In 1980, a young choreographer named Wolfgang Stange founded Amici, a pioneering London-based company for disabled and non-disabled performers. No one, said Stange, is too young, too old, or too physically impaired to dance. Thirty-five years later Stange’s productions, which have something of the surreal wit and darkness of Pina Bausch, continue to explore the worlds of those marginalised by difference. 35 Amici Drive tells the story of a residents’ group protesting against the imminent destruction of their block by developers.
The residents are vulnerable but resilient. There’s a single mother (Vicki Hawkins) and her sullen eight-year-old (Stephanie Gallagher). “She’s meeting a new dad tonight,” Hawkins confides to the audience, furiously buffing Gallagher’s nails to the strains of Ravel’s Bolero. “We’re getting a KFC family bucket.”
There’s a volatile domestic triangle made up of an abused woman (Suzie Birchwood), her lover (Olivia Quayle), and her violent security guard husband (Jan Patzke). The exchanges between them, with Birchwood lifted from her wheelchair to dance in the air, veer between the tender and the terrifying.
There’s cross-dressing Ebony Rose Dark, played by Mikel Smithen, who is severely visually impaired but was nevertheless taught by Stange to walk on stilts, and Liz Greeley is the stiflingly over-possessive mother of a disabled son (Aimé Bosc Nikolov). “I don’t want to die before you,” she sings to him, heartrendingly.
This is an ambitious spectacle. There are rarely fewer than 40 people on stage, and dances and production numbers are delivered with terrific brio, if not always precision. But it works. What some might see as disabilities, Stange sees as traits to be harnessed and used. He’s a showman, wholly unsentimental, with an exceptional gift for drawing truthful performances from his cast. He’s also one of British theatre’s great unsung heroes. Few artists make a real difference. Stange has.