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Amici Dance Company - Celebrating 25 Years!

by Ana Abad-Carles

June 2005 -- London

From 10th to 17th June, Amici Dance Company celebrated their 25th Anniversary at the Lyric Hammersmith with a number of performances of their latest work “Stars are Out Tonight”, some open workshops and more performances from integrated dance groups coming from abroad for the occasion. Twenty-five years in the life of a company is always something to celebrate, as it is a sad truth that dance is a fragile art form and integrated dance may be even more so. Still, Amici celebrated their anniversary with confidence in the present and high hopes for the future and this was transmitted to the audiences that saw their work.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the performance of “Stars are Out Tonight” and one of the open workshops and the experience was certainly worth it. In a way, it was a hopeful reminder of how much human experience can be enriched by the simple act of sharing and understanding. At a time when decay and fragility seem to be hidden from our world, Amici is an antidote and a challenge that proves in the most positive way not only how art can enrich people’s lives, but also and most importantly, how people’s lives can enrich art forms too. As Royston Maldoom said in one of the workshops, it is important to remember that the work seen during that week “is what people who love and care can do despite everything”.

Amici started twenty-five years ago when Wolfgang Stange formed the ensemble. Prior to that, he had been working with people with learning and/or physical disabilities. His work, like that of Maldoom, was highly influenced by the teachings of Hilde Hoger, a European Expressionist teacher based in London whose work was based in allowing her students to bring out their own individual abilities and talents. It was most unusual to hear the praise that both choreographers gave to their teacher and mentor, especially as her name seems to have vanished from the pages of the history books. 

The company’s first successful performance took place in 1980, when Stange directed a drama dance piece called “I Am Not Yet Dead”. The philosophy of that piece was, and remains to this day, the driving force in Stange’s work: that the focus should be in people’s abilities and not in their disabilities.

In 1982, he directed “Rückblick”, the piece that would become the landmark for his company. According to Stange, “Rückblick” was Amici’s “very first time in a professional theatre with professional backing, lighting and designing, etc, and it had paid off” (quotation from an interview in the programme). The success of the piece allowed the company to continue their work and philosophy, though it did not grant them the necessary financial stability that could have been expected.

In spite of everything, and just to prove Maldoom’s words right, Amici managed to celebrate their 25 years of existence in another artistic collaboration that anchored itself in the dance drama tradition of European Expressionism, partly because this seems to echo the philosophy and aesthetics of the company, and partly, perhaps, because of a great artistic tradition that Germany put at the forefront of the arts since the creation of Die Brücke, the artistic movement around which painters and other artists started experimenting with new means of expression at the very beginning of the twentieth century.

Though German Expressionism in art would see its climax with the creation of Der Blaue Reiter and with Wassily Kandinsky’s seminal book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, still considered as a milestone in the history of art, it would later develop into something else as Otto Dix and George Grosz demonstrated in their New Objectivity movement. Dix and Grosz gave a new dimension to the term Expressionism, and it is through their crude depictions of German social reality during the twenties and thirties that Expressionism came of age. The work of Mary Wigman and Kurt Joos and the so-called German Expressionist school developed at the same time and, to these days, dance-drama is firmly linked to that early philosophical and artistic search for the true expression of individuals and the depiction of a reality that can at times be far from beautiful.

Stange and Amici’s work seem to be embedded in that tradition of constant search of expression and meaning in movement and is therefore more concerned with shifting moulds and canons and with exploring the possibilities of expression than with form. Thus, Stange explains his process by asking: “What is the essence of a plié? Is it to bend one’s knees in the five positions only, or is it to establish the feeling of a counter pull in the body with a straight back. Both are important, but if the individual has no means of bending the knees, is the feeling of counter pull and straight back at that moment more important?” (quoted from an interview in Animated, Foundation for Community Dance, Summer 2005).

“Stars are Out Tonight”, a collaboration between Amici and Improbable, opened the celebrations for the company’s 25th birthday. The piece iss based in the beliefs and experiences of one of the oldest members of the company, Pius Hickey, who undertakes an inner journey of self-discovery. Guided by an angel and a devil, he confronts those things he fears and learns some truths about himself and the world around him. The result is a visually and aurally stunning spectacle, mainly due to Improbable’s use of masks and props as well as the music chosen for the dance scenes

There were moments of daring, like the chat show in which different men and women argue about the positive effect of sending disabled people to another planet. Sad to think that these ideas are not too far removed from many ideological systems of thought … In fact, Stange, in an interview printed in the programme, explained how this idea had upset one of the members of the company when it was at first discussed because it just happened to be too real. Still, the concept served its purpose and with this theme the company explored different realities that Hickey must confront.

Throughout the show there were moments that were utterly touching, while others clearly defied established canons of what we refer to as beauty. “Stars are Out Tonight” reminded us that there is more to life and happiness than some of the shallow concepts that media and society have been throwing at us lately.

Amici had called for the occasion for members past and present and the stage was filled with human beings striving with a common aim and an unusual commitment to their work. However, in order to put all these people on the stage, compromises needed to be made and I felt that the overall show lacked choreographic detail and some leading thread in the telling of Pius’s journey.

In the first of the open workshops, that missing element was restored when the audience saw Independance and Amici dancing Royston Maldoom’s “Four Last Songs”. In spite of the fact that Amici had learnt the whole piece in just four hours and in spite of the apparent simplicity, there were moments of genius, and the choreography, though simple, did not fail in its musicality and power to transcend.

There were more moments to treasure during that workshop. Led by both Independance and Amici’s directors, the workshop showed the inner work of the companies to the general audiences. The routines seemed simple, but when the improvisations started, the audience witnessed unexpected moments of greatness. There was a duet performed to Bellini’s music that was breathtakingly profound. It is difficult to explain why this duet touched the audience the way it did. The two performers were simply magnificent, their concentration, sense of line and musicality made it hard to believe this was just an improvisation. Maybe it just reminded us of how beautiful human movement is, how much this can communicate and inspire when given the right scope and feeling.

After Maldoom’s “Four Last Songs” there was a panel discussion that was enlightening thanks to the insights and positive comments coming from everybody involved with the work of the company. Maldoom spoke of the frustration of not managing to get this work embedded in the choreographic tradition of the country. While the UK seems to be the cradle of integrated dance, lack of regular funding has a negative impact in the sense that is not enabling the existing companies to flourish.

Still and despite all difficulties, Amici celebrated the company’s anniversary with confidence in its present and hope in its future. Stange’s attitude to human beings and art is certainly an inspiration, not only to the artists working with him, but also to those who have been lucky to witness his work. It seems to remind us all of the possibilities that we all still have despite our circumstances, an idea Sartre articulated many years ago; but still an idea that needs revisiting every now and then. 

 

Edited by Staff.

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