WATCHING her sister’s struggle with multiple sclerosis (MS) compelled 42-year-old contemporary dancer Shona Erskine to choreograph her first independent full-length work, White Matter.
Assisted by a STRUT Seed Residency, Erskine said she wanted to bring awareness to the magnitude of the devastating disease.
White Matter aims to capture the lived rather than the named experience of MS, focusing on the relationship between two siblings.
“Having a loved one suffering from MS, it is of high priority for me to find ways to contribute to the dialogue on the disease,” she said.
“Her life is becoming progressively more challenging. Recent events in our lives have brought the devastation of the disease, and the complexity of human consciousness concerning life and death, to the fore.
“I want to make socially relevant performance work that explores the nexus between dance and psychology; works that delve into the complex play of human experience and interaction in social contexts.”
Erskine said MS was the most widespread disabling neurological condition of young adults around the world and, although the areas of neuroscience and immunology were rapidly expanding, people living with the disease still did not have effective safe medicines and often lived without a clear prognosis.
There is also a large gender difference in MS prevalence and for this reason Erskine’s work will be performed by an all-male or all-female duo on alternating performances.
“I wanted to explore how men and women managed the content of the work in their own ways as a reflection of this (difference),” she said.
“As expected, the same duet is vastly different on the men to the women.
“Each duo handles the material with different levels of sensitivity, attention, energy and imagination.”
Erskine said she hoped audiences left with a more acute understanding of the emotional reality of living with a degenerative disease and the impact this had on family.
“And I want to bring people who do not necessarily have any strong theatre patronage, but a connection to MS, into the world of creative expression and performance.”
Dancers Scott Elstermann and Harrison Elliott in