Gary Gardiner/ Ian Johnston / Adrian Howells: Dancer

Meta-dance is really on trend this season. The three shows I see at Dance Base in swift succession (Dancer and a double bill, A:Version and Pitch) all deconstruct their process and let the audience see their ‘undercrackers,’ as the late Adrian Howells would have put it.

Adrian was a collaborator in Dancer, made with Ian Johnston and Gary Gardiner, and the piece is dedicated to him. They met during Adrian’s residency at Sense Scotland and his mantra that everyone can dance, regardless of physical or learning disability, is their manifesto. Anyone who experienced a one-to-one with Adrian will quiver at certain moments in this piece.

Gary is a tall, beautifully constructed human, with the steely gaze of the professional creative learning practitioner. Ian is compact, has soulful eyes, and a soft voice with a broad Scots accent. Ian dances with companies such as Dance Ihayami and Artform. He also, Gary tells us, has an eclectic range of disabilities. They are here, Gary says, to dance for us; to discuss and demonstrate how it feels to dance, in your body and your mind.  They’ll use Ian’s favourite dance tracks. The floor is theirs, empty save for a pattern of white footprints to help mark positions, and a camera filming them, projecting onto a rear screen. It’s a monochromatic scene; the men costumed in dinner suits. Dancer is going to make its process and its intentions clear and simple, in black and white.

So they dance to Kylie and to Nick Cave; the latter a tender duet on two chairs of wrapped limbs and entwined hands, that conjures Adrian Howell’s embrace. Ian owns the choreography here and in later more upbeat sections; it’s in his muscle and bones. Ian’s expressionistic but controlled movement style is refreshingly free of contemporary dance tropes. They play games with us and we throw paper snowballs at them. Gary reads questions about himself that become progressively more pompous. There is no pretence that Gary is not guiding this story, or that the language spoken is Ian’s rather than Ian’s. The support that Ian needs to perform this piece is there on the surface, he can be unpredictable – a true improviser. But the dependency is shared; they need each other to make this work and Gary won’t be made to look a fool, he’s far too clever and handsome for that.  It’s a piece that grips and charms with its cleverness and disarming approach. They both get wholly lost in the dance at times as do we, joining them on stage for joyful bop to Pharrell William’s Happy. As Gary says at the start, ‘we are going to show you how it’s supposed to be done’ and, with both Unlimited behind them, and bookers clamouring for tickets, Dancer seems to be doing it right.


Dancer is presented as part of the Made in Scotland programme at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016. 

Featured image by Niall Walker.



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About Lisa Wolfe

Lisa Wolfe is a freelance theatre producer and project manager of contemporary small-scale work. Companies and people she has supported include: A&E Comedy, Three Score Dance, Pocket Epics, Jennifer Irons,Tim Crouch, Liz Aggiss, Sue MacLaine, Spymonkey and many more. Lisa was Marketing Manager at Brighton Dome and Festival (1989-2001) and has also worked for South East Dance, Chichester Festival Theatre and Company of Angels. She is Marketing Manager for Carousel, learning-disability arts company.