Disabled artist takes the plunge in Portland for Cultural Olympiad

Disabled artist takes the plunge in Portland for Cultural Olympiad

WATER SHOW: Sue Austin doing a live underwater wheelchair performance

WATER SHOW: Sue Austin doing a live underwater wheelchair performance

First published in Weymouth and Portland Sailing Olympics and Paralympics 2012 News by

DISABLED artist Sue Austin plunged into a Portland swimming pool in an adapted NHS wheelchair and performed a choreographed dance underwater before declaring ‘Next stop, world domination!’

More than 70 spectators gathered at Osprey Leisure Centre to witness the world first – from both above and below the water.

The inaugural pool performance, part of the Maritime Mix Cultural Olympiad by the Sea programme, took place yesterday ahead of the opening ceremony for the Paralympic Games.

It followed a public appearance in Weymouth’s Fleet lagoon in July.

But this time, the audience could see Ms Austin’s movements and 23 dive-equipment clad spectators – including three disabled people and their enablers - witnessed ‘Creating the Spectacle!’ underwater.

Another 50 lined the poolside and watched via a big screen, courtesy of Purbeck Film Festival.

Ms Austin, who began using a wheelchair in 1996 following a debilitating illness, wore a floral summer dress as she performed spins above and below the surface to haunting music.

She was joined by seven-year-old Annabel Burton, the daughter of an underwater cameraman, who had joined in during a rehearsal and become part of the show.

The event ended with flame-coloured lights underwater and a ‘lap of honour’.

Ms Austin said: “It was just incredible, it just feels like such an honour and a complete privilege to be here with these people celebrating.

“They’re all part of Creating the Spectacle! now!”

She joked: “I think it’s the beginning of world domination.”

Borough Flame Ambassador and wheelchair user Ian White, 64, said: “It was brilliant.

“What she did there, I was chuffed, I’d love to do that myself.”

South Dorset MP Richard Drax said: “I was exhilarated by the whole thing, it was absolutely remarkable. It’s a lesson for us all, nothing should hold us back.”

The Freewheeling team, who were backed by £50,000 Unlimited Arts Council funding and b-Side festival sponsorship, overcame the minor setbacks of a broken dive fin on the chair and a loose footpad to stage the show.

Project manager Andrea Frankham-Hughes, of Port-land, was ‘very, very proud’ of the project, which they now hope to take to big aquariums around the world.

Her husband Rob Hughes, the team dive instructor, added: “It’s a real honour to have got involved with something that sounded so crazy.”

London 2012 Creative Programmer for the South West Richard Crowe said: “It was amazing, unlike anything I’ll ever see again and it’s here on Portland, fantastic.”

After the show, Freewheel-ing team footage captured in the Red Sea, Egypt, was broadcast at the ICCI360 Dome on Weymouth seafront.

The final pool performance is tomorrow tonight. Visit wearefreewheeling.org.uk

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