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Stopgap dancers explore the nature of grief in The Enormous Room

PUBLISHED: 17:44 16 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:25 26 February 2018

David Toole and Hannah Sampson in The Enormous Room by Stopgap Dance Company which is being staged at the Jerwood DanceHouse. Photo:Chris Parkes

David Toole and Hannah Sampson in The Enormous Room by Stopgap Dance Company which is being staged at the Jerwood DanceHouse. Photo:Chris Parkes

Chris Parkes

Stopgap Dance Company has a reputation of offering opportunities for disabled dancers to perform before mainstream audiences. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to experienced dancer David Toole about performing in this new dance-drama

David Toole  in The Enormous Room by Stopgap Dance Company which is being staged at the Jerwood DanceHouse. Photo:Chris Parkes David Toole in The Enormous Room by Stopgap Dance Company which is being staged at the Jerwood DanceHouse. Photo:Chris Parkes

Dance means different things to different people and while, for some, dance is about abstraction and atmosphere, for others dance can be about narrative, ideas and emotion.

Stopgap Dance Company comes to the Jerwood DanceHouse on the Ipswich Waterfront next weekend with a production exploring family relationships and coping with the loss of a loved one.

The piece The Enormous Room is described by dancer and performer David Toole as more physical theatre than a traditional dance performance.

Stopgap is a company that provides opportunities for disabled dancers to perform alongside their able-bodied contemporaries. As part of their visit to Ipswich, Stopgap will be offering taster workshops for prospective candidates for their disabled dancer scheme Sg2, an emerging artist company funded through The Arts Council.

Two of the dancers in The Enormous Room – Nadenh Poan and Hannah Sampson – are currently on the Sg2 scheme and joined the programme in 2013. Stopgap has been awarded additional Arts Council funding to continue running Sg2.

Disabled dancer David Toole, a veteran of the Candoco dance company, DV8 and the 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, where he performed an aerial ballet, high over the stadium, thinks it is vitally important that not only do disabled dancers get a chance to perform but they are integrated into a company with able-bodied dancers and it is not remarkable that they are taking part in a performance with an array of other people.

“It’s good that there is an increased awareness of disabled performers but people like Stopgap and Candoco have been about for 20 years, so its nothing new. It’s a pity that there is such a big deal made over the fact that a performance includes disabled dancers, surely it must be better that the event is unremarkable, because they fit seamlessly into the world being portrayed on stage.

“You meet disabled people in every walk of life. They are part of our society, our world, so why shouldn’t they have a presence on stage?”

He said that The Enormous Room was a cross between a thoughtful character-study and an emotional piece of dance theatre.

David plays a father who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife Jackie. This is having an impact on their daughter Sam, danced by newcomer Hannah Sampson. They are living under the same roof but experiencing very different forms of grief.

Jackie maybe dead but Dave still sees her everywhere. She is lying in his bed, sitting at the kitchen table and laughing with their daughter Sam. Dave has withdrawn into the living room unable to let his memories go.

“It’s very much a show of two halves. The first part is very contained, very character-driven, whereas the second half is more open, more like a traditional dancer piece where Sam gets to express who she really is.

“When we first meet Dave he has essentially locked himself into one room of the house and refuses to let the memory of his wife go. The set is very claustrophobic and there is little room to move and then for the second half, most of that is swept away and the space is opened out as Sam gets to express herself.”

One of the intriguing aspects of the show is the fact that Jackie, Dave’s wife and Sam’s mother, are portrayed by two non-disabled dancers Amy Butler (the rehearsal director of Chotto Desh by Akram Khan) and Meritxell Checa, who represent different sides of one woman’s personality and reflect how she was viewed by her closest family.

Meanwhile Cambodian wheelchair dancer Nadenh Poan plays Chock, a Puck-like presence who orchestrates the collision between this world and the next, and Christian Brinklow from Great Yarmouth plays the role of Tom, who offers his friend Sam a chance to escape sadness.

The performance will both be audio described and have captions. Any visually impaired audience members will have the chance to join a ‘touch tour’ of the venue at 6pm prior to the show. Please contact the box office for more information.

DanceEast’s performance group for adults with additional needs, Spin Off, will present a commissioned film made with Stopgap company dancers in the Wellbeing Studio at 6.30pm (free – but needs to be booked separately.)

The Enormous Room, by Stopgap Dance Company, is at DanceEast on April 20. For tickets contact box office on 01473 295230.

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