Performers in 'Breathe', one of the commissions for Unlimited (Image credit: Richard Jeffery)

Performers in 'Breathe', one of the commissions for Unlimited (Image credit: Richard Jeffery)

Performers in 'Breathe', one of the commissions for Unlimited (Image credit: Richard Jeffery)

Jamie Beddard, one of the artists behind ‘Breathe’, looks back on an international commission for Unlimited, a festival of new work by deaf and disabled artists, which took place at London’s Southbank Centre on 30 August – 9 September 2012.

Last year, Claire Hodgson, executive director of cultural organisation Diverse City, asked The Remix, an integrated youth performance company, what they fancied doing next.

They said they wanted ‘to be part of the opening of the Olympics’. And so, a story, journey and transformation was set in motion.

Our efforts culminated in ‘Breathe’, a collaboration between British and Brazilian artistic companies and artists Alex Bulmer, Dave Toole and myself. 

The performance was part of the Battle of the Winds outdoor spectacular, staged on Weymouth beach to celebrate the opening of the Olympic sailing events on 28 July and screened in London at the close of Unlimited on 9 September.

All involved were touched and changed in some way: the six cross-art-form companies that collaborated, the 80 young people who took part, the numerous volunteers and stakeholders and the 12,000 who witnessed the final show.

Diverse City, Breathe

This commission was supported by the British Council and included a trip to Brazil, as well as young people flying high above Weymouth beach, mass choreography, stunning and individually-designed costumes, specifically composed soundtrack and video backdrops, moments of high comedy and discovery, sleep-filled and sleepless nights, and a collective spirit and determination that kept the project going and growing.

The trip to Florianópolis, Brazil, to collaborate with fellow dancers in local companies APAE Floripa and Estação Dançar was one big highlight. A delegation of 15 — including the lead artists, five young people from Dorset performance companies Remix and Double Act, and support staff — had an experience and adventure that few of us are likely to forget.

There were logistical problems such as missing our connection at São Paulo and linguistic challenges communicating across languages and differing speech patterns. But we solved them all, and these ‘problems’ ended up adding texture and a host of memories to the overall experience.

Florianópolis is a beautiful island and the integrated dancers from Brazil were incredibly generous, disciplined and talented, bringing a beauty and vibrancy that transcended all barriers and eventually transferred to the beaches of Dorset.

After many Skype conversations and workshops, we had finally entered each other’s orbits, exchanging ideas and cultural understanding and forming an ensemble from which the creative shoots could grow.

The artistic collaboration and product worked on so many levels, and as director, I was incredibly proud of what we achieved. Underpinning the creativity was the opportunity to glimpse into other people’s lives and begin to understand the different set of experiences, circumstances and expectations prevalent in Brazil and the UK.

The specific question that kept arising was, and still is, ‘What does it mean to be disabled in these different cultures?”

We were incredibly fortunate to scratch the surface through ‘Breathe’, our trip to Florianópolis and the Brazilians’ return to the UK, and I sincerely hope these voyages of discovery can be a springboard for future exchange and enchantment!

Learn more about Unlimited.

Read about the Dean Rodney Singers, another Unlimited commission.