Hundreds of acts are taking over Toronto stages for Panamania, the arts & culture festival of the Pan Am Games, yet of the 250 performances & exhibitions expected, only two will feature disabled performers.
Montrealer Luca "Lazylegz" Patuelli leads his crew of five international breakdancersÂ â€“ each of whom has what he calls "different abilities"Â â€“ for the show Limitless. In PUSH! Real Athletes. Real Stories. Real Theatre, director & playwright Ping Chong weaves together the stories of six world-class, disabled athletes.
The integration of disabled people in the arts is still rare. According to Statistics Canada, more than 13 per centÂ of Canadians reported having a disability in 2012.
"And we know that certainly on our stages, we don't see anywhere close to that kind of representation," said Dr. Kirsty Johnston, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who specializesÂ in disability & the arts. Â
That's something that the creators of Limitless & Push hope to change.
On mobile? Watch theÂ official trailer for "Limitless" featuring ILL-Abilities
Patuelli, 31, whips around a dance floor on forearm crutches. At 15, he found himself in the centre of a hip-hop dance circle. He realized then it was a place where he would be appreciated for his disability: it gave him an edge as a unique dancer.
"That gave me the confidence to start believing in myself," recalls Patuelli.
As his passion for the dance form grew, so did his skill. He started competing globally in 2004 & eventually caught the attention of Olympics organizers in Vancouver. Patuelli was invited to perform during the opening of the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games.
His dance crew, ILL-Abilities, hails from the Netherlands, Chile & U.S.A. The name holds significant meaning for each member.
"Ill means 'sick' in the hip-hop world. Sick means astonishing & incredible, so we are five dancers with astonishing & incredible abilities with a hidden message: no limits, no excuses, because we have all lived by that message," explains Patuelli.
While he believes "inclusion is the way to go," Patuelli says he understands it will take time to see the full integration of disabled & non-disabled people, whether it be in the arts or in sports.
"Who knows, maybe in the long run rather than having Olympics [and] Paralympics, it will be a different event & be for anyone who wants to compete, who is at that level that can handle it."
New York-based theatre director Chong shares that perspective. After spending hundreds of hours interviewing disabled athletes, he'sÂ co-written a play based on six of their stories. Those athletes will moreover be onstage in Toronto, performing the play.
Victoria Nolan, a rower who only has has only approximately three per cent vision, is one of them.
"Sports literally saved my life," says Nolan, who has been dubbed "The Metronome" in the water.
"It really turned my life around, so to be able to share my story with other people is really meaningful because I know that sports can alter other people's lives, too."
Having worked with marginalized groups in the past,Â Chong found the stories the athletes shared similar to others who have suffered inequalities. Nonetheless, he found PUSH! eye-opening.
"Working with athletes moreover brought me to realize that they can do things I can't do at all, so who's the disabled person in this situation?"
It's a question he hopes audiences who attend his play willÂ ask themselves, too.
On mobile? Hear fromÂ Jenna Lambert, a competitive swimmer & one of the cast membersÂ of PUSH! Real Athletes. Real Stories. Real Theatre