Anjali Dance Company is touring the UK with a double-bill of work by renowned award-winning choreographers Gary Clarke and Lea Anderson. This exceptionally talented dance company is made up of dancers with learning disabilities and they create innovative and groundbreaking work.
Nicole Thomson is the founder and Artistic Director of Anjali Dance Company who formed the company in 1995. “I was teaching a class for learning disabled dancers and some of them were very good,” she said. “There were a few theatre companies at the time working with learning disabled actors but not dancers with learning disabilities, so I decided from the beginning that Anjali would produce a certain standard of dance of the highest quality, performed by dancers with learning disabilities.”
As there weren’t any dance companies made up of disabled dancers at the time, they came across quite a lot of resistance. “Because I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do, we carried on and were able to get a group of people with learning disabilities together,” Nicole explained. “We started creating work and inviting renowned choreographers to come and work with the company to raise our profile.” The company started building momentum slowly and the dancers are now known around the world for their powerful performances.
Their double bill Genius combines a series of touching and darkly humorous short sketches to create a striking production. Gary Clarke’s Beethoven takes a look at the life of the composer. Performed to excerpts of his music, the dark and gothic movement is highly theatrical. Lea Anderson’s choreography in Bloodsucker is based on the legend of the vampire Nosferatu and his depiction in film. Creating the atmosphere of a silent film, the dancers move on and off stage to create the impression of film edits. The theme of Genius was chosen by Anjali’s artistic team because it is not something normally associated with disabled dancers and so they wanted to use the term and expand it to cover different kinds of ‘genius’.
“I wanted to work with Lea Anderson and Gary Clarke because I was interested in their work as they are prolific and innovative choreographers who are not afraid of taking risks and make interesting and accessible work,” Nicole said. “We invited Gary and Lea separately to come and work with the company in a dance lab that we were running. That process worked really well and the dancers and choreographers were very inspired by what was being produced, so we decided to do a double bill which turned out to be Genius.”
When they went into the rehearsal process they did some research and development for a few days with each of the choreographers so they could begin to have a clear idea of the sort of work they would make. “It was quite intense, particularly as the way Lea and Gary work is very different, so it was really challenging for the dancers,” Nicole said.
Anjali engages the professional dance community in an important debate about disability. Anjali is programmed into mainstream theatres, but I asked Nicole if she ever thought disabled dancers would be integrated into mainstream companies. “There have been positive changes in disability dance in Britain in recent years and greater numbers of disabled students are entering dance training,” she said. “But the progress has been mainly focused on people with physical disabilities and there are still barriers which prevent people with learning disabilities from fully accessing dance,” Nicole explained. “Things are changing slowly but there is still a lot to do for dancers with learning disabilities.”
The combination of professional training, visionary artistic direction, high production values and collaboration with inventive choreographers have made Anjali the internationally-acclaimed dance company that they are.
Anjali Dance Company’s bold new production Genius is currently on a UK tour and tickets and information can be found here.