Dusts of powder foundation are falling off the brush all over the table as Sarah Houbolt applies her makeup. She wipes it away, smearing even more on the black surface.

"Do you think he saw that?" she laughs, nodding at the man seated at the reception desk.

Sarah, who is legally blind, is preparing to give me a performance of her aerial acrobatics show.

She will perform with her creative partner, Edward Clendon, at this weekend's InterACT Festival, New Zealand's first disability arts festival.

"I don't like the term 'legally' blind," she says. "I'm partially sighted, I do have some sight. I don't like to live by that label. It's more a government term."

Sarah is 29 and swam for the Australian team at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney. She has been working as a freelance performer and artist for  five years after being part of the Vulcana Women's Circus in Australia.

She came to Auckland  to perform in the Auckland Fringe Festival's Burlesque as You Like It and, after falling in love with the city, stayed.

She has  performed in Auckland since February 2009, specialising in physical theatre as an acrobat, using silks and rings for her aerial displays. She can also be spotted hula-hooping as a featured extra in the upcoming Cirque Du Soleil 3D movie.

Her first job in Auckland was as a community arts co-ordinator for youth at Auckland Council. She says the InterACT Festival shows New Zealand is taking steps in the right direction towards recognising the abilities of artists who are disabled.

"In the UK and US, disability arts have been taken to a new level," she says. "There is a lot more support. I feel that New Zealand's support and acceptance still needs to grow. Arts need to be accessible and value the uniqueness of a person, so that disability doesn't matter any more."

Sarah and Edward first worked together in an Artstation exhibition, called How diversity works. Edward, 28, is an able-bodied actor, dancer and performer.

As the duo bound away in a flurry of Lycra and face powder to get ready for their performance, I can hear them enthusiastically discussing their poses. Edward fiddles with bandages on his arm, an injury from his acrobatic labours.

"The festival is really exciting, and an awesome opportunity for disabled artists to show off their work," he says. "There's a great energy in the performances."

Festival creator and organiser Paula Crimmens says InterAct will be an inspiration.

"This is a homegrown disability arts festival for Auckland," she says. "The focus is on the arts - it's quirky and unique with a 'fringe festival' style.

"We've got a 'get up and do it' attitude and want to inspire a new group of people. We don't focus on disability but on the performances themselves."

The two-day event will feature more than 40 performances ranging from music and theatre, to dance,  interactive workshops and forums.

Richard Benge, executive director at Arts Access Aotearoa - an organisation that advocates arts for disabled people - will deliver a seminar at the festival.

"It gives us a chance to celebrate the achievements and abilities of people who don't always get access to participating in the arts, with a festival that is devoted entirely to them," he says.

As the acrobatic duo begins their routine, it is clear Sarah's confidence is not an issue.

She  hangs from the metal bars on the ceiling, at the same time changing the position of the silks. It looks precarious and makes me a bit anxious.

"I've always had positive reactions for my art," she says. "I just think that you've got to use what you've got. I've had a few barriers in the past in auditions, but I've always got over that and kept going. I feel like I'm following my path."

WHAT InterAct Disability Arts Festival

WHEN October 28-30

WHERE Playhouse Theatre, Glen Eden and Corban's Estate Arts Centre in Henderson.


PROGRAMME www.interacting.org.nz/festival/festival.html

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