Dan Daw's dance work is a declaration of self and a demand to be seen
Dan Daw is a dancer who has built his career in the UK rather than in his native Australia, and there’s a simple reason why: he has cerebral palsy, and Australian performance typically doesn’t make room for disabled bodies (or really, any body that deviates from the white and slim default). In Beast, he’s determined to make us see what we’re missing.
Inspired by the photography of Joel-Peter Witkin, who reimagined ‘abnormal’ bodies with religious and classical iconography, Beast places Daw’s body front and centre, powdered white and frequently naked.
He first appears almost as a statue, all torso. A driving club beat kicks in, and he begins to move – slowly, deliberately (choreography by Martin Forsberg). We must bear witness.
For a time, he wears a dress – imagery selected to reinforce, and then subvert, the de-sexualised, de-personalised view we have of those with disabilities. Daw is everyone and no one; still and silent at first, a cipher – then, moving with studied, beautiful intention.
He prepares tea, the tray shaking in his hands, to challenge our ideas of capability. He dances by the light of a phone screen, present and contemporary and essential. And he stares at us while we watch him. It’s a challenge.
It’s not a subtle work by any means, but it’s visually arresting – Guy Hoare’s lighting design is incisive and moody, and Daw’s movement is appealingly calculating.
Beast is a declaration of self and a demand to be seen – for us to look at Daw and to judge him, and then to consider those judgments and adjust our perceptions accordingly.