Avid watchers of RuPaul’s Drag Race would probably agree that the show has been seminal in bringing the art that is drag to the foreground. And almost a decade after the show first aired, a new kind of drag has arisen in the UK – and it’s doing a lot for inclusivity.
Drag Syndrome is a product of the UK-based art collective, Culture Device, which was started in 2007 to promote inclusiveness in the arts. Daniel Vais, creative director and choreographer of Culture Device, believes that including individuals with Down syndrome in Culture Device’s projects has brought a new dimension to performance art.
In an interview with Plathoes Cave, Vais explains that he hadn’t always been involved with people with disabilities, but that he has found the improvisation skills of especially people who have Down syndrome astonishing.
“I never planned to work with artists with disabilities. It all changed during a choreographic residency in Ireland, when I was invited to give a one-off dance workshop for residents of a day centre. Halfway through the workshop, I realised that these participants dance in a way that I can only dream of. Their ability to be in the moment and response to the exercise and music was a pivotal moment for me. From that moment I knew I wanted to keep working with dancers and artists with different abilities. The more ‘different’, the deeper the artist depth. It’s a dream of every choreographer,” said Vais.
Drag Syndrome currently consists of a number of performers, including actor and filmmaker, Otto Baxter (drag name: Horrora Shebang). Although he is certainly not unfamiliar with the stage – he is also a Shakesperian actor, among other things – Baxter told ITV that he has found drag to be a self-esteem booster like no other.
“I’ve really enjoyed being a drag – I definitely got more confident and I’m more comfortable,” says Baxter.
Drag Syndrome has toured the UK extensively in the past year. A few tours overseas are planned for the future.
Speaking to NBC News, Daniel Vais emphasised the transformative impact that drag has – in more ways than one, saying, “It allows you the space to explore sexuality and gender in a society that doesn’t normally allow you to do so. And when you transform, your voice is heard.”
Shante, you stay!
Photo credit: Damien Frost