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Save The Last Dance

By David Bellan

Oxford Times, 2 December 2005

Last Thursday, members of Anjali Dance Company appeared in a mixed bill as part of Synergy Live, An event in Oxford’s first Disability Arts Festival. Anjali is a company of professional dancers who all have learning difficulties, and their new piece Save the Last Dance is a trio for the group’s three men.

The piece is choreographed by Charlotte Vincent and TC Howard of Vincent Dance Theatre, and shows just how effective a dance work for performers with a limited range can be. Achieving this is much more difficult than simply lining up a lot of highly trained dancers who can do whatever is asked, which is how most choreographers are privileged to work. Here Vincent and Howard have looked at what each dancer is capable of and blended these abilities into a piece that is atmospheric, touching and, at times, beautiful.

It is set in a bar, and, as the show starts, all the evening’s performers are clustered around it having a drink. Then comedian and singer Julie McNamara, whose act follows, introduces Anjali – who start slowly as Kristian Robertson mimes to Elvis’s Are You Lonesome Tonight with a beer-bottle microphone. Then they’re off – jumping, diving and rolling, manipulating beer crates, stripping of their shirts for a series of comic body –builder poses, and finally, in a long adagio, moving in slow motion, tenderly enfolding one another to end a long dance work tat, despite its episodic nature, blends into a coherent whole. It’s a strangely heart-warming piece, with Robertson, who has a tremendous stage presence, together with the engaging Alex Hyde and the enigmatic Mark Barber.

During the rest of the evening, we had Julie McNamara giving is the song that got her banned from the BBC. She was followed by the glamorous soul singer Minika Green, who suffers from MS and arrived on stage riding side-saddle on a tiny tricycle in her elegant attire to give us a set of self-written songs in a fine strong voice. It’s a tragedy that her recording contract was cancelled because of her illness. And, finally, a triumphant comedy routine from Francesca Martinez, who pilloried the way the disables are regarded, and made the point that evening that everyone in the audience probably had some trait that could be considered a disability – such as not liking football – but would never expect to be asked how they cope with life as a result.

This was a serious message, but her act was a hoot.