Five years ago, it was just a pipe dream.
Now, Gathered Together is a reality: Scotland's first ever inclusive Dance Festival will take to the stage at Tramway later this week with keynote speakers, panel discussions, and, perhaps most importantly of all, performances by companies from across the globe that are all open to the public.
The whole initiative harks back to 2009, when a day-long conference on dance and disability was held in Glasgow at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama). Called Moving On, it has since lived up to its name by putting into effect ideas tabled by delegates from different backgrounds and interests, not just in Scotland but from across the whole UK. What had started out as a shared investigation into the why, what and how of dance for everyone, including those with physical and learning difficulties, promptly gathered momentum and an avowed ambition to do more than just talk about access, provision and participation.
One of the driving forces behind that conference was the Glasgow-based Indepen-dance. Founded by Karen Anderson in 1996, the group is not only Scotland's leading inclusive dance development company, it has increasingly built up a reputation at home, and abroad, for work that is artistically adventurous, of high quality and hugely rewarding for audiences and participants alike. So when Anderson started talking to funders, professional artists and other companies about staging Gathered Together, the response was "how soon?"
Creative Scotland, the Get Scotland Dancing project and Culture 2014, the arts programme connected to Glasgow's staging of the Commonwealth Games, all lined up to back the venture. Even so, it has taken years of planning to bring the original intentions to fruition and it's only now that Anderson is at the stage of watching the pieces of her cherished jigsaw assemble at Tramway. "It has been an ambition of ours to host an event like Gathered Together for years now," she says. "And I'm delighted! We have achieved this goal. I'm really looking forward to seeing the work of some of the most amazing dancers, we have companies coming from Paraguay and America, as well as welcoming a real variety of workshop leaders, all of whom have a great deal of knowledge and experience to share with the delegates at the festival. As for audiences? The festival will have something for everyone so I have to say, don't miss it!"
When Anderson reminds the public that they can, indeed, buy tickets to see the companies, right through to the last night ceilidh at the Briggait, she's flagging up one of the underlying aims of Gathered Together. Namely to tackle the barriers that still exist within the public's perception of dance and disability. Two professional performers who are leading the way here, and acting as inspirational role models for other disabled dance-makers, are Marc Brew and Caroline Bowditch. Bowditch has just finished a stint on the Fringe, where she won a Herald Angel award (in association with Heverlee) for Falling in Love with Frida. She and Brew, both of them wheelchair users, first worked together in Dundee during their time with Scottish Dance Theatre. Since then, they have go on to have highly successful solo careers, founded their own companies and been guest choreographers with other groups.
Now, they too are "gathered together" in a collaboration called Leftovers, which can best be described as "an eclectic mix of discarded dances carefully gathered from the studio floor, each one with its own potential, "Elsewhere in the festival programme, you'll find Divide, a trio that Brew has choreographed for the AXIS Dance Company (USA).
"It's the first time AXIS, America's leading physically integrated dance company, has toured to the UK," says Brew. "And I am thrilled that Scotland has the opportunity to see them perform my work with fierce physicality, passion and style."
But even though Brew has established himself as a sought-after creative force in dance-making, he's well aware of how much still needs to be done for disabled performers, professional and otherwise, to become a valued part of our nationwide arts provision.
He sums up Gathered Together as "an action-packed festival of diverse and interesting work" where UK and internationally respected disabled artists and companies will come centre stage in their own right.
Like Anderson, who has poured whole-hearted commitment into making this happen, however, Brew knows that the full meaning of integration lies in the public seeing for themselves what Gathered Together is about. His message? "Check it out and come and see us."
Gathered Together is at Tramway from Wednesday to Friday. www.tramway.org. The Gathered Together Ceilidh is at the Briggait on Saturday. Book through firstname.lastname@example.org