All images and words copyright © 2019 Giulia Candussi. All rights reserved.

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DANCE FOR LIFE 

 

Don’t ever let anyone tell you there is something you can’t do. That should be a golden rule for all of us, but it is especially meaningful for those with added challenges and disabilities. “Although the majority of the people think that being disabled means being less able, through Corali we demonstrate that we can be better than fully able dancers in expressing our feelings through our bodies” says Jacky, member with learning disabilities of Corali Dance Company since 2003.

 

Corali was founded in Southwark in 1989 and the myth is that the name Corali is an anagram of the first letters of the original company members' names. The company was very committed and in 1990 received an initial grant of £6,000 from Charity Projects and thus set up independently, based in an office at a local community center. Sarah Archdeacon, artistic director of Corali, started as a volunteer and after completing her studies she decided to take the company herself. Sarah says: “my training and interest in arts' practice encouraged a new focus for the company and set the way to develop into what it is today”. Corali is a dance-theatre company whose members are people with different learning disabilities –the majority suffering from down syndrome- and it is run by Sarah, Donovan the choreographer and Daniel the music composer. 

 

As a child, Housni, better known as DJ was chubby and did not have many friends. He is now one of the most active members of Corali and his joy of life always brings a great sense of fun. “I remember when I did my first dance workshop and I was very happy and it was wonderful and I had such a good time”. Because of his commitment to dance, he was offered a position as a dancer in the company: “Now I’m with Corali and it’s amazing, maybe I was gifted, maybe it was my chance to shine and go into the future. Now I can express my feelings with my body and I have many friends here and I love them a lot”. DJ is the first dancer with learning disabilities to gain a grant for the Arts Award for his own professional development, where he will dance with three other mainstream companies: Wayne McGregor@Random Dance, Jonzi D, and New Adventures.

All performers have their own lives and worries outside the company that they bring to rehearsals; sometimes it is easy to leave the problems outside the door and concentrate on the piece, sometimes the pressure boils those things over and there can be tears. There is a kind of unwritten contract between the performers and the tutors who make sure that the work is about the performance and not about the producers. Although Sarah, along with Daniel and Donovan, has put a lot of their artistic ideas and experience into the show, their common purpose is to facilitate the venting of performers’ expression and “that’s what we are here to do” says Donovan, the choreographer.

 

The relationship with the tutors and between the dancers themselves is really strong.

 

Bethan, senior member of the company is a young lady with down syndrome; her commitment to Corali is total. Other than being a dancer, she works with Sarah as office assistant every Monday and Thursday. Asked to talk about her relationship with the other people in the company she says “I like Jacky a lot because she is funny and she is my best friend ever. Jo does beautiful things, she is always happy with a smile. I like Bryan because he is funny and always laughs. One of the best persons is Sarah because she is the best best best person ever because she always supports people in Corali, she is a wonderful person, that’s all she is, she is beautiful”. 

 

The time bounds strong friendships go well beyond rehearsals and performances into the moments when the stage light has faded and they're left to deal with their own tribulations. Jo has a close relationship with her brother Chris. She happily reminds the time when they were younger and spent lots of time together. But Chris is a policeman now, and due to loads of work pressure, he is not around to give Jo company as he used to. Hannah, another dancer of Corali does also have a good relationship with Chris as she says, “he is my best friend’s brother. Jo is sad because she is missing him and I support her a lot”.

Corali is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year with a series of events across Tate Modern, Whitechapel Gallery and Sadlers Wells and other major art galleries in London.

The latest Corali performance deals with dancers’ memories: each one of them is narrating through his/her body and voice events of their past that left an indelible mark on their hearts. 

 

Observing the people who go to art galleries you realize that they are not expecting a performance and, when they watch these adults with learning disabilities dancing, you can see how moved they are. Daniel, the music composer of the company says that “after the show, the audience would come to us and have very powerful conversations, very different from the ones I used to have after performances where there weren’t people with learning disabilities”. All the technical discussion is taken away, instead, they are talking about their emotional response to the show. The approach is probably so different because this type of dance undermines a lot of preconceptions about what dance is, about the skills we think dancers must have to make a good performance.

 

Corali is part of a community dance network that bases its principle on –everybody can dance- and works on the basis of what people can do rather than what he or she can’t, engaging disabled people in a wide range of activities that go well beyond the mere healthy leisure to develop their artistic skills. Even though many high educational routes are closed to disabled dancers, there is an increasing number of artists with learning disabilities earning their living as dancers. The hope of the dance community is that this trend won’t stop and that, at the same time, single individuals and institutions would keep supporting these initiatives. 

© GIULIA CANDUSSI. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.