Disabled artists praise dancer’s avant-garde epilepsy experiment


A dancer with epilepsy who will try to induce a seizure in front of an audience has won praise from other disabled artists for bringing the condition “out of the closet”.

Award-winning dancer and choreographer Rita Marcalo will spend 24 hours trying to induce a seizure as part of Involuntary Dances a “24-hour event” at Bradford Playhouse on 11 and 12 December.

Marcalo has stopped taking medication and, during the performance will try to induce a seizure, for example by drinking alcohol, eating dark chocolate and using strobe lights and “specially designed computer programmes”.

If she has a seizure, a “loud alarm will sound” and cameras will start recording, with the audience also encouraged to take pictures.

The Bradford event is the first in a planned trilogy by Marcalo – who has a background in physics – examining the relationships between dance, epilepsy and drug research, in collaboration with neuroscientists from Leeds University.

The 24-hour event will be a one-off, but will also be used as the basis for a film installation.

Poet Peter Street, who has epilepsy, described the performance as “a major, major move forward”, as epilepsy-based art was “probably one of the last avant-garde art forms to be brought out”.

He said Marcalo was “taking control” of her condition, and added: “It is all about us coming out of the closet and this is really going to bring it out with a big bang, and good luck to her.”

Philip Lee, chief executive of Epilepsy Action, said his charity had received “several complaints” about Marcalo’s planned performance, which he said was “potentially very dangerous”.

He added: “At the very least, the performance should carry a health warning advising people that they should not attempt this themselves under any circumstances.”

But a spokeswoman for Arts Council England, which is part-funding the work, said there would be a “full personal and public risk assessment”, with “appropriate medical support” during the performance.

She added: “She is an important artist whose work deserves to be seen, and Arts Council both respects the creative decisions she makes in her work and supports her right as a disabled person to be heard.”

Allan Sutherland, a writer with epilepsy, criticised opposition from “old-fashioned and paternalistic” epilepsy charities.

He said: “It seems to me that she is doing a carefully thought-out piece of work which I think is very interesting.”

He said epilepsy was still “demonised” but usually not visible, so people with the condition do not tend to meet each other and the themes explored by Marcalo are not debated.

Sutherland said Marcalo’s control over her own performance would contrast with intrusive films of seizures that are taken without permission and placed on YouTube.

Peter Street’s fifth collection of poems, Thumbing from Lipik to Pakrac, was published earlier this year by Waterloo Press

24 November 2009