Disability-led ensemble Ruckus premiere a new work about coping with the relentless and unforgiving pace of contemporary city life
"Stop the world, I wanna hop on!" – it's the strapline of Ruckus ensemble's Speed of Life, and sums up in a nutshell the main subject of this work and the thrum of urgency that runs throughout it.
Speed of Life uses a hybrid approach – movement and dance, videography, sign-language, performance and art installation – to present a kaleidoscopic view of the experiences of performers Chris Bunton, Audrey O’Connor, Gerard O’Dwyer, James Penny, Digby Webster and Rachel Sugrim (who were all born with Down Syndrome) in everyday life, and during a residency in Cambodia with disability-led organisation Epic Arts.
The imagery in the show ranges from the epic (constellations, oceans, the imagery of war) to the comic and quotidian. Video segments introduce us to several other characters, from the Epic Arts ensemble in Cambodia, and show moments from Ruckus's residence there.
The patchwork structure of short, disparate scenes in Speed of Life allows each performer's perspective to be expressed idiosyncratically: Gerard performs a comic and yet unsettling and occasionally slapstick routine of "rushing"; he and James talk about jobs they've had – cleaning toilets at Maccas, sweeping and moping at Harris Farms. Again, it's comic with an undertow of frustration.
Digby talks about the pleasure he gets from making art; for Chris (a gold-medallist gymnast), it's all about dance.
Perhaps the most moving contributions are from the two women in the show. Audrey, a filmmaker, interviews her mother about how she felt when Audrey was born with Down Syndrome, and whether she was worried that Audrey wouldn't fit in at her mainstream school. Later she talks about her experience in Cambodia, having a crush, and feeling "seen for who she really is".
Rachel Sugrim, who appears in the show only via audio and video recordings, talks about feeling overwhelmed by the pace of things around her, about wanting to find love, about feeling isolated.
This is the message at the heart of Speed of Life: that these performers, like all of us, want to be seen for who they are. For Ruckus, this is particularly urgent: it's what participation in the greater world, and a full life, relies on.
It has to be said, Ruckus are doing pretty well when it comes to cultural contribution: besides his art, Digby was a member of hip hop ensemble First Flight Crew; Gerard is a Tropfest Award-winning actor who is also appearing in Red Christmas, premiering at Sydney Film Festival 2016; Chris, the gold medallist and dancer, is appearing in Abe Forsythe's dark Cronulla Riots comedy Down Under, also premiering at Sydney Film Festival; Audrey is a short filmmaker and actress with award-winning short films under her belt, and who works at Roadshow Films.
But for these six performers, Ruckus is where they share their perspective on life and living with Down Syndrome, and seek to represent the experiences of others in comparable situations – and that's vital for the community as much as for themselves.
Ruckus doesn't have funding for works beyond Speed of Life. You can check out who they are and what they do at Ruckus.org.au – and you can see Chris in Down Under at Sydney Film Festival and Gerard in Red Christmas.