Terminology can often strangle debate around work made by people with learning disabilities – or is that difficulties, or disorders? If a company has both learning and non learning disabled people is it integrated or inclusive? Whether these distinctions even matter is a hot topic, so it is great to see two dance pieces starring learning disabled dancers programmed into an important dance venue at a major arts festival. The approach to making the work is what is interesting and the particular, nonconformist nature of the dance produced. Who wants to see everyone doing the same thing in the same way? Here is originality and a different world view. Bring it on.
Like Ian Johnston’s Dancer, A: Version also takes apart the creative process, showing us a rehearsal for a piece, with all its mistakes and marking and mucking about. The company is an inclusive (their term) ensemble of four who seem comfortable with each other on stage and have an easy rapport. Where Dancer makes plain the gap between the performers ability, A:Version works around it, putting the dancers on an equal footing and working to their individual strengths.
In Adam Sloan, they have a natural comedian with brilliant timing and an assured stage presence. Neil Price brings an off-kilter and edgy energy. Haley Earlam and Emma Smith add glamour and all the contemporary dance moves you could wish for. They demonstrate the way the dance piece has been made three times, breaking it down into separate moves and sequences. The choreography is described in dance terminology undercut by more helpful terms like ‘the lifty-up bit’ with occasional digs at choreographer Laura Jones. It’s obviously a phoney set-up, it’s meta-dance after all, but the writing isn’t sharp enough here and the exchange between dancers feels rather forced.
When the dance is finally ready to show to us, with glittery costumes and a change of lighting stage, it’s magnificent. The four move with superb technique, strength and passion to an upbeat score by Garry Scott James. There are lifts, leaps and intricate footwork in a broad choreographic palette, from which Adam and Neil’s complex duet stands out. The four dancers are equally thrilling to watch, distinctions fade away, it’s a proper ensemble piece. The real-time rehearsals have obviously paid off, but the staged version could shift up a gear, be a bit less corny and have some more playful lines. I’m sure Adam can rise to the challenge.
A: Version was presented at Dance Base as part of a double bill with Pitch by Skye Reynolds with Jo Fong.