Drag Syndrome: The Wonder of an Extra Chromosome

Daniel Vais is the Creative Directors of Drag Syndrome, the UK’s first drag event featuring performers with Down’s syndrome.

Tell us about your creative work in only 10 words.
My creative work is bold, fresh, challenging and stunning. 

What does this work involve? 
In the past 10 years my creative work revolved around working with artists with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities. I am the artistic director of Culture Device, an innovative art company for artists with Down’s syndrome. We mainly use dance and performance as our medium. I am also the creative director of Radical Beauty Project, a ground breaking fashion and art photography project working with the wold’s top photographers. In the past few months we developed Drag Syndrome- the world’s first drag troop for drag artists with Down’s syndrome.

I am always interested in the new – trying things that are not mainstream to create platforms for artists and creative people that the current cultural structure either ignore or push away. I like to challenge perceptions and open up culture to other. Performing drag is a great opportunity for artist to try something new and fresh and be fierce. 

How did you begin?
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. Half way 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.

A few months ago I was invited by Tam Vibert to create new work at Lime Wharf. When I went with my colleague Sarah Gordy, one of the UK’s leading artists with Down syndrome to check out the space, there was a brilliant performance by a couple of Drag Queens. I asked Sarah if she would like to experiment with Drag, she said ‘oh yeah I would love to, it looks like a lot of fun’ and I came with the title Drag Syndrome on the spot. That’s an instant inspiration for you. We then performed it for the first time at Vogue Fabrics as an experiment. It went so well both for the artists and the audience that we decided to keep going and started a tour performing in major music festivals and clubs.

What inspires and motivates you?
My main inspiration are people, human inspirations and dance. I am in love with humanity (most of the time). The artist I am working with supply me with endless inspiration. People with Down’s syndrome are ever so creative, intelligent and curious. Spending a lot of time with them gives me plenty of ideas and motivation in abundance. They have the best ideas, they think big with no limitations. They like to dare and try new things all the times. It’s so inspiring.

We tour a lot and so I am witness to horrible discrimination and bad attitude towards people with Down’s syndrome. Some people judge them and treat them like cute children or ‘retards’. That is the opposite of what they are. Most people with Down’s syndrome I know or work with are fierce, free spirited and have deep awareness. There are a lot of successful artists with Down’s syndrome, they are all natural born artists, entertainers and stage animals. It’s in their blood – or shall I say, in their extra chromosome. This mysterious extra chromosome is a wonder. I suggest all government to have them on board as advisors. Watch what can happen!

How has your work developed over time?
People with Down’s syndrome are progressive so the work is evolving all the time. The more we show work and gain a larger audience, the bolder and more daring the work gets. The artists gain a lot of stage experience and we can touch subjects that are much deeper and try new approachers for performances.

What’s your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement is when the artists say “we really enjoyed it, lets do more it”. It happens in every show we do.

How do you hop your project will evolve in the future.
I hope we keep perfoming all over the world, reaching out to new audience and new platforms. I hope society will embrace us as much as the avant garden culture embraced us and I hope the artists I am working with will continue to enjoy their art.

Images courtesy of Drag Syndrome -https://www.culturedevice.org/drag-syndrome/
Interview by Bella Spencer

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