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24 September 2014

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Oxford Inspires

Anjali Dance Company
Anjali Dance Company

Something wild on the dance floor

By Simon Pipe
Comedian Lenny Henry loves Oxfordshire's Anjali dance company. Simon Pipe reports.

audio Simon Pipe speaks to the Anjali Dance Company >
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A bell tolls somewhere outside the saloon... inside, slumbering cowboys slowly awaken, and gradually begin whirling and twisting around the room. 

In another piece, they become butterflies.

With the costumes and lighting and the purposeful movements, it's easy to forget that the dancers on stage in Something Wild are not like most other performers.

All members of Banbury's acclaimed Anjali dance company have learning disabilities - often Downs Syndrome.

It says it aims to show that disability is no barrier to creativity, and praise from high quarters suggests it works.

Comedian Lenny Henry called Anjali "an inspiring experience", and The Times said it was "one of the brightest companies in British dance."

Anjali Dance Company
Performances are part of Dancin' Oxford

The company brings in professional choreographers to create works for it. In the past it has been commissioned by the Royal Festival Hall, and performed at the Royal Opera House in London.

Three new pieces have been created for the Spring 2007 show,  by Charlotte Vincent and TC Howard of Vincent Dance Theatre, Pete Shenton and Tom Roden of New Art Club, and resident artist Suzette Neptune.

Suzette says, "It's been fantastic to create a new piece that complements their abilities and challenges them."

Breaking down prejudice is another ambition. Anyone watching Something Wild might have to revise their views on what the phrase "learning difficulties" actually means. The pieces here - Saloon, Butterflies and Save The Last Dance - are sophisticated and more complex than might be expected.

The dancers themselves help devise them, exploring movements in workshop-style sessions and even watching DVDs for inspiration. 

Dancer Mark Barber travels up from Oxford for rehearsals. "Our bodies change," he says.

Anjali Dance Company
Anjali returns to Oxford

"We do things like healthy eating plans because we stay healthy, and we have done some ballet and some jazz.

"The audience, we show them our dancing to let them be amazed.

"It feels like being proud and fantastic and perfect to be a dancer."

Anjali presented Something Wild at The Mill Arts Centre in Banbury on Thursday 22  February 2007, and will be at the Pegasus Theatre in Oxford on Saturday 24 February, as part of the Oxfordshire 2007 celebrations. It then goes on national tour.

It's on the lookout for people with learning disabilities to become dancers or join its open classes. Find out more from their website.

last updated: 23/02/07
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