Artist transforms the space between ‘dis’ and ‘ability’

03 May 2018
Suzanne Cowan supergirl
Suzanne Cowan performing Pt Chev Hanging. Photo: Bronwyn Evans.

You might well have questioned what you were seeing if you’d happened upon a recent performance by Suzanne Cowan: dancer, choreographer, teacher, and wheelchair user.

Some of her latest works: Pt Chev Hanging and Knot Just Body feature her performing outdoors at an inner city beach and inside the Kenneth Myers black box theatre, suspended by ropes while dressed as Supergirl.

These pieces were completed as part of her Practice as Research Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Auckland’s Dance Studies Programme.

Next week, when she takes to the stage to be formally capped at the University’s May Graduation, she will be make history as the world’s first wheelchair user to complete a PhD with a creative practice component in Dance Studies. This course of study allows postgraduates to produce creative work alongside their written thesis.

Suzanne has been a contemporary dancer for almost two decades, touring to dozens of countries.

“I want society to move away from definitions like disabled and non-disabled. Through my performance I am reimagining and reconstructing how we use space, and specifically our response to disability,” says Suzanne.

Wanting to challenge where she could go, she devised dance works set in locations that were traditionally inaccessible for her.

This included performances in the bush at Piha in West Auckland, under the skirt of a Morton Bay fig tree in a park in Mt Roskill, and dressed as a super hero hanging from a pohutukawa tree, at the beach in Pt Chevalier.

She also created a kinaesthetic theatrical experience at the Kenneth Myer’s Centre over two nights, where the audience were blind-folded and exposed to a range of sensory stimulations (textures, sounds and smells etc). The work was designed to override the viewers’ dominant sense of sight. It included two duets with the artist manipulating 100 metre ropes.

Suzanne regards her desire to push her physical boundaries as a metaphor for challenging the cultural constraints around disability. 

Read Suzanne Cowan's thesis "Choreographing through an expanded corporeality".

Media Contact

Miranda Playfair
Media Relations Adviser,
University of Auckland.
Phone: 021 063 8393