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Animated Edition - Autumn/Winter 2016/17
Wolfgang Stange, Founder, Director and Principal Choreographer, AMICI Dance Theatre Company has for  36 years been unafraid to challenge conventional attitudes to disability and the arts. By drawing on powerful themes, productions are inclusive of disabled and non-disabled artists and performers to reveal the strength, commitment and individuality of each performer. Here we discover  the building blocks of his integrated teaching and workshop process

Associated Attachment(s):

 Wolfgang Stange.pdf
Image: Sheila Burnett; Stars are Out Tonight, Amici Dance Theatre Company
Photo: Sheila Burnett; Stars are Out Tonight, Amici Dance Theatre Company
AMICI’s work, through my guidance as an artist and choreographer, has always had challenging themes. From the struggle of the working class in Rueckblick, to the bereavement and grief of mothers losing their children to untimely death through society’s uncaring attitudes, in Elegy; from the pain and confusion of a person who is suffering bi-polar syndrome, in Passage to Sanity?, to the holocaust theme in Hilde.

The list goes on. These performances have a profound impact on audiences as they show the strength and commitment of each performer, respecting their individuality and the acceptance of differences. Clement Crisp of the Financial Times reflected: 

“The reasons are not difficult to understand. AMICI’s artists (for artists they certainly are) are wonderfully committed to what they do, grandly responsive to the demands that Stange makes on them – and his dance theatre stagings are often complex, layered with meaning far beyond the obvious needs for his casts…[company] artists are also blessed with an expressive innocence, with a directness in communication which cuts through all barriers to understanding. In a wonderful way they speak their truth, open their hearts to us, with an honesty devoid of any artifice, with wholly trusting belief in their text, which is unsophisticated and hugely expressive.”(1)
Only believe
“Only believe”,(2) wrote Forster. AMICI members believe!

Looking back on the past 40 years and my work in community dance I have often asked myself the question: How is it that in the dance dynamics of the workshop most people open up and are ready to discover their own creativity after a relatively short time in the workshop space? It seems almost too simple, but here is the clue: it is the simplicity that makes it work.
The warm-up
Keep it simple, with no pressure to have experience in the subject. Rather than having elaborate name games, which can be threatening to some first time members, only the name is required and the BSL (British Sign Language) sign of the initial letter of one’s name. If the person cannot finger spell, the person standing next to them will support her or him. 
The terminology
The basic exercises are also best kept simple. For instance, rather than referring to the head movements of turning the head to the left and then to the right, just say ‘turn the head from side to side’. The fear of getting it wrong can lead to a closing rather than opening up. In other words, create a safe environment that encourages rather than discourages. It is also important that each individual participant feels that he or is she  acknowledged, so making eye contact from time to time with an encouraging smile helps unlock inborn creativity. Education, and in our case creative education, is based on pulling out rather than pushing in. If the participants don’t feel they are under scrutiny of how well they do, they are able to free themselves from the shackles of having to do well. They will do well if they are encouraged to let go and are allowed to be themselves. This is at times more difficult for participants without any obvious difference. That’s why it is so vital to have a mixed ability workshop, so that participants are able to learn from each other. Each member can contribute in their own way and will learn to value the individual contributions of their fellow participants, no matter how small or big.
This is the most important tool in any workshop or in making work. The teacher, choreographer, artist has to be able to change on the spur of the moment. For example, a student may make an unexpected and valuable contribution that is not part of the teacher’s original intention. This contribution then needs to be pursued in order to encourage the student to explore and develop their ideas. It means that the teacher has to be open in order to facilitate creativity in the participants. 
Another factor to be aware of. Some students need longer to digest the information given and it is advisable  to wait. Too often we make the mistake of assuming the student/ participant has not understood the task and see their hesitation as not understanding what has been requested. 30 seconds later the response comes and the task has  been fulfilled. How frustrating for a student who has understood, but has not been given the time or the opportunity to show their potential.

We often misread our students’ level of understanding and determination to be understood. It is not they who do not understand us, but it is we who do not understand them. They may receive the information we try to pass on very differently to how we would perceive it, but not passing new experiences  on because we presume it would  not be understood is utterly wrong. Most people in their career will have low points, questioning their work. This is natural. We all need acknowledgement that our work has value and that we are needed. Luckily, in AMICI, the raw energy of group members gives me back new energy to carry on the task.

“AMICI affirms life, creativity and the power of compassion”(3). My students have been my teachers on this long road of discovery. Without them I would be nothing. So my advice to all new teachers who would like to open the horizons of their students is to open your own narrow attitudes and try to be honest. Learn from the honesty of your students and make the discovery a two-way street.

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1. Clement Crisp, Dance Critic,  The Financial Times (2009) Foreword, The Magic of Amici: a practical guide
2. Edward Morgan Forster (1905) Where Angels Fear to Tread
3. Clement Crisp (2000)  Life-enhancing creativity in The Financial Times, 29 July 2000

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Animated: Autumn/Winter 2016/17