My name is Nadine Mckenzie and I am a dancer/ performing artist living with a disability from Cape Town South Africa. I have been working in the Inclusive dance field for the past 14 years. For the past 7 years I have been working with inclusive dance company Unmute Dance Theatre which I co-founded with 3 colleagues. What interests me is telling stories, lived experiences, finding creative ways to communicate these stories and bring awareness and open dialogue around various topics. Be it my own experiences /stories or that of people and my environment around me.

During this residency I would like to explore the relationship I have with my wheelchair, why?

For the past 29 years i have been using a wheelchair after being involved in a car accident. For many years I have gone through several phases of what my chair means to the world around me and how it is perceived, and the influence this has had on me as an individual. What my relationship to my wheelchair is and has meant over the years. How this has changed / shifted as I grew older and in particular in the different spaces and environment I’ve found myself in.

I have learnt through my environment and society that my chair is not seen as something positive, beautiful, empowering on the contrary quite the opposite. Although it has carried me for 29 years, given me mobility and freedom.

What I wish to explore? Beauty of my chair, the trust it has taught me. Strength, reliance. It is more than just a chair, it is part of me. Shift the misconception and negative connotation that is attached to it.

Please feel free to check in from time to time as I will be sharing my journey of this exploration with you through images, text and videos.

Hope you enjoy my sharing and I look forward to any questions and/ or exchange..


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Hide and seek

A woman in a long white dress and long dark hair is lifted into the air by a tall man with wearing a white t-shirt and beige chinos. An empty wheelchair is next to them, ignored.


the chair was never an obstacle


it was a way of breaking the ice

many friendships that grew

in that little cul-de-sac

from movie nights

to girls playing with their skipping ropes

always complaining about who should do the skipping

without me minding

that I couldn’t do the jumping

these conversations

and games happened so organically

with ease, no one ever made a fuss

about the chair

(other than the times they fought to play in it)

we would play, just get on with things

with and without the chair One of the all-time faves was Hide and Seek.

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I grew up in a community where everyone

knew each other.  For the first 6 years of my life

I was an only child, living with both parents

and the only friends I had and knew

were the ones from school

and cousins.

At the age of 7

we moved to a new home

still in the same area

everyone who moved into the new community

around the same time

none of the homes had fencing

yet most days, I’d spend in the house

and occasionally on the outside kitchen porch

with the kitchen door wide open and mum always busy cooking up something nice

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My ability

A woman sits in her chair suspended in the air held by a man who lies on his back.

I’ve never known what it means to be bound

bound to this chair, if anything

 it’s given me the most incredible ability

the ability to move, the ability to live life,

the ability to experience the world.

When I think of my chair I think

of all the incredible things

I’ve been able to do with it, as a result of it.  

when going places, or viewing apartments

over the years, I have never mentioned before the time

that I use a wheelchair:

I somehow always forget

to mention it feeling it to be unimportant.

The scared and shocked faces!

Most close friends now joke about, and say

‘dude did you tell them you’re coming with an extra?’

At times when going out, everyone would

get into the car and ask

‘What are we waiting for?’ and I’d say

‘For one of you to put the chair in the boot!’

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Upside down image of a woman being held in the air in her wheelchair by a man lying on his back.

In my childhood,

I felt safe, with my chair

and my environment

and people in my life

my family never allowing any self-pity

but that was in South Africa with its

imbalances, across race, culture, language,

disability is perhaps the most overlooked.

I only experienced discrimination

later in life, feeling the weight and smack

of discrimination hitting me

but I could withstand the blows

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Screw loose

A muffled image in blue and black, a woman in a wheelchair falling backwards down an escalator

I remember the day –

16th of August –

one of my wheels came off.

Some screws came lose,

got lost and it fell off

as I was wheeling myself.

in that very moment

I burst out with laughter thinking

screw loose laughter, hilarious. Oh shit!

Yet somehow feeling safe and held,

having learned long ago how to handle

my chair, suddenly in that moment

conforming to society’s idea that I am stuck

and bound and cannot move around

which isn’t the case, when

I have my screws in place,

Which isn’t how I feel about my chair at all.   

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One, not other

The white ghost like figure is clearer, almost dancing holding out to embrace. We see Nadine more clearly in her wheelchair, her long hair dishevelled.

My brakes who at times fail me

yet have always been in reach

when I need to stop

and be still. 

The handles, that have made it okay

for others to reach out and come up close

I have learnt that your presence

will always fill the rooms we enter

and that that is not

a bad thing.  I have learnt

that we are one and you are not the other. 

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Keeping moving

a mottled light blue dusky brown unclear image of Nadine in motion. Her wheels replicated and vibrating. Her hair blowing in the breeze.

My wheels, gliding me

through wherever I need to be,

uneven roads, uphill, rough streets,


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a mottled image of Nadine in a wheelchair sat upright, seen sideways her left arm on the wheel her right arm extended and indecipherable images of people around her in circles and shades of salmon and aquamarine

my back rest has taught me

not to slouch, to sit up straight

upright n’ ready to face the world

with confidence; the hard and strong frame

that has carried me through time

on the lightest and heaviest of days.

Sometimes unaware of its strength,

I know it’s always there to rely on.

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I’m ready

A blurred unclear picture in soft aquamarine blue and light browny pink of a hand reaching. A wheelchair wheel is visible.

My seat that I gently slide over

and into each day

Sometimes unaware

of the support you give

As I slide over my body sinks into it,

the feeling of being held and ready –

I am ready to go do life. 

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Black and white image of a woman with long dark hair sits horizontally held in her wheelchair in a dance pose. A man lying on the ground holds the woman and her wheelchair above him.
Nadine Mackenzie dances with partner in her wheelchair

Through this residency I am exploring the connection to, and relationship with, my wheelchair and me moving in different spaces and what this has meant for me over the 29 years of using one.

I am interested in the different emotional phases I’ve gone through in using a wheelchair. How this has had an impact internally but also externally.

Dance has played a huge role in my independence, confidence and acceptance of self and others.  I want to explore motion in the studio, where I am more fluid and confident compared to outside spaces, revisiting my childhood games of hide and seek and when one of the kids would give me a piggy back so I could be part of the game with another pushing the chair, erasing the wheel tracks in the sand so no one could find us. 

This Vital Capacities commission is about exploring these different pathways, tapping into these trails and travails and experiences through film.

I think self-awareness and awareness of the chair and difference came at quite a later stage, and a lot of this had to do with society, and how disability is perceived in the world we live in and how people with disabilities get treated. So with the work I am thinking of putting together a 5 minute video of me moving in studio, exploring different connections, emotions and states of being I have experienced.

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Interview with artist, Nadine Mckenzie

Jamie Wyld (Vital Capacities’ director): Thanks for being part of the Vital Capacities residency programme. Can you say a little about yourself and your work, perhaps in relation to what you’re thinking about doing during the residency?

I’m a dancer with a disability from South Africa. I have been working professionally for the past 14 years. I am also a teacher in inclusive dance and have received training from Alito Alessi. My interest for integrated work started after I saw an inclusive dance production when I was a student and this shifted how I see disability and dance. What stood out most was at some point during that performance I stopped seeing the wheelchair and I saw the artist, and in that moment I realised this is how I wish society could see persons who live with disabilities.

During this residency I wish to explore my relationship to my chair. What this means to me and how it has impacted my life. This is something that I’ve realised in my own journey; something that I, a lot of times, have not paid attention to. How much I rely on it, need it, and, at times, forget about it.

JW: One of the aims of Vital Capacities is to create an accessible site (so more people can use it) – how do you think this will be an opportunity to develop your way of working?

Accessibility has always been something very close to my heart. There is always room for growth and improvement. How I think this will be an opportunity to develop how I work. To start with I am very interested and feel very passionate about creating work that is accessible for persons with visual impairments. Although I do not have experience in how to go about creating this access I am open and ready to explore and look into this.

JW: What would you like to achieve through the residency? Is there a particular project you’ll be focusing on?

What I wish to achieve? I’d like to see this exploration come to life with a short video presentation. With this my hope is to shift how we see wheelchairs, or any assistive devices  and the fear attached to it, or that we as people have placed on it. To leave us with something to think and talk about and have more room for acceptance of the unknown.

JW: How do you see the next few weeks unfolding? Where would you like it to take you?

At this point, to be honest, I would like to learn as much as possible from everyone I meet and am excited to be in a creative space again. Find out how these ideas and conversations take shape and unfold in creation.

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