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Transcript of the videos

Rita Marcalo

Part 1

My name is Rita Marcalo, and I am a performance artist so I make performance work. I run my own company called Instant Dissidence and I create and tour my own work. I am a lecturer, I teach in dance at York St John University, and I also think of myself as a researcher because I do what is called ‘practice based research’ which is when I write around issues of performance and performance studies and I often write reflective papers on work that I do and issues that they might bring up.

I understand myself as a Portuguese woman currently living in the UK so I am no longer Portuguese in who I am anymore and I’m not British, but I am a combination of both. I feel very British when I go over to Portugal and very Portuguese when I am over here. I am also a disabled woman as I suffer from epilepsy and I am also a lesbian, so I suppose those 3 identities define who I am.

The idea of my kind of work that explores my epilepsy is something that I have thought about for years and it wasn’t until actually the right opportunity came by that I decided to do it, so it was being given the Interact placement, going to GlaxoSmithKline, spending some time there, four months there. Going on a placement and actually studying epilepsy there and the drugs that develop there with the neuroscientists, they kind of made me decide to finally do it.

How did it feel? It felt like something that, it was a part of me that I had very much a choice of whether to reveal or not reveal. It all of a sudden became something that was much in the open and it did take me by surprise at how the fact that I did that then I really find myself to myself in the doing of that.

For many years I have felt that I don’t even have the right to think that I have a disability because I control it quite well, sometimes it effects my life, most time it doesn’t and I get this medical exception certificate from the NHS which everyone with a disability gets, well, everyone with epilepsy gets, which means that I get free medication, I felt guilty about that for such a long time and I never really kind of almost felt entitled to used the ‘D’ word myself, not that I felt uncomfortable with it but I always felt that other people were so much more entitled to use it because their disabilities were either so much more visible or had had much more of an impact in their lives, and so this was a process of dealing with this for myself in a more conscious level and actually claiming would mean for me that I don’t feel guilty about it anymore.

So back in 2007, I, after my placement at GlaxoSmithKline I came back to Yorkshire Dance and had 2 weeks of exploration of ideas in the studio which I then showed to an invited audience and I presented to the audience all the different ways which I didn’t want to about epilepsy. So I went through all the ways that I didn’t want to represent it. I definitely didn’t want to dance in a ‘jerky’ way and I didn’t want to pretend to have an epileptic fit and I didn’t want to make anything… what’s the word? … self-indulgent, and one of the things that came out of deciding what I wasn’t going to do was the thing that I did want to do. This was the idea to just present it, so the idea of presentation came about, the idea of asking people to not be spectators, but to be witnesses came about and so I fell in love with the idea of creating a 24hr situation where I was going to try and induce an epileptic seizure and that would be the presentation rather than the representation, as it is often done in art.

And how did you feel during the performance, during the 24 hours? And how did you feel after?

So mixed. At the beginning I felt quite elated, well, the whole thing was such an interesting experience and I loved the fact that I was comparing other people and announcing their performances from inside this little cage and I loved the whole experience of being with people for 24hrs and I … half way through the performance I started to feel that I hadn’t planned it properly because I wasn’t having a seizure, and I felt slightly annoyed that there were so many health and safety constraints that I had to obey by that in effect I wasn’t able to actually push it as far as I could of in terms of trying to induce a seizure and at the end I was feeling quite disappointed for the audience because I felt a responsibility, I wanted to make the show happen and I wanted to give people what they might have come for and I didn’t so I felt really disappointed but actually once it finished I can see the work on a broader sense. The work that was just as much about what was there as it was about what we discussed on blogs and between people so considering working in that broader level I’m very happy as to what the work did, even though I wasn’t successful in my attempt.

I was expecting a reaction, a divisive reaction on a local level. I was expecting that maybe in Leeds, probably in Yorkshire, people may have talked about it, they could have maybe some divisive reaction about it. I wasn’t expecting that it would take the proportions that it did take and I wasn’t expecting the strength of opinion from some people that were so much against it were manifesting and kind of feeling the target of attacks, I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting people to say that they didn’t think that was art or people would say that they didn’t think I should be doing it or people would even say that it was representing people with epilepsy and giving them a bad name, I was expecting that but I wasn’t expecting to be so attacked. Yes… My reaction to that was to, actually, it made me more determined to do it, because one of the things I love about art is when art kind of plays with certain cultural conventions like what bodies are entitled to be seen or in what states, what bodily states are and aren’t acceptable and so for me it became about that and it became for some reason, that epileptic body in that epileptic state isn’t acceptable to been seen and so that made me even more interested in making sure that it was seen.

Part 2

So the first work, Involuntary Dances_, was looking at the behaviours that would place my body, potentially, in an epileptic state. The second piece, She’s Lost Control, is looking at a whole different set of behaviours that I, and many other people with epilepsy, utilise to make sure that their body doesn’t go into an epileptic state, so things like, making sure that your body is at the right temperature, making sure you don’t drink alcohol, and that you take your medication and checking yourself and checking your senses etc, so all those behaviours are… they are all trying to control the body whereas Involuntary Dance was all about me trying to completely lose control and this piece is trying to… all the behaviours are about trying to keep control of your body and epilepsy. The third work, is potentially called Sem Corpo but I’m not to sure. Sem Corpo is Portuguese for ‘no body’ and for ‘nobody’ and what I will try to do is kind of return the journey to where it began at GlaxoSmithKline, and to a kind of difficulty I have with epilepsy medication and with the whole… several things to do with epilepsy medication and one of them is being somebody who is vegetarian and doesn’t believe in animal testing and I make a decision to take medication which is obviously tested on animals. How do I feel about that? How and why is it that in so many aspects of my life I won’t eat meat or I won’t do certain things that mean that animals have been put in a certain position, but I make an exception for this? And therefore what do I think about animal testing and my relationship with the drug basically? - so that is what that one is about.

If my relationship with people that I have known for a long time has changed now that they know about my epilepsy? No, what has been interesting is that people who I’ve known for a long time who actually already knew of my epilepsy but now have asked me all sorts of questions and I found myself being grilled about how does it feels?, how do you know?, what’s an aura… ? and questions coming from people who I wasn’t expecting them to come from and it's been great to just talk to people about it and see people’s curiosity about it as well it's been great but I haven’t felt that people worry about me more or less, just almost the permission to ask questions which I have been very happy with actually.

I have been very surprised with some people who I have known for a long time who I work with who have had such a positive reaction to the work and have engaged with work on a conceptual level – and with its complexities at a conceptual level - and I have also been very surprised that other people who I have worked with for a long time have had such difficulty understanding the work and my place in the work and the complexities of it so, yes, I have had very negative reactions from some people who I have worked with.

When I first graduated I did work for other companies as a dancer and then very soon I just had the urge to develop my own choreographic signature. I think that it is great up to a certain extent to be a performer but to a certain extent, I wanted to find my voice as a maker and I have never been able to decide what I wanted to do in the life of dance. I love performing, I love making work, I love teaching it and writing about it and for a long time I thought that I had to make a decision but then I realised that I don’t have to make a decision. I can do all of them and move in and out of one. A lot of people sometimes ask me well why don’t you just stop teaching and make it your company and do it full time and the answer to that is that I would miss writing and researching and teaching so I don’t think I would be able to just do one. So why the necessity to lead? I suppose it's just about feeling that you have a voice and that you can say something.

The more I grow older and understand myself as an artist, the more I am committed to making work which, at least from my point of view, will mean something in terms of how it may play with cultural conventions, so that means that I will probably stick my head out in ways that maybe slightly risky, but that is definitely what I want to do. I spent the early years of my dance making work… I come from quite a traditional dance background so my early years as a maker were spent making dances that were pretty and beautiful and completely meaningless in terms of what they might say about human beings or about our culture and I have now decided that that is not what I am going to do anymore.