A Friendship Across Geographies, in Celebration of Diversity and Inclusion
The friendship of Audrey from Singapore and Luca in Canada and their unwavering support of each other’s work in creating a world welcoming of people with disabilities
What do you do when faced with a gargantuan professional task about which you know very little?
It was 2016 and I had just embarked on my role as Director of True Colours Festival and I needed to quickly find, connect with and secure an initial line-up of exceptionally talented artists who happen to have disabilities. True Colours Festival had just been given its name, there was no team yet – they would come on board later in stages – and I was flying solo. Google to the rescue!
This really cool name popped up – Luca “LazylegZ” Patuelli. I watched YouTube videos about him and his crew of street dancers called ILL-Abilities, was wowed by their talent, learned that Luca was the founder and emailed him immediately. Sometimes you just know it’s the right call.
This was how I first met Luca from Montreal, Canada. He responded immediately to say they’d love to come out to perform in Singapore at the first True Colours Festival. He too was going on instinct when he responded to a stranger from Singapore.
Then it was a whole string of emails between us – long ones from me, brief replies from him. I know that at some point he began to dread my lengthy emails about every aspect of the performances and the travel to and from Singapore from the five different countries that the crew would be coming from. Dates, performance commitments and fees, taxes, visas, riders, sponsors, contracts, travel arrangements, expenses, extra commitments…you name it, it all had to be covered in that first burst of communication. Along the way we had a couple of Skype calls for detailed discussions.
Fast-forward to March 2018 and the festival’s taking place. We met one early morning at Mediacorp where we were going to be interviewed on radio. We spontaneously hugged, felt an immediate kinship, like we’ve known each other for a long time. The interview is fun but I will always remember the conversation we had in the minibus on the way back to town. Luca shared some of his stories and experiences as a performer, as a father, as an individual. We talk about this new festival, about our home countries, our families, our lives and what had led each of us to that point in time, two passengers in a noisy mini-bus, along Singapore streets.
He told me about a dark period in his life when he was confronted with the reality that he would never be able to roughhouse with his then only child in the way a conventional dad would be able to; and the effect this realisation had on his feeling of self-worth. Luca is so open in his sharing, and is just himself in all his vulnerability. I shared my convictions about the importance of the festival, my self-doubt about the whole venture which surfaces every now and then in challenging moments, my journey to becoming a late-age mother and how that has affected my parenting style. It is these conversations which make me treasure my work.
Fast forward again, this time it’s 2019 and Luca and ILL-Abilities are performing at the launch of the next edition of True Colors Festival, in Tokyo this time. It’s a street event in buzzy Shibuya and the crowd loves this amazing dance-off involving ILL-Abilities and more than 20 Japanese dancers of different abilities and fame. Luca and I reconnect, and it’s like no time has passed.
Then it’s 2020 and Luca and crew member Redo perform in a True Colors Festival music video, released at the height of the global pandemic in June 2020. He’s also part of an online panel discussion about the power of hip-hop to cross boundaries and embrace everyone on the same level. Luca brainstorms with me and connects me to the best facilitator we could have asked for, Jonzi D, from the UK.
In his professional sphere, Luca’s work began years ahead of True Colors Festival, using street dance as his platform, as a soloist and with the world-class ILL-Abilities crew of differently-abled dancers. From being solo dancers who met at dance events around the world, they realised how powerful their stories were and decided to work together to spread a message that is uniquely theirs: No Excuses, No Limits. They have travelled the world, performing and motivating young people through talent and conversations. In its 10th anniversary year, ILL-Abilities was the first street dance crew to be invited to perform at the venerable Le Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal. Luca also teaches dance and is a consultant for a government disability benefit programme for Canadians with Disabilities. Earlier this year, the ILL-Abilities podcast was launched and work is proceeding on a webstore.
All of these experiences were about bringing people together, to celebrate, to see, to discover and grow. They are all about raising consciousness about respect, inclusion and opportunity. Luca and I are always connected in our shared desire to keep doing this work in our respective ways, and together.
We’ve shared contacts and ideas with each other, promoted each other professionally and widened our networks in this way, reaching out to more and more people. We have connected each other with arts and media professionals, artists and government agencies we might never have been able to connect with on our own, in our respective countries of Singapore and Canada and beyond.
In between all the events and professional connections, we’ve continued to share stories about our lives, our families, our dreams and challenges. Family exchanges of photos and news, good and bad, keeping track of each other’s lives, commiserating at times, cheering each other on at others. Through the photos that Luca regularly sends with his family news, I’ve watched his family grow in number, been ‘introduced’ to more members of his family and seen his face change and his smile deepen.
Our most recent exchange was about the new True Colors Music Video which we recently released. Luca didn’t perform in it, but in the spirit of sharing its message and growing our True Colors Festival family, he was excited! “Thank you for sharing this new TC video – it's BEAUTIFUL! I can't wait to share it! I am happy to see my friend Alvin Law and it's always great to see Wheelsmith and Kenta :)”
Friendship is treasured in every culture, and even more when it crosses social constructs and geographical borders.The friendships I value the most are those which were born of choices I made, mutual respect and a tapestry of shared beliefs and dreams. I know that Luca and I will continue on this journey of friendship just as we will on the path towards a world that is more equal.