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Marc Brew: ‘After my accident I felt like the dancer was still within me’

Marc Brew Marc Brew

Travelling back from a dance class, Marc Brew was paralysed from the neck down after a motorway accident. He tells David Hutchison how he regained movement in his upper body, and retrained to become a dancer once more.

What do you remember after the accident?

I had that movie moment, when the doctor comes in and you’re lying in bed, and says: “You’ve got a spinal injury. You’re paralysed, and you’re never going to walk again, let alone dance again.” That was my worst nightmare. I was quite stubborn and, thanks to my training, I focused on getting better. As I started getting stronger, I started getting more upper body strength in my arms, which was great. My family initially said that I was going to have to do something else, but I felt like the dancer was still within me. I was 19, and thought: “I need to keep going somehow, to find a way.” Before I knew it, my dancer friends had me back in the studio, exploring what I could do.

How did you go about creating that new skill set?

I retrained. I looked at how to use my chair in different ways. And I had to change my own perception of being a dancer – what it meant for me to dance. I had to stop thinking about standing up, and focus on how it felt on the inside, not looking at the mirror for a long time. I looked at how to translate classical ballet and contemporary dance to the upper body, using my chair for different floor patterns. So I was just being a curious dancer, but exploring a new apparatus.

Is that process reflected in your new dance show?

It looks at the moment I woke up in hospital and at how I rediscovered my body – what it could and couldn’t do. It’s important that I’ve got to a point where I now feel more confident, more comfortable with my own body – so I really wanted to show that. The work shows the audience the difference in my body – the bone, the skin, the skeleton – and how I move. It’s all down on the floor: I’m not using my wheelchair at all in the piece. It’s just me and this big white fabric to represent the hospital bed, a clinical feel at the beginning that turns to the surreal and abstract.

Do you feel the pressure of having to carry the show on your own?

I was worried, it just being me on stage for 40 minutes. I thought, “Will that be enough?” But with the projections and the music, it creates an atmosphere that captivates the audience. People really connect to it, physically and emotionally, as the piece goes on. Some have said it’s hard to watch, but that’s a positive thing. I believe people become more focused on the body and physical language that I’m moving in, and they don’t really focus on my disability. It’s just about humanity and what it is to be human.

CV: Marc Brew

Training: Australian Ballet School
First professional role: Cinderella, Australian Ballet Company (1996)
Agent: None

For Now, I Am will play at Sadler’s Wells, London, on March 10 and 11, and at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre on March 16