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Colin reflects on decibel's aim to bring Performing Arts from across the diversity strands under one banner / 24 September 2011

photo of a man in a blue, sports top, whirling a hula hoop

Brian Lobell spins a yarn, a tale and a hoop while giving his audience a feel of his life experiences. Photo © John Reed

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A week on from decibel, the Arts Council’s Performing Arts Showcase in Manchester from 12-18 September 2011 and I am still reeling from the expanse and breadth of the work we saw there. At a time when the recession is hitting the Arts, it was exciting to experience a festival that understands how bringing artists and companies from across the range of work being made under the diversity banner can create an atmosphere that fosters new challenges, new conversations and new ways of doing things.

I won’t forget seeing Avant Garde Dance performing break-dance on top of a black cab. Aside from the decibel audience they drew the attention of builders and office workers who happened to pass the car park outside the music theatre where it was all taking place.

Brian Lobel [ ] broke taboos with an extraordinary performance about his experience of testicular cancer that proved that one of the best ways of coming to terms with chronic, life threatening illness is by being able to laugh at it. The point of it was to break down barriers to the way we talk about impairment. I found it inspiring as someone who struggles on a daily basis, to come to terms with chronic illness.

The opportunity to meet and learn from people like Rawand Arqawi from the Freedom Theatre in Palestine was immense. There are big advantages to bringing artists together from across the sectorial divides. Maria Oshodi, Director of Extant put it well when she said “My art practise is informed by my norm, but bringing my practise into a more public arena, turns it into something other than the 'norm'.”

So crossing those divides can create the conditions to spark the imagination and break out of that sense of being constrained by the fact you are only speaking to people with a similar idea of what it means to be different. Difference provides the arts with a rich tapestry that is truly innovative and refreshing. But there needs to be a way to open up debate to a wider arena – and that is what the decibel showcase provides.

Programmers I spoke to gave a range of responses to how they might take on board the work on show, and the artists being showcased. But essentially there was no mistaking the fact that work coming out of practice that falls under the diversity banner; that represents the different agendas: disability, race, lgbt and women’s issues, can offer something refreshing and new to the Arts.

Keywords: diversity,performing arts