“There is absolutely no need to consider Fairy Tales in a category of its own – it is fully-fledged dance by gifted dancers”
The power of the arts has always been a rich source of self-expression, enjoyment and emotional release; we can all discover an inner voice, hidden talents or absorbing satisfaction. As the younger sister of an autistic brother, Rashmi Becker realised, early in life, the benefits of dance for disabled people to improve communication, coordination and reduce anxiety. Passionate about dance herself, she lent immense support and energy to promoting inclusive activities before setting up Step Change Studios in 2018. This project gives everyone, regardless of age or ability, the opportunity to find pleasure and achievement in courses, workshops and developing performances that showcase the all-embracing possibilities of their work. After last year’s ‘Strictly’-inspired ‘Fusion’, Step Change has stretched both imagination and talent with their new show, ‘Fairy Tales’. Born within a collection of popular tales from around the world, creatives and dancers conjure up a varied yet harmonious collage of narrative, characters and ambiences.
After a mood-setting welcome read by Chanaye Armorer Dumbuya-Johnson, whose mother is a cast member, we are swept into the secret fairyland of the twelve dancing princesses with the grace and charm of Adrienne Armorer, Abigail Brown, Clair Gleave, Laura Jones and Freya Spencer. And their spell continues to enchant, soothe and captivate. In solo numbers, Romano Solano’s exquisite fluidity of movement and Pawel Karpiński’s bold command of the stage convey ideas of beauty and self-esteem from The Ugly Duckling and Anastasia’s nostalgic mood. Against a background of blue sky and white clouds, Laura Jones and Lauren Russell glide and float as free spirits while Rashmi Becker joins Romano Solano in a magical, sparkling take on Sleeping Beauty and Anna Alvarez creates and interprets a powerful and beautifully integrated duo with Sander Verbeek as they tell the Inca tale of ‘The Skeleton Woman’.
Particularly moving is the sincerity of Clair Greave and Andrew Self’s care and affection as they glide and spin to Someone to Watch Over Me. Adding a nightmarish note, Pawel Karpiński, Joshua Moore, Romano Solano and Sander Verbeek show physical versatility and artistic flair in a dynamic Red Riding Hood and it is impossible to resist the foot-tapping fun and energy as Kat Ball, Abigail Brown, Natasha Julien and Freya Spencer take to the floor to bring The Red Shoes to life. Closing the evening, Lauren Russell blends with the skilful elegance of classical Indian Kuchipudi dancers, Pragnya Dara, Arunima Kumar, Bhagya Lakshmi and Sravani Vootukur in a celebration of Vishnu and his tale of renewal and hope.
There is absolutely no need to consider Fairy Tales in a category of its own – it is fully-fledged dance by gifted dancers. The cleverly picked story fragments matched with perfectly-chosen music, the sensitive choreography and artistic expertise combine to shine in an entertainment which stirs a flood of emotions.
“The strength and beauty of ageing are there, shining through the aching backs and wrinkles, luminous with a shared commitment to truth and dance”
This is not a usual dance show, there are no pyrotechnical leaps or astounding lifts, no point work or athleticism. What there is instead is the astonishing beauty of a group of humans in honest, truthful movement and communication, and it is rather wonderful.
Company of Elders is Sadler’s Wells’ resident over sixties company, founded over twenty years ago. All the dancers are at least sixty, and one lady on stage tonight was ninety years old. They are not professional dancers, and they have varying degrees of dance experience. Some only started dancing in their late sixties. What they all have is an openness and honesty of performance, and a willingness to share stories from their own lives. When someone is totally involved in their movement, really living the dance, the result is magnetic, and this evening felt like a lovely celebration of the beauty and spirit of older bodies and souls.
The first piece was Dare I Speak, choreographed by Alesandra Seutin, with costume by Emma Lyth and lighting design by Anthony Hateley. It is based on the short reign of Patrice Lumumba’s short period as prime minister of the Independent Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the way in which people can be elevated and destroyed by others in a second. The piece flows from Lumumba’s inspiring speech to his downfall as dancers transform from admirers into a frightening crowd. It works well for the company, allowing both group and individual movement to tell the story simply and strongly.
The second work was Natural 2019, a piece that demands courage from each dancer, as they share spoken stories of their lives and weave a sense of themselves with dance and sincerity. It is profoundly moving and great fun; not an easy mix to pull off. But they do it so well. A man speaks of his seven year old self, dancing in the living room with the curtains shut. A woman talks of her memories of Pakistan, and her lost language and fragmented heritage. Another woman tells of her titanium spine and other health issues. There is nostalgia and a sense of things lost, but this is no pity party.
The strength and beauty of ageing are there, shining through the aching backs and wrinkles, luminous with a shared commitment to truth and dance. There is sexuality and cheekiness; a huge sense of play and joy. This is a real company, not simply a group of individuals, and their care of each other shines through. Clara Andermatt’s choreography leaves room for the piece to breathe, and for improvisation. Carlos Ramos’ lighting, adapted by Anthony Hateley, provides a simple, effective backdrop to the stories. It is a powerful piece of work.
Company of Elders performed as part of the Elixir Extracts Festival, a three day programme dedicated to older artists aimed at celebrating lifelong creativity. The festival continues with other senior citizen dance groups from around the UK showcasing their work following an open call-out.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Ellie Kurttz
Company of Elders
Lilian Baylis Studio as part of Elixir Extracts Festival