Young artists with disability from Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia combined their creative talents to produce the cross-cultural performance, BEASTLY, which featured at festivals in Malaysia and Australia.
BEASTLY is the second major artistic outcome of a long-term, cross-cultural collaboration by Tutti Arts, an Adelaide based company that creates cutting-edge visual and performing arts by emerging artists with disability.
'At its heart BEASTLY is about facilitating cross cultural relationships between people with learning disabilities when they cannot speak each other's language,' explains Tutti Arts CEO and Artistic Director, Pat Rix.
'We have a fantastic team of experienced artists at Tutti who support self-identified disabled artists to express and develop their ideas visually and physically, and facilitate conversations with peers in different countries via Skype to progress them.'
BEASTLY is an immersive performance event that involves one-on-one performances with audience members being led into secret temple spaces to witness the beastly nature that hides within all of us. It is a model that can be transported anywhere and built onsite by any local community with reference to the BEASTLY themes and some very simple plans and dimensions developed by Tutti Arts.
Once the performance village is built core performers offer a series of disability led workshops to communities aimed at building non-language based performance skills to complement the key performances.
'The BEASTLY concept belongs principally to Tutti visual artists Scott Pyle, Kurt Bosecke, Banjobe Hunt and Kimberly Sellers who were the first to articulate and extend our interest in real and mythological animals and their origins,' says Pat.
'In particular they were interested in the idea of the prehistoric connection between Australia and Asia and the land bridge that might have saved some species."
The BEASTLY proposal was for Tutti Arts to lead a creative three-way collaboration with Perspektif, a community organisation for the disabled in Yogyakarta (Indonesia), and Stepping Stone, a disability work centre in Penang (Malaysia).
Having helped set Stepping Stone up 20 years ago, Director of the Penang's George Town Festival Joe Sidek felt BEASTLY would be a great professional opportunity in developing work for a festival context with other young artists with disability in Australia and Indonesia.
Working together, they experimented with drawings for a village where; humans, beasts and hybrid creatures could cohabit in ways that cross traditions and cultures; and where humans took better care of animals. The artists came up with the idea of naturally constructed pods which would be both 'beastly shrines' and also spaces for intimate one-on-one performances or 'encounters' with animals.
BEASTLY premiered at the George Town Festival in Penang in Malaysia on July 29, 2016, and an associated exhibition ran from the 1-28 August. In September 2016 BEASTLY had its Australian premiere at the OzAsia Festival in Adelaide, South Australia.
Audiences were treated to a fun interactive experience, where they discovered a secret village wonderland of temples. Inside each temple they discovered performance art based around the theme of animals and iconography from South East Asia.
'I think BEASTLY had a huge effect on people in both Penang and Adelaide and it certainly generated a lot of discussion amongst those who had seen one performance and then wanted to go straight back in and see another but couldn't because they were booked out,' says Pat.
'What was interesting is there was no mention of any performer having a disability which said to me that BEASTLY performances were so strong they encouraged a different perception of disability – one that has nothing to do with deficiency."
BEASTLY is supported by the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program (ACDGP). The ACDGP supports the delivery of high quality public diplomacy initiatives which promote our economic, artistic and cultural assets to an international audience to strengthen Australia's reputation as an innovative, creative nation and foster collaborative people-to-people links internationally.