, multiple changes, checking and re-checking in the mirror, before making a desperate dash out the door.
For Michelle Ryan in Intimacy, it’s an activity that requires the assistance of three unsuspecting audience members, one of whom is instructed by her to “make sure my knickers stay up”. It’s a light-hearted and playful moment in a show where intimacy takes on new meaning – it’s enforced, shared, yet equally isolating.
At the age of 30, Ryan was diagnosed with MS; a diagnosis that resulted in her giving up a career as a dancer. Intimacy is her response to the question of why she stopped dancing, and it’s a deeply personal response. She exposes her vulnerabilities, her dependencies, her truth, and ultimately her acceptance, all through the medium she felt she no longer belonged to. The power of Intimacy is profound.
The audience line either side of a bar, steeped in the soulful, jazz infused score performed by Emma Bathgate of Lavender vs. Rose. Vincent Crowley of the Torque Show plucks an unsuspecting member of the audience to join him for a slow dance, whilst Ryan sits on the periphery, a silent spectator. It’s a position that Ryan adopts at various points throughout the show; highlighting her sense of isolation.
Through a series of fictional scenes with long term friend and collaborator Crowley, Ryan calls on the audience to enter her world and her most intimate thoughts. There’s the date where the game-changing touch barrier is broken by the question: “can you feel this?”; the revelation of disturbing nightmares and the camping trip, during which the expectation of intimacy is hastily replaced with separation and the sight of Ryan sitting cocooned within a sleeping bag, and watching on as her once skittish date sparks a connection around the makeshift flames of a campfire. Humour pierces the scenes, but these episodes never veer from being a carefully nuanced series of honest revelations into Ryan’s reality, and more importantly a re-imagining of her talent along shifting and unsteady lines.
There’s a beautifully choreographed dance scene between Ryan and Crowley, which sits in striking contrast to the slow dance performed by Crowley and the hand-picked audience member. Ryan’s dance with Crowley is more sensual, vivid and expressive. Although facing physical limitations, Ryan is merely dancing an alternative dance. Therein lies the beauty of the show. Her artistic expression remains lucid and captivating.
During the post-show discussion, Ryan spoke of her loss of identity as a dancer after her diagnosis. Her trips to the theatre ceased and she refrained from referring to herself as a dancer, but, she claims that the biggest revelation of Intimacy is: “I’m still relevant. There’s no other dance where you can move the way I do.” A message so powerful, an audience member encouraged Ryan to perform again, solo. An inducement, I too hope she will accept.
Originally published on Disability Arts Online