Wolfgang recalls the origins of Amici in classes he was teaching back in 1976, and Amici’s very first production, I AM NOT YET DEAD, in May 1980
How Amici began
Gina Levete, the founder of SHAPE, asked me to hold four Saturday Workshops for Occupational and Physiotherapy students at a Dance Space in Soho. Among those students were Margaret Wilson, Hilary Beard and Anne Saunders. Sorry, those are the only names I remember. That was in 1976. After the last session, Margaret, Hilary and Anne asked me if I was teaching a similar class anywhere else, to which I answered no. They insisted they wanted to continue and so I said that if they could get enough students I would try and find a venue. Other people joined and I managed to get a church hall in West Kensington, The United Reformed Church, which is now the Bhavan Centre or Indian Cultural Institute. We met every Wednesday, just like we do now, and I think I charged 30 pence at the time, as I had to pay 3 pounds for the use of the hall.
Margaret made such improvements in such a short time that I mentioned it to Peter Brinson, who was a Director of the Gulbenkian Foundation at the time. Peter was so impressed that a blind woman had joined my dance class that he suggested I should open a class for the blind, and that the Gulbenkian Foundation would finance an initial four classes a month. The snag was that they could not give the money to individuals, only to companies. Fortunately, Gina Levete had just started SHAPE, and since I was one of the first SHAPE artists, I introduced Gina to Peter and got support from the Gulbenkian Foundation via SHAPE, enough to pay me for the classes. Margaret secured the addresses of about 50 organizations that worked for and with blind and visually impaired people and I sent them my proposal for a dance class. I only had three replies: two from individuals interested in dance and one from a group called The Venturers Theatre Group. Ten of their members signed up as well as the two individuals.
I asked my friend and dance colleague Uli Houghton to come and help me with these classes, and, like the workshops that Gina had organized, this second group wanted to carry on, and so I suggested that I teach them after the Wednesday class. Margaret was always integrated with the first group as she lived in Letchworth, and to leave at 10.00pm after the class with the blind and visually impaired students would have meant that it was too late for the long journey home.. We went on like this for several months, when one evening the treasurer of The United Reformed Church approached me just as we were entering the hall and said “Sorry, you can‘t go in there, we have sold the church.”
She kindly suggested we asked the Vicar at St. Andrews Church close by if he could accommodate us. We could not have the class that night and all went to the pub instead. The next day I went to St. Andrews Church. Father John Johnston was so open and friendly, and after I explained what the group was all about, he handed me the keys for the church. I said “You don‘t know me, how can you give me the keys for the church,?” “Well, you need the space don‘t you?” he answered. “Give me what you can afford.” And so the 30 pence continued to be the contribution. St. Andrews also gave us cupboard space for our props and costumes and all the rehearsals took place at St. Andrews.
Father Johnston was not only our benefactor in giving AMICI a home, he also really loved the Company and never missed a performance. So I was brought up a Lutheran, but I felt I wanted to say thank you to Father Johnston and joined his congregation, and 43 years on I am still part of St. Andrews, even though AMICI left many years ago.
Chrissie Kugele and Hilary Beard recall those early days.
Looking back over a span of some 40 years I can see myself as a member of a Drama Group, many of whose members had visual impairments. We received a letter from a dance tutor with a company working locally, offering the chance to take part in classes in modern ballet and dance theatre. The dancing would greatly improve movement and stage presentation, so one Saturday afternoon found a small group of us thoroughly enjoying our first lesson.
From those beginnings - the weekly sessions of exercises, improvisations and creative dance - The AMICI Dance Theatre Company became the strong plant of today, including dancers and actors of every ability and disability and members from many nations. During our long and successful life we had presented our audiences, in this country and abroad with interesting and unusual productions incorporating acting, dancing, acrobatic stunts and disappearances down stage trap doors! Our productions have ranged from glimpses of sad, serious and shameful history to amusing, sometimes hilarious, situations. We have been warmly welcomed to many parts of the world, meeting wonderful characters and visiting unforgettable places.
In passing I have been fortunate enough to be introduced to some memorably delicious food, the thought of which leads naturally to our founder, Wolfgang Stange. Wolfgang came to London from Germany 1968 as a trained chef. Working extremely hard during the day, he spent his evenings at the opera and ballet ‘up in the gods’ at Covent Garden. He joined dance classes taught by a stern but a wonderful woman called Hilde Holger, whose skills he passed on to us. At that time he also taught in psychiatric hospitals and day centres, learning much about the lives of his students whilst teaching the arts that he loved. He believes that students of all ages and from all walks of life will learn through art and stage work to find harmony and to live and work together in friendship. May we all hope and wish to dance together far into the future.
Friends on a course I was involved with said, “You must meet Wolfgang.” They knew I had danced before and they had been to a workshop with Wolf. Hesitantly I did what they said, and I met a golden-haired young man who greeted me warmly and soon spotted I had danced before. Little did I know that 43 years later my life would still be intertwined with Wolf and with the unique joy of Amici. In a very cold, stone floored church hall I met members of “The Venturers”, a drama company for the partially sighted.
A class for teachers and a class for those who could not see was combined and Amici was born. I learned so much from Wolf's creativity and from every single person who attended. When Wolf was away I took the classes in the holidays. A wonderful experience. Then the first production, I AM NOT YET DEAD. I met Judy. A larger than life person who I was a little frightened of, but she soon calmed me down. We danced together with Judy in her wheelchair. I remember a hot attic room and trying to do a Grand Ronde De Jambe high in the air at the beginning of the dance. The words of the poem say it all.
I remember the performance at Normansfield, a long car journey and a strong sense of us all pulling together even when things went wrong. As ever with Amici, every performance had an unknown aspect. How wonderful to have been part of its birth. How very glad I am that Wolf and his creativity and utter trust in the creative process entered my life. How very glad I am that 43 years later Amici and Wolf and all my past and present Amici friends remain a vital part of my life. "
Here is the poem by Judy Fairclough that Hilary refers to, whose title became the title of the first Amici Production.
I AM NOT YET DEAD
I am not yet dead, oh hear me
Let not let those who have sight and yet are blind
Come near me
I am without sight and yet can feel the insensitivity of those
With seeing eyes
I am not an object to be moved or grasped
With never ‘Can I help’
Or left abandoned without a word
With only silence to unfold the truth
I cannot see, but ears can hear
And fingertips relay the wonders of the world
I see with the inner eye, do you?
I am not yet dead oh hear me
Let not those who only see a chair or sticks reject me
For they are crutches of an ailing body
Not a sick mind or failing spirits
Steel frames may imprison my flesh
Severing me from human touch
But my mind flies free as does my heart
Preserve me from those who would shun me
Seeing only a thing in a chair or on sticks
I am not yet dead oh hear me
I cannot hear you and sometimes cannot speak
Cocooned in a cotton wool of silence
And yet I breathe, I see, I move, I exist I am me
There is silence where once there was sound
There is a silence where no sound has ever been
But the world enters my mind and heart in many ways
And all that makes up the sum total of me seeks to escape
Have patience while I try
Let not those who are selfish with time come near me
I am not yet dead, protect me from those
Who through embarrassment and fear will not come near me
But shun and avoid me
Or would have me caught helpless in an institutional net
Hammer out my identity
Living my life, thinking my thoughts speaking my words
Replacing me for safety sake
We are not now the forgotten people
We are the object of governmental concern
The taxpayers burden
But we are more, oh so much more
We are above all just men and women
And we ask no more than to be accepted as such
Wolfgang shares memories of that first production
This poem by the actress Judy Fairclough was the basis of AMICI‘s first ever performance in 1980. By the time I met Judy, she had been confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis. She was directing several plays for The Venturers Theatre Club of which our Chrissie and Jim Lincoln were members.
Chrissie and Jim both attended my weekly dance class on Wednesday nights at St Andrews church hall and arranged a meeting between Judy and me. I fell in love with Judy‘s amazing beautiful English voice. We invited my students from Normansfield, an institution for people with severe learning difficulties. It was a natural choice as I had choreographed for these students and they had performed on several occasion on the Normansfield stage. Judy wrote the basic script, which included poems and quotations from English literature, and we rehearsed on Wednesday evenings at St. Andrews.
Stella And Peter
We were joined by Emma Scheele (Edith Wolf-Perez ), who at the time was studying at the Laban Centre and later on became the publisher of the influential dance magazine Tanz Affiche in Vienna, by Sue Burton from the Royal Ballet, by Peter Stretton, a young Australian actor, by Chrissie Barber ,who became the head of the Bobath Centre , and by as well as Diane Chamberlaine. ( Diane Roper). The first performance took place at Normansfield in May of 1980.
We wanted to build on the success of the performance and the only venue we managed to secure was the ILEA Roof Top Theatre in Holborn. As it name suggests it was on the fourth floor of the building. We performed two nights there. It meant we had to carry our Judy in her wheelchair up those stairs, leading to the Roof Top Theatre. This could never be done today, but as I said we were grateful to take our performance to a London audience.
Barbara, Hilary and Chrissie are the only three current AMICI members who were in this performance. Perin at that time gave birth to our first AMICI baby, Thomas Parri-Hughes. They have each contributed some of their memories of that time, but if you
Chrissie embracing David Walker. Behind Chrissie is Gordon Bairnsfather. At the back Jimmy and Emma embracing Sally Upton
have any questions about that first production for them, or for the others who have contributed to this account, please let us know and we will ask them.
Of course the first AMICI performance would not have been possible without the financial support of Gina Levete and Shape. Gina supported AMICI and myself until her untimely death in 2018, not long after she came to our performance during the Joy Festival in the Lyric Square. AMICI‘s postponed performance of One World ( The Wealth of the Common People ) will be dedicated to her for her love and support to AMICI throughout her life.
More recollections from the cast of I AM NOT YET DEAD
“Ere, what’s going on? What are you lot doing on that stage? I want you off there right now, I’ve come to clean it!”
Or words to that effect...I entered the auditorium from the back of the hall for the start of I AM NOT YET DEAD, marched down a side aisle with my mop and bucket and pushed my way past a defensive Peter Sim to confront the cast who were clearly on stage for a purpose. I have a vivid memory of Peter in rehearsal at the bottom of the steps to the stage trying to stop me getting up there. He wasn’t with us all the time then, and he was only standing in for someone else. He was whispering to me, ”What am I meant to do?” In between me shouting, I was hissing back at him Ttry to stop me getting up there”. I pushed him out of the way with my bucket! I don’t remember who did that role in the actual performance!
From then on Judy Fairclough urged, and the cast demonstrated the pressing need for people of all abilities to be treated equally and without prejudice.
Amici’s first compelling production!
Chrissie and Hilary were with me for the show while Perin was otherwise engaged in the maternity unit at Queen Charlotte’s hospital producing the first Amici baby!
My outstanding memories of that production are:
The incredible performances of the cast members from Normansfield, particularly David Walker.
The charisma and strength of Judy who wrote the poem I AM NOT YET DEAD and whose stage presence was so powerful.
The other residents of Normansfield who came to watch: one woman who usually sat under the piano during workshops, and another who sat in front of my husband in the audience, turned round in his seat and stared at him without speaking for the entire evening!
Not much has changed....?
PALM TO PALM WITH AMICI
When I left Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet in 1978, Gina Levete, founder of the, then, SHAPE LONDON, introduced me to Wolfgang, and of course to Amici - and I never looked back.
I remember vividly my first experience of sitting on the floor with one of the Amici students, hands palm to palm, and being gently guided by him as he carefully moved us to the music while looking lovingly into my eyes.
The influence of this truly inclusive work had a profound effect on my subsequent career in dance/movement teaching and in particular at Paddock Schools for children (and young adults) with autism and complex needs. Paddock Schools have a great, loving family feel just like Amici.
Many, many thanks to Amici members for all that I learnt from them and for enriching my life.
As a busy teacher, our class with Wolfgang was the high point in my week, being able to express myself freely in response to music was such a great joy. Taking part in a dance production was however quite daunting. Would I remember what to do and where to go? Would I blend in with what my immediate partners were doing? I couldn’t rely on copying other dancers as I couldn’t see their movements. My anxiety went into overdrive when the music started. In our rehearsal hall the sound system was at one end, allowing me to orientate myself easily. On stage the music seemed to come from everywhere so I had little idea of where stage front and the audience might be. The music and words had to carry me through and my trust in the sensitivity of the others in our group. Then the sound system unexpectedly failed. The group spontaneously started humming the tune and we continued as if planned
40 years later the whole experience still feels incredible, especially the trust we shared in each other and Wolfgang’s remarkable talent for bringing us together, inspiring and encouraging each one of us whatever our abilities and challenges.
I met Wolfgang through his work with SHAPE, when I was the lead therapists on one of the first dedicated stroke rehabilitation units in London. His Wednesday morning class at St Pancras Hospital brought a different dimension to our week, and was eagerly anticipated by resident patients and staff. The classes challenged what might have been thought of as contributing to recovery, and brought fun, joy and laughter into the unit. During the communal tea breaks (before Wolf realised he was late for the next appointment and had to run back all the way to Mornington Crescent Tube), we became friends and I learnt of the existence of AMICI. It was a while before I asked to join as I had not danced since childhood, but knew I loved it.
On joining AMICI’s Wednesday evening class at St Andrews church hall, I entered a new world; here were people from all walks of life and dancing ability enjoying creative dance together. I was soon made to feel at home by the whole group.
I met Judy at the beginning of rehearsals for I AM NOT YET DEAD, she had a vibrant personality and I soon found myself visiting her in south London, and volunteering to be her driver for Saturday morning rehearsals. There was never a dull moment: she would recount stories from her career as I drove, and laugh if I cornered too fast in my 2CV and swayed her out of her seat. She was never daunted by having to be carried upstairs by Wolf and I, wheelchair following, rehearsals being on the first floor.
Rehearsals with the students from Normansfield began in earnest and the dance group was joined by professionals from dance and drama who instantly fitted into the group; rehearsal were intense but always fun.
Just before the performance at Normansfield, we got together briefly for light refreshments before the performance, which ended somewhat abruptly with Wolf chasing us all to get ready for the performance. In the opening dance with Richard, David, and Johnny I discovered I was dancing on half a sandwich, that had just dropped out of someone’s trouser leg. T hey had resourcefully stored it there for later, when refreshments had been curtailed by the curtain call.
The performance went beautifully, and it was such a joy to be part of; until the moment we heard the soundtrack of the Carmina Burana spin off the tape recorder deck. I could not imagine what was happening backstage, but my concern was for Margaret, who was dancing a solo in the middle of the stage. But then something magical happened that for me defined AMICI as a professional group from that moment on. No one panicked or asked what to do, the cast (I think possibly led by Peter) simply sang the rest of the Carmina Burana and Margaret was able to complete the dance, and when she was lifted above our heads at the end of the piece, it felt like a triumph. When I said how nerve racking it had been to members of the audience, they didn’t know what I was talking about as they though our singing was planned!
My parents were visiting me in London, my father came to the performance under duress; saying he was not an avid fan of ballet would be an understatement, but he drove my mother and Mrs Bonhomme (a keen supporter of AMICI) to the performance. Surprisingly, my outstanding memory of the day was not the challenges of the performance but how moved my father was by Jane Gray’s haunting solo with a cape.
The performance at the ILEA Roof Top Theatre in Holborn was a fantastic experience, for all of us, the downside being 4 flights of stairs and no lift, which meant Judy had to be carried up the stairs. T he performance had a different feel to it as the venue was much more intimate, and we felt much closer to the audience, many of whom were less known to us than the audience at Normansfield. In this intimate surround of the rooftop theatre it felt as if the message in the poem resonated with everyone who was there.
It was at my last year at Laban when I came to one of the first rehearsals of I AM NOT YET DEAD. My teacher ,Peter Brinson, thought that Wolfgang’s work would be an interesting topic for me to study. So, I arrived at a rehearsal with my academic hat, prepared to quietly sit and watch. Well, of course, there was no chance for that with Wolfgang. “Come on”, he said, “you cannot just sit, I need dancers.” Off came the academic hat and I became a member of this amazing company, dancing with Sally, Margaret, Jim, Chrissie, David, Michael, Peter … To be part of the cast of I AM NOT YET DEAD became a wonderful, emotional, and, yes, life-changing experience for which I am still feeling very grateful. Thank you!
Edith Wolf Perez
I gave up ballet at the age of 12 and had qualified as a physio before going to Arlene Phillips classes in Covent Garden to do contemporary dance. I knew I would not be good enough to perform but at least I was dancing again. Then in the late seventies I managed to persuade Barbs to let me meet Wolfgang and join the group.
The early days were a real eye opener for me. There we were: a blind student, a wheelchair bound MS patient and myself, all learning such a lot from Wolfgang, including German expressionist dance!
The first performance I missed because of expecting Thomas and in those days no one danced when they were pregnant!
I AM NOT YET DEAD was the title and poem that every physio should read. What we do in Amici is not therapy and I learnt the difference. People in wheelchairs dancing and performing was unheard of then. As soon as I could I went back to the Wednesday classes and am still doing so after more than 40 years, and have been on the stage as a dancer all this time.
Next chapter standing ovations and people queuing round the block……
I have warm memories from those whirlwind days that for me largely revolved around Sheila Styles and Hilda Holger. I left London in the early 80s and ended up basing my life in the tropical north of Australia and promising myself to never live in a grey cold environment again. I have been a teacher (English, Drama & TESOL), performer and producer and I have forged a long-term connection to SE Asia and in particular Indonesia. I can vividly recall the hugely rewarding experience of working with people like Heather and the opportunities that evolved. I think it was such events that further encouraged in me what I hope was a deep empathy for the various learning situations I found myself in. My town, Darwin, is not perfect by a long shot, but it does include our first nation people, is extremely multicultural in make-up and has a traditional ethic of being open to ideas and welcoming to newcomers. My family and friends have enjoyed a stimulating and adventurous time in the arts and continue to do so and my days in London and meeting such people as yourself was an integral link in helping that come about.
The script for the production included quotations from various sources and some of these are reproduced below, together with some of the music used. Wolf also found a copy of the first AMICI programme for I AM NOT YET DEAD, and two photos.
Quotations and poems from I Am Not Yet Dead
To be or not to be that is the question
Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour on stage and then is heard no more.
We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep
Let us……….on your imaginary forces work
All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players
In Zanadu did Zubla Khan a stately pleasure Dome decree
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heavens
You and Me and PB Shelley
What is life? Life is stepping on a step or sitting on a chair
And it isn’t there
Life is not having been told that the man has just waxed the floor
It is pulling doors marked PUSH and pushing doors marked PULL and not noticing notices saying PLEASE USE THE OTHER DOOR
It is when you diagnose a sore throat as an unprepared geography lesson
and send your child weeping to school only to be returned an hour later covered
with spots that are indubitably genuine.
Life is a concert with a trombone soloist filling in for Yehudi Menuhin
But, were it not for frustration and humiliation
I suppose the human race would get ideas above its station.
Somebody once described Shelley as a beautiful and ineffectual angel beating his luminous wings in the void in vain
Which is certainly describing with might and main
But probably means that we are brothers under our pelts
And that Shelley went around pulling doors marked PUSH and pushing doors
marked PULL just like everybody else.
Not waving but drowning
Nobody heard him the dead man
And still he lay moaning
I was much further out then you thought,
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap he always loved larking
And now he is dead
It must have been to cold for him
His heart gave way
Oh no, no, no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
Wagner. Liebestod. - Flying Dutchman. -
Walter Carlos. - Sonic Seasoning
Carl Orff. - Carmina Burana
Richard Strauss. - Der Rosenkavalier
Wolfgang recalls the first performance of RÜCKBLICK at The Place Theatre in 1981, and the events leading up to it.
After our performance of I AM NOT YET DEAD in 1980, our friend Mrs. Vera Bonhomme, who believed in what I was doing, encouraged me to write a book. She was concerned that other people coming to my classes would write books and use my ideas, which I later discovered was the case. Mrs Bonhomme was living in Coventry but came to London every Thursday to help me to write the book.
The Stange System of Therapeutic Calisthenics was finished in 1981, but I never published it as it was too technical for my liking. I told Mrs. Bonhomme that it had not enough soul, which I thought my work was all about. “Feelings don’t belong in a such a book”, she proclaimed. Then I have to wait until I can do it and the time is right, I thought.
We in AMICI returned to our Wednesday class at St. Andrews. Normansfield had sent the students who were in our performance to nearby Day Centres, so I could no longer work with them. They were replaced by students with multiple difficulties, mainly wheelchair users.
Before we embarked on our 1982 production of RÜCKBLICK we were asked to do a production in 1981 for the “International Year of Disabled Persons”. THE DREAM, as it was called, had only the combined classes of the sighted and the blind dancers. Two young men from Venezuela joined us for this project and all I can remember is a duet between our Chrissie and the rather large Venezuelan called Adolfo that I had choreographed the duet for. We performed, it as I remember, at the West London College Studio Theatre in Barons Court.
1981 was also the year Judy Fairclough was asked to bring The Venturers to Lille in France to be part of celebrating this special year. I had just returned from Sri Lanka when Judy rang me and invited me to go with her to France and choreograph a piece on the theme of Halloween. A week later we left. Graeae Theatre Company had also been invited.
Many things were initiated in that particular year. The BBC commissioned Nick Darke to write the script for a TV series on dance, highlighting Dance for the Disabled. Pedr James was the Director and they had chosen Ben Kingsley to play my character. I wanted my students to play themselves, but there was not such enlightenment in the early days and it was decided that actors should play my students. I was very apprehensive, but my mind was put at rest when I realized that the actors were very sincere and did a thorough character study before they embarked on their task.
They came to several classes at Normansfield, and also observed the students in their daily life at Normansfield. Ben Kingsley had to shadow me for two weeks, observing me at the Stroke Unit, as well as at all the other settings where I was working at the time. I was asked to be the Movement Consultant at the TV Studio. As we were in the process of rehearsing for RÜCKBLICK, I asked Ben if if he would give us the honour of playing the speaking part of Death and he agreed. At the same time Pauline Cox, the make-up artist at the BBC, offered to do the make-up for RÜCKBLICK.
Sadly, RÜCKBLICK was not ready in the early summer of 1982, and by the autumn the promotion of the film Gandhi, in which Ben Kingsley starred, was in full swing and so we lost our Speaking Death. However, Pauline Cox stood by her word and provided the make-up for RÜCKBLICK and all the Amici productions, that followed, and has been supporting us now for 38 years.
In the early summer of 1981, also as part of the International Year of Disabled Persons, I was invited to Australia House in London to watch a production with people with Down Syndrome that had been performed at The Sydney Opera House. It was conceived and choreographed by a South American, I think called Aldo, who had made Australia his home. I was taken aback with the whole professionalism that was displayed. Total artistic integrity was shown by the cast, performing in an internationally known venue with total professional backing from lighting, costume and set design. I was jubilant to see such amazing collaboration. After the performance I met Seona Reid, now Dame Seona Reid, who had taken over SHAPE from Gina Levete and was now running it. Seona had seen our I AM NOT YET DEAD and told me, “AMICI can do something like that. We will provide the professional backing and the finance for it. We are at your disposal.” Well, what a wonderful offer, and even more wonderful was the belief that we would deliver the goods.
As always, I could not just do something because financial support was available. I believed now as then that there has to be a reason and a message. At the end of 1981 I had seen a poster advertising the first exhibition of the work of Käthe Kollwitz in Britain and the bells were ringing in my ears. Käthe portrayed the working-class people of my home town, Berlin. Her husband was a doctor in the working class district of Berlin and so Käthe saw how they suffered from the inequalities in society.
Käthe’s motive for drawing the working-class people was because they gave her in their simple way what she found beautiful. I saw the beauty in the rawness of my students, their honesty and directness that drew me to them. I suppose this is what inspired me to use Käthe’s work for our first professional performance.
Now there was a reason and also a message. I went to Seona and proposed to create " RÜCKBLICK”. Seona being a strong advocate of women’s rights could identify with Käthe Kollwitz and gave us her full support.
Since there was no way I could get the Normansfield students back, I thought of inviting a group of students from Strathcona Education Centre who had joined my dance class at the City Lit. A group of ten students who came in their own mini bus. I approached their teachers Joan and Mark and proposed that they should join our Wednesday AMICI group to work on RÜCKBLICK. Luckily we had the total support of their manager Gerda Lewis who provided us with the transport and allowed her people to come out to the Wednesday evening rehearsals.
I brought books of Käthe’s work to the rehearsals, read passages of her diary and asked some of the students to re-create Käthe‘s sculptures so our blind members could get a basic feel of her work. Gina, knowing of our new venture, brought a real bronze relief of Käthe‘s to the rehearsal. Her friend owned this sculpture and had taken it out of a bank vault where it had been kept for security. This was a very emotional moment for me and for all of us, but in particular for our blind members who were able to feel her work. It was only repeated 13 years later in 1995 when we presented RÜCKBLICK in Berlin and the Käthe Kollwitz Museum there let us touch Käthe‘s sculptures.
Seona stood by her word and commissioned Nick Darke to write a script for RÜCKBLICK. Sally Loughridge and Kate Owen were commissioned to do the costume and set design and Geoff Amos the lighting and the actor Gordon McDonald took Ben Kingsley‘s part. The Place Theatre, the home of the London School of Contemporary Dance and my old school, was chosen as the professional venue. Robin Howard, of The Place, who was passionate about the Martha Graham technique and had opened the first Contemporary Dance School of the Graham technique in Britain, was guided by Graham’s belief that Dancers are Athletes of God. And now I brought my motley group of dancers to the High Temple of Dance.
I proposed five performances, but The Place advised me to have only two. Better to have two half-full-audiences than five sparsely attended performances. This was unchartered water and so I took their advice. Even when the professional actor Gordon did not turn up for the dress rehearsal we were not concerned, as he was good and we felt he would turn up for the first night. But he did not, and so I had to jump in at the last minute. Luckily he had a similar build to mine, so the costume fitted me.
The Place has no curtains and so we all had to be on stage 15 minutes before the audience was let in. Most of the company was on stage, all under an enormous white cloth, representing Käthe‘s sculpture under a dust cloth. I was with my back to the audience and had no idea why we did not start. After nearly an hour on stage, the lights suddenly dimmed and we could start. I am still surprised nobody fainted.
After I inquired why there was this hold up, I was told that some wheelchair users had arrived late and it took some time to get them to the entrance of the theatre. My answer, people had the starting time of the performance, so if they are late, they have to wait until there is an appropriate moment for them to be able to enter the auditorium. The next day we started on time. (Part of the delay was also caused by people literally queuing around the block to get tickets. The theatre admitted later that they could have sold seats for three more performances because of the high demand.)
We had no idea how our performance would be received by the audience. Once the lights were put off after the last image there was an eery silence. When the lights came back on we got an standing ovation with shouts of bravo and stamping of feet. We were dumbfounded, and then it sunk in. After we took our bow, we hugged each other and cried. Not very professional behaviour, but maybe very natural after all the tension beforehand.
Jane Kingshill, an audience member that night, wrote to me afterwards, and here is an extract from her letter. “I was completely overwhelmed by the oneness of it all. Every individual submitted to the whole and yet each individual became more of an individual and not less because of this surrender.” In fact Jane seemed to have understood AMICI in its philosophy to accept and celebrate individuality.
Another letter came from a group of young people with Down Syndrome who studied Creative Writing at the City Lit. This is what they wrote:
Memories of the first RÜCKBLICK
I joined Amici in 1981 (before the first RÜCKBLICK performance), for the ballet barre, but soon realised that there was no room for ego in a draughty old church hall with old concrete floors where nobody cared what you looked like, it was your humanity that counted. That was the essence of the classes run by their inspired teacher Wolfgang and the company which evolved as a result. What he passed on to us from a long line of serious, committed dance artists, including Hilde Holger, was the embodiment of perceiving and bringing out the natural dance expression of every member of the company, whether sight impaired, Down syndrome, in a wheelchair, professional or semi-professional dancers.
At the time it felt like a quiet revolution.
One of my most moving experiences was dancing the Mother’s Dance inspired by the Tower of the Mothers sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz, choreographed by Wolf. Three sighted and three visually impaired dancers jete’d and glided across a dark stage to Carmina Burana. It was fast, urgent, tragic, so powerful in its portrayal of women’s determination to survive and protect in the face of terrible adversity. Because of our trust for each other, flinging ourselves into the black, reaching out, we became more than our individual contributions, we became a tower of hope artistically, personally and spiritually.
No matter where I am, when I hear that music I am straight back there, alive in the moment. Amici is made up of endless privileged experiences like this.
It was such an exciting time for us, getting the recognition for Wolfgang’s work. I loved performing at The Place, probably my favourite location, there was a feeling of intimacy there. And I remember the long wait under the cloths. We were all quite nervous in our little huddle, and practised slow gentle breathing to keep us calm. Then the sound of the aircraft and falling bombs took us into another world and a different kind of fear gripped us.
The Nightmare scene was always a bit of a nightmare, having to count and hope we were all doing the same thing at the same time. The music and words, especially the Cuckoo song were so powerful. The audience reception was just incredible.
There was such a wonderful sense of togetherness in the Dance of the Mothers, and the final death scene with Colin gave me a great sense of satisfaction.
As with other Amici productions, the tremendous trust we had in each other carried us through the difficult moments.
When we started rehearsing for the new show in the autumn of 2019 I was keen that the Mothers Dance and The Crosses should be included. For me, I had just had a son, and the dances in the show resonated with me. To this day they still make me cry.
RÜCKBLICK was very special in that Amici, the company we now have, was built on the inclusion of students from the Strathcona Theatre Group who came from the Social Education Centre and attended weekly. They were a great addition - they were used to taking direction, and like us all became riveted by the story of Kathe.
Wolfgang from the very start built the production on ideas from the weekly classes and his genius for making each and everyone of us give of our best makes him a great choreographer. That is not to say he wasn’t strict and knew exactly what he wanted.
I could not believe I was finally going to appear on stage and nearly died of stage fright before the first night, but then Wolfgang said, “Come on, who is going to look at you?” Just what I needed.
Carmina Burana- gosh, the music is heaven to dance to, and the Sanctus, where the whole company joins around Hilary. When they used it for a car advert a few years ago I was so cross. When I last heard it at the proms a gentleman offered to buy me a drink in the interval to ask why I had been crying. It was lovely to tell him about Amici.
To add to the funny story about “Who is going to look at you?”, I was so bound up in ideas of going to the ballet at the opera house that I wanted to present Hilary, the star of our show, with a bouquet at the end of first night. “Absolutely not!”, said Wolf, “There are no stars in this production.” And to prove it we all got a flower from him after the show! Even the royal ballet stars who have danced with us don’t get any special treatment.
When, after the brief silence the audience gave us a standing ovation and I stood on a packed stage with the best dance company in the world I thought my heart would burst with joy. Never in a million years did I believe this would be one of my greatest achievements.
There is a duet from RÜCKBLICK on You Tube
Here are a few paragraphs that describe how I felt about the first performance of RÜCKBLICK. I remember all too well sitting under those dust sheets for an hour, shaking and sweating, not knowing what was going on. In true Amici style we stayed still and held hands!
Since the age of three I have always loved to dance and that is exactly what I did, but when I was aged nineteen studying dance at college I was asked to leave due to deterioration in my eyesight. It felt like this was the end of my world.
Some years on I was acting in Graeae Theatre Company. After a performance at the Soho Theatre, Wolf came to chat and all of a sudden my world opened up again. He told me about Amici; there was a way I was going to be able to dance. Finally, about eighteen months later, I was able to attend my first class with Amici ,which was unbelievably wonderful. Wolf and Amici welcomed me with open arms. The company enveloped me with love and care and I felt free to dance without being judged. I was not alone. Wolf always had time for everyone, he always seemed to know how to draw the best from each of us.
Then I found out that we were going to perform this amazing piece about Kathe Kollwitz’ life at the Place Theatre. This was really beyond my wildest dreams. I could dance again and express my true self within the most wonderful group of people. Together we were a strong force to be reckoned with and at the centre was passionate, determined and loving Wolfgang.
The world of dance was very narrow-minded at that time. It was all about ‘perfection’, whatever that is. Your body had to look a certain way, you had to be able to move in a certain way and we were to perform in the epicentre of this way of thinking. I am sure we were perceived as that very weird group. Attitudes that we were not real artists pervaded the air. At the end of the first performance there was a long silence and then the whole auditorium erupted: hand clapping, foot stamping and shouting “Bravo!”. After that we were seen differently.
SILENCE: THE PLACE THEATRE, MARCH 1985
Wolfgang and members of the cast remember the creation and performance of SILENCE in 1985
My friend, the dancer Sheila Style, presented me with the Japanese novel
‘Silence’ by Shusako Endo, as a gift. I was engrossed by the book and felt driven to use it as the basis of an AMICI production. But the story, about the persecution and struggle of the first Christians in Japan, was not what attracted me to it. For me, the central concern of the book is faith: faith and belief in a religious, political or humanitarian ideology; belief and trust in someone very close to you.
Amici’s production of SILENCE, which is loosely based on Endo’s book, can also be interpreted as an examination of our response under pressure, and the changes that occur when our source of support fails to acknowledge our personal needs. When there is only silence. The central theme is of loneliness and isolation; of being robbed of one’s strong faith by the continuing silence of those who should be giving support. Having witnessed the struggle of my students, in particular on the psychiatric wards and day centres of our NHS hospitals, I knew I had to create SILENCE and to dedicate it to them.
Following the great success of RüCKBLICK, I thought it would be easy to convince SHAPE to support us once again. No such luck. Seona Reid, director of SHAPE, could identify more with the struggle of working-class Berliners portrayed by a woman artist than with the struggle of Japanese peasants trying to find their freedom through Christian doctrine, portrayed by a male novelist.
SHAPE was, however, good enough to give us their fundraising contacts that had enabled them to secure the financial sustainability of Rückblick. So, with no experience in fundraising, AMICI members Ann Ballard, David Rowlands and Barbara Lawrence met regularly to plan a fundraising strategy and write letters to potential donors. Eventually they raised an incredible 5000 pounds.
Luckily, George Beven managed to create a most memorable stage and costume design on a shoestring and neither he nor Iris Andrews, our wardrobe manager and costume maker asked for any fees. Not only did George design the costumes and set, he also designed the poster and leaflets as well as the programme. This he would do for the next 13 years.
Seona was not alone in disapproving of the theme, as one of our AMICI members was constantly negative about the rehearsals and told me that it would not work. There were moments when I wanted to throw in the towel, but then I saw such extremely powerful performances from the leading performers, who all had learning difficulties, that my faith was restored.
I had chosen Pius Hickey as a weak, traumatized individual who was to betray the priest he loved. I had seen Pius as an amazing comedian and thought he would be great in a dramatic role. He did not disappoint me, as he gave a truly heartrending performance as Ino Kichijiro, the Japanese peasant who has converted to Christianity but who renounces his faith when faced with torture and certain death. Ian Willis was a natural in the dual role as Geisha and the Virgin Mary whereas Reynard Gayle was superb as the intellectual, slightly aloof priest Sebastian Rodrigues. Chrissie’s screams of agony as the wife Omatsu, witnessing the slow drowning of her husband Mokichi, will stay with me until the end of my days. Danny Kingshill, who I had spotted in MIRANDA’S DREAM when we performed RüCKBLICK at the Young Vic, portrayed Christovao Ferreira, guiding us through the confused mind of Sebastian as his powerful conscience.
However, the negative force within the group remained, and caused me constant pain and doubt. At the dress rehearsal I came close to a breakdown. I suddenly caved in and saw no merit in the piece anymore. I had succumbed to the negativity, and had I been working alone I would have cancelled the performance, taking the blame and the shame. However, I could not get out of doing it as everybody had put so much work into it. I suddenly felt like the priest in the piece as I had lost my faith. It was ironic, but it was true.
My redemption only came on the second night of the performance when the dancer and choreographer Anitra Shore came up to me after the performance and said, " This was about me, wasn't it?" and burst out in tears. We both embraced and cried, and I said, " It is about all of us". She had understood and I knew I had reached at least one person in the audience. It was not only her, as I discovered afterwards, when people wrote to me expressing their inner feelings. I had never envisaged that it would have such a profound impact on individuals in the audience.
Pius, of course, gave one of the most memorable performances. When I explained to him in rehearsal that in his role as Ino Kichijiro, he had to stamp and spit on the image of Christ, I was not sure how he would cope, being a practising and believing Roman Catholic. I told him he was acting, and it was not real, but that I had to see his hatred for the image that had put him in this terrible position. I added, “But after you have trampled and spat on the image, I must see your remorse, as you really did not want to do it.”
Pius suddenly produced this truly extraordinary and spine-chilling display of hate, and then screamed and started pulling his hair when he realized what he had done. At that moment I became scared and thought he had gone over the top. “Pius, are you alright?” I almost screamed. Pius ‘snapped out of it’, looked at me and calmly asked, “Why wasn’t it right?” Chrissie standing at the side just strongly proclaimed “My God, what a powerful performance.” And that was only the first rehearsal.
It was our most theatrical production so far. Under the guidance of Danny, the cast had to play instruments, sing, and of course dance. Richard Lohan and David Johnson provided us with superb percussion and Kate Pyper not only danced with us but also provided amazing woodwind when needed. As I said, total theatre.
One final recollection about SILENCE. The Strathcona Theatre Group always came to our flat after they finished their day at the Centre and we had tea and biscuits together before we went over to St. Andrews for the Wednesday evening rehearsal. It was our final class before Christmas, and I wanted to use the last half hour for a little Christmas party.
Possibly influenced by his experience of being in Strathcona Theatre Company, Pius proclaimed seriously, “We don‘t want a party, we want only to rehearse tonight.” My answer was, “I am also for rehearsal, in fact I am pushed with time and desperately need more rehearsal, but AMICI is about people and friends and not only about professional expertise. My teaching is about sharing and caring and that has to be developed just as much as the professional attitude. When you are rehearsing with AMICI, you are part of that philosophy, developing on two fronts.” We had the rehearsal, and then we had the party.
Memories from the Cast
I was so appreciative of all the memory-triggering photos of the rehearsals and the performance of Silence that Wolf sent to me! All those expressive hands and deeply emotional faces bring the memories flooding back. They were such special and extraordinary times and to be a member of the cast and an integral part of each of the performances leaves one full of enormous pride.
It’s very tempting to try and spot yourself in the pictures of the cast, but as the costumes and makeup were so clever and skilful, it makes it very hard to distinguish between us... unless of course you’re one of the main characters!
Just how Wolfgang knits aspects of each rehearsal together, from the early days of its inception, based on the novel, to compiling an extraordinary whole which is the performance has always remained a total mystery. His imaginative interpretation of the complex and painful story of SILENCE with such a diverse group of individuals with just a few hours of weekly rehearsals on consecutive Wednesday’s over the many months is just extraordinary.
Driving across London from Deptford, in the south east to Amici classes in West Kensington during the late afternoon rush hour, after a full day’s teaching was always my treat to look forward to on Wednesday evenings.
Friendships with the Strathcona Theatre Company students quickly became established. Their warm, welcoming hugs on arrival and the anticipation of moving and dancing together was always a joy.
The serious ballet barre at the start of the class in St Andrews Church Hall, the spontaneous improvisations with the simplest of props accompanied by live music from talented musicians and Wolf’s amazing warmth and energy were the evening’s icing on the cake.
I had the added bonus of travelling for part of my car journey with Katie Portal and Chrissie, so it became an opportunity to discuss the rehearsals so far, to enthuse over the live music, to attempt to work out the complexities of the story... and of course to catch up with our own lives outside Amici!
Another of Wolf’s many talents was to discover the right student for each of the major roles. Reynard was so perfect as Rodrigues: a tall handsome young man with the most expressive hands and body. Ian was brilliant as the Virgin and the Geisha girl with his lovely dance movements and a sensitive softness about his persona. Kevin Pyke was the perfect choice for Ichizo, Jim Lincoln was impressive as Inoue and Margaret Wilson as Sen and the three beautiful women in Hilary, Maggie and Elaine who together formed the perfect religious picture. Then there was Chrissie Kugele as Omatsu, whose ear-piercing screams were unforgettable.
I was one of the Samurais with Chris Collins, Joan Greening, Kevin Pyke, Seamus Kavanagh, Barb Lawrence, Dimitri Roukos and David Rowlands, and what an extraordinary role it was to play with the powerful presence of the others.
SILENCE was also the most memorable production where George Beven became so intricately involved with designing all of our costumes, our make-up and the stage design. It was a marathon contribution and he became an extraordinary support to both Wolf and to all the cast members.
It’s difficult to believe that this amazing production was 35yrs ago when we were all so much younger, of course! Thank you Wolf for enabling us all to be part of SILENCE, a most beautiful, powerful and painful dance theatre production.
I haven't kept a 1985 diary to help me out this time! I was continuing to be involved politically active at that time and so life was busy all round.
I have found a mini poster and a leaflet advertising SILENCE at The Place Theatre, 19th-23rd March 1985 at 8pm. The description states 'A dance theatre performance based on the novel ‘Silence’ by Shusaku Endo, presented by handicapped and able-bodied performers'. (For some years/decades since then, language in the UK around disability (and more) has changed - no longer is the word 'handicapped' used linked to disability issues, although perhaps it may be different elsewhere.)
I recall enjoyment at performing at The Place - I seem to recall it had a personal feeling to the actual venue, that made a difference. I recall that Wolfgang was stressed at times and it must have shown as we were collectively worried for him. His heart and soul went into every rehearsal, performance, and person, and he was 'stretched' thin at the time, I believe.
My memory is failing me slightly around the subject of SILENCE, I think because I had trouble with marrying some of the elements of the book with the ethos of Amici and disability and the arts. Despite that, what does stand out is the extraordinary make-up and the inspiring piece of artistry in dance form performed by Ian Willis as the Geisha. We watched in wonder as this young man with Down’s syndrome transformed into a coy Japanese fan-fluttering butterfly. It was as if something deep, of great sensual nuance and grace was released from within.
After the unmitigated success of RüCKBLICK we were all raring to go on the next production. We had to get money, so we called ourselves AMICI, and I remember a manager from Nat West Bank who said if we promised him 2 tickets, he would lend us some money!
Well, as usual, we believed we could do it and so we started on SILENCE.
Now, over the years we have been described as ‘able’ and ‘disabled’ but I prefer the ‘differently-abled’ title. The so-called ‘Magic of Amici’ started with a group of friends becoming like a family. Our choreographer Wolfgang believed in the dancer/performer in us all. Today we are stronger than ever - an international company with renown.
In the early days, especially with the success we had had, I think people wanted to get on the bandwagon. There were some from the different disability groups who thought able-bodied dancers had no right to be performing with, for example, deaf people. A couple of the students’ carers were nasty to Wolfgang and tried but failed to put him off. They thought they could do better, maybe. However, we listened, and 10 years later our whole show was choreographed by members of the company. Carol Britten, who was a perfect Josephine Baker in STARS ARE OUT TONIGHT (The Lyric, 2005) choreographed a lovely dance to one of the Goldberg Variations.
But like many a storm we weathered, SILENCE told the story of human endurance, trial, and the questioning of one’s own belief and morality.
I remember in Poland I was shocked that there was ONLY ONE coach that could take wheelchairs. In Warsaw the whole company was given free food and drink at the newly opened Pizza Express as they couldn’t wait to see us in the shows. One customer said, “Over here we keep the disabled hidden!” I remember also an admittedly wealthy family came from Bombay and rejoiced that their son performed with us and went back to tell enough people, so that now, like everywhere else, there are groups like Amici in India.
The audiences for Amici are still loyal and new ones come every show -
we are so proud of what the Magic of Amici has produced.
Perin Parri Hughes
When we started rehearsing for SILENCE it quickly became obvious that we weren’t going to get the support from Shape that we had received for the RüCKBLICK production. Ann Ballard, David Rowlands and I decided that the responsibilities for fundraising and marketing would be too much for Wolfgang to deal with on top of the choreography, direction and coordination of supporting professionals. We decided to form a ‘committee’ and do it for him.
All three of us were teachers at that time so we had no idea how to tackle it, but the staff at SHAPE were supportive and gave us ideas as well as a list of potential funders. Crucially they allowed us to use their name, (and Charity Commission number) as an umbrella organisation. Without it most donors would have been unable to support us as we didn’t have charitable status in our own right then.
We had many meetings over the year-long rehearsal period and wrote several proposals and numerous ‘begging’ letters. In the later stages of rehearsals Ann wasn’t able to attend committee meetings as regularly, but by then wasn’t working full-time. This meant she had time during the working day to pursue our applications for funding, and her persuasive, timely telephone calls secured cash from indecisive businesses and charitable trusts- the first being 1000 pounds from our own bank! What a moment that was! In all we raised 5000 pounds - enough to cover costs and expenses but not all fees.
The experience formed the future course of Amici management, the purpose of which was to take the administrative pressure away from Wolfgang to allow him to concentrate on his strength: the creative process.
And the production?
Fabulous choreography, direction, set design, costumes and incredible, breath-taking performances.
One of the hardest we have ever done in terms of its emotional intensity, both in the content of the production and in the internal conflicts within and between company members.
A time of emotional turmoil for all which resonated for some time after...BUT worth every single hour of hard work by the ‘committee’.
I read ‘Silence’ and was thoroughly gripped by it. The negative force during the rehearsals was both destructive and undermining, the dress-rehearsal was dreadful, but somehow, we all pulled together on the first night to produce something immensely powerful and special. Pius’s performance was always so heart-rending.
The behind-the-scenes pressure and backbiting chaos seemed to contribute to my personal struggle in my role as a suppressed peasant. The use of props was new to us and I still have the fan, which brings back memories. The final dance was such a challenge, both physically and emotionally and we were all just relieved and exhausted when it went well. Having live musicians was tremendous, especially the insistent drumming. Travelling home afterwards I would find myself listening to the rhythms in day-to-day sounds.
I first met Wolf in 1976 when I was a physiotherapy student at St. Marys Hospital in London. He had been asked to conduct movement workshops for us by the Principal of the Physiotherapy School, as part of our further education. Subsequently, Wolf asked some of us to join him in his Wednesday night classes that were held in the church hall in Baron’s Court, West London. It was here that I met the members of his company, AMICI.
I had had a classical ballet training and now, through Wolf, I became involved in classes that included classical, creative and contemporary dance styles, as well as drama, and, for the first time, classes that included those with physical disabilities as well as able bodied people. This experience was a complete eye-opener to me and an experience that I learnt so much from and will never, ever forget. Wolf opened my eyes to the beauty and expressiveness that people can portray. He seemed to have boundless energy and enthusiasm, always seeing the positive side in people and what they could contribute to class and rehearsals. He allowed us all to feel free and able to move our bodies without judgement.
As classes and, ultimately, rehearsals for SILENCE progressed, I learnt to see how people of all types of physical abilities and disabilities could express their ideas, feelings and experiences in the most beautiful ways. Wolf taught me to appreciate that there are so many ways that emotions can be expressed through movement, and that these movements do not have to be the ‘perfect lines’ that I was taught in my classical ballet training.
These lessons and rehearsal times spent with Wolf and the wonderful Amici Company have helped me tremendously in my working life as a physiotherapist working with dancers.”
Fragments of Memories after so many years:
I first met Wolfgang as a first-year physiotherapy student at St Mary’s hospital in 1976 and will be forever grateful that our principal, Miss Robbins, thought that we should broaden our experience of learning about movement. Wolfgang took us for maybe 6 sessions and introduced us to a more creative approach to moving. It wasn’t for everyone, but having had no experience of dance at all, I was enthralled. He carried on taking a small group of us one evening a week.
After this I started going to the church hall in Barons Court and joined the Amici family. I loved the integrated group and was fascinated by the total confidence and sense of trust Wolfgang created in that group. I learned so much about authentic movement and responding to music and to others through movement, but, more importantly, from Wolfgang’s enthusiasm, and his ability to bring out every individual’s ability to grow and develop confidence and creativity through dance.
I just hope that in some small way I have been able to allow his non-judgmental appreciation of individuals to influence my work as a physiotherapist and as a person.
I joined Amici after RüCKBLICK, and Wolfgang was starting to think about SILENCE, which we performed in 1985. This was my first experience of the performing arts, and what a privilege this was in a setting where those with a ‘disability’ were given the principal roles. I was in awe of both their talent and Wolfgang’s ability to pull this extraordinarily ambitious project together.
I have a powerful memory of Ian, who had the role of The Virgin/Geisha. During a break in one of the final rehearsals we all sat around resting and chatting. But up on the stage was Ian, moving through not his role, but the other principal roles. He had observed and absorbed those movements and was moving through them. It was so beautiful and utterly spellbinding.
I clearly remember Reynard as Rodrigues - his extraordinarily powerful stage presence. I remember Pius, and on my final emotional session with Amici before moving to Australia, crying and being comforted by a weeping Pius.
Just thinking back, those memories still bring out goose-bumps and make me quite teary.
A tale told in silence:
My own particular favourite AMICI production was the realisation on stage of the novel ‘Silence’ by Shusako Endo, about the life of a Portuguese missionary priest whose experiences caused him to lose his faith. One of our dancers, a deeply committed Catholic, illustrated this loss by the use of blasphemous imagery: a picture of Christ upon which he was induced to spit and to stamp. This alien deed has remained in my memory, as it did in the memory of Pius himself.
AMICI had sought permission from the author to use his novel and to create and perform their version of SILENCE long before Martin Scorsese made his film of the book in 2016. We heard that like Wolfgang, he too had felt compelled to adapt this work and that it had taken him nearly 30 years to bring his project to fruition.
For Amici this all happened many years ago. The company dances on into the future.
When I started working with Amici on SILENCE, I had half formed ideas of getting the whole group to provide music throughout much of it, based on free improvisation. Wolf quickly saw that this would not work and used his subtle art of persuasion to enslave two superb musicians by summoning them one day to the chilly church hall where we rehearsed and asking them to improvise, on small woodwind and percussion, music for an idyllic woodland scene in 17th century Japan, followed by an ecstatic dance by two young missionaries intoxicated by the beauty and joy of their surroundings. No pressure?
After that there was no escape for those musicians, and I take the blame for enslaving a third a colleague from work. Another of my preconceptions that went out of the window was that the structured music should all be Western based 17th century music, leaving the Japanese side of it to the imagination. To Silence I suppose. But in music silence usually needs to be represented by sound, even incompetent random sound, which is why I found myself accompanying a Geisha Dance, struggling to imitate the sound of a Koto on my cello, and pretending to sing Japanese words without a clue what they meant or whether they sounded right.
None of this is to say the whole of Amici did not at times get to improvise music, or that Western Music was not as prominent as Eastern in the Show, with five excellent singers consisting of our three musicians plus two from the cast. We managed to involve the rest of the cast in a motet by Palestrina, and though I knew the piece well it was never so moving as then. This was not in spite of but because the other music was so different. All the music of wildly contrasting styles and level of expertise was just as uniquely moving, because it happened almost by chance, seeming to come out of nothing. And disappear again into nothing, into silence.
Nothing and indeed silence very nearly happened when we moved into the performing space to find that the music for the terrifying climax of the show, an impression of Kodo drumming which had sounded alright in the rehearsal space, in the much deader acoustic here resembled more a couple of flies in the Grand Canyon. Only by stretching some architect paper over a ruined base drum we ‘saved our own skins’. My reward was to hear the brief return to the idyllic sounds of the forest which brought SILENCE to an end as excruciatingly tender as the previous drumming had been terrifying. This is one of the many musical highlights of Amici and one of the great musical experiences of my life.
I read Endo's book ‘Silence’ as Wolfgang was creating his own interpretation of this novel. It was an intense experience. The rehearsals were equally intense. The novel focuses on themes of religious persecution, utter isolation and profound moral conflict. Japanese peasants are told to trample on a religious image so that the authorities can determine who were the Christians among them. Those that cannot not do so are tortured in the sea until they die.
However, one of the Christian peasants, Ino Kichijiro, played by Pius, does trample on the image. In doing this does he renounce his faith? If he refuses will others suffer? What is his moral/religious duty?
I recall gentle Reynard in his monk's attire playing the leading character Rodrigues. Reynard had few words, but his hands and eyes conveyed so much more than words. Pius, as ever, assumed his dramatic role with vigour and conviction and Ian's fluid movement enabled an elegant transition into a red dress. This was a brave move by Wolfgang at a time when gender diversity was less discussed.
I remember Georg Beven's amazing painted image on a cloth that three of us wore. A three headed virgin/gorgon. Underneath the cloth we were precariously holding each other, balancing on steps and trying to move as one! I remember too, the tensions in the Company. The themes of the book came alive between us: conflict, doubt and intensity pervaded rehearsals. It was Amici at its most unsettled. Many of us struggled within ourselves and with each other. But the connections between Amici members were stronger than the disruptive forces. SILENCE was one of Wolfgang's strongest creations.
Wolfgang recollects the second production of Rückblick [Flashbacks] at The Young Vic in March 1983
After our first Rückblick we were asked by Jane Kingshill to appear with her inclusive theatre company Path’s production MIRANDA’S DREAM at The Young Vic. Jane believed as passionately as I that theatre was for all and should be inclusive. Jane and her family members started Path Production which concentrated on the spoken word and music whereas we in AMICI concentrated on movement. In both cases we used all three: Dance, Drama and Music, of course.
Their production of Miranda’s Dream drew on Shakespearean plays and ours of course on the work of Käthe Kollwitz. Jane’s son Danny, a cello player, caught my eye and I invited him later to play the role of the apostate priest in our 1985 production of SILENCE. Danny became a much-loved member of AMICI as an actor and musician.
The Young Vic performance had its own challenges. Not only was the stage on two levels, but it was also almost in the round. The choreography had to be repositioned because of the stage and its layout.
I remember that the staff looking after the technical side were not very helpful. It took us nearly two hours after our arrival on stage to pull out nails that partly stuck out from the supposed dance floor. It was obviously used for drama, where the performers were wearing shoes, but not suitable for barefoot dancers. No help from the staff on duty. We worked very hard and the rehearsals went on much longer than anticipated. One member took me to the side and said, “Wolf, you have to stop now, the Strathcona students are knackered and need to stop.” We had lost so much time pulling out all those nails to make it safe to dance on that we were behind in our schedule. I knew I had to press on. “Are you tired and need to stop?” I asked, “Let me ask the students.” I explained the situation we were in and they overwhelmingly voted to carry on. I felt guilty but knew we would not be ready for the performance otherwise, and I hope the tired ones have since forgiven me.
A TV crew from the German Television Tagesthemen had come to shoot some scenes and to interview some of us. Tagesthemen is a very renowned TV programme normally going out after the 10‘clock news. We still have a copy of the programme. The moderator of the programme declared that one had to go all the way to London to see Käthe Kollwitz honoured in this way.
I cannot thank Jane and Path Production enough for inviting us to share the Young Vic with them.
Recollections of Rückblick (1983) from members of the cast
Käthe Kollwitz’s sculptures, drawings, posters and woodcuts convey to those that can bear to look, see and feel the shock of human suffering: of poverty, hunger, separation and loss, of the human sacrifice in war and of the ultimate act we all have to face in death. These are eternal themes, tragically no less in the world today than they were in Käthe’s lifetime 100 years ago. In her work these themes reverberate with courage, fortitude, acceptance, mother and sisterhood, and with a deep compassion and respect for what it means to be human.
It was these images that Wolfgang dared to bring alive directly on stage using Amici’s unique cast at a time when Integrated Dance and Theatre barely existed, let alone seen as able to address such dark, powerful and evocative themes. Wolfgang dared to invite the audience to feel the raw emotions that Käthe’s images evoked.
Memories of Rückblick: Sitting for what seemed like hours on stage facing the audience with no curtain, listening to old German songs on a radio, hearing whispering and giggles from Amici members under the white cloths [dust sheets] of the sculptures wondering why, oh why, were we not starting, with my nerves growing every minute! Hearing Voldi’s dulcet tones when he played one of the many Deaths which grew in number in each production. The German production had six Deaths! Dancing to the words of Faust. The passion and intimacy of the parent’s duet and the poignancy of the duet with Käthe’s son played by Chris Collins. The much rehearsed [and shouted at!] boy’s dance which is still shocking to watch as each young man is seduced by a dancing death into war. Getting tangled up in the very, very long white cloth in the Bridal scene and not being able to untangle myself, causing much laughter at a rehearsal. Cuts, bruises and splinters from the nails in the wooden steps at the Young Vic. Rehearsals in St Andrews Church Hall where it was so cold that on one occasion Wolfgang went home and returned with Liquors for us all to try to warm us up. Meeting Ben Kingsley after one performance and being so overwhelmed I could not speak. Putting loads of white talcum powder in my hair to age myself. It took equally ages each night to wash it out!
Most of all I remember the strength and closeness of the company as a whole, with each of us supporting each other through laughter and tears. We spent many hours in each other’s company. Abilities and disabilities faded into the background as we felt our way together through Wolfgang’s choreography. Friendships grew strong within the whole cast and as in Käthe’s images the friendship between the six women who played the Mother’s grew, and for some of us has remained for nearly forty years.
I will never ever forget the first production of Rückblick at The Place in 1982. The tension of the silence at the end of the production, then a standing ovation. People said there were queues for tickets the following night. I can recall the elation going home afterwards so much so that I got lost on the tube system!
Playing Käthe Kollwitz was a wonderful gift from Wolfgang and one of the most important experiences in my life. Hearing Carmina Burana even now causes my heart to start beating fast and I am back on stage doing what I can to inhabit Käthe, knowing that all my Amici friends are whispering to each other under the white cloths and how they will burst into life once I lift the white cloths.
Little did I know then that Rückblick and Käthe would remain in all our lives across the years. Productions at the Place , at the Young Vic  at Riverside Studios  a professional film  and then the German revision at the Academie Der Kunste  which we took to Berlin and then revisited at the Riverside Studios . Even now we are rehearsing “The Mother’s” for our 40th Anniversary as a company.
Each production brings memories of Amici members who are no longer with us but who remain powerfully alive in recollections.
Wolfgang’s vision, courage and creativity bought movement to Käthe’s sculptures and images. My hope is that those who have contact with Amici leave with equal courage, inspiration and respect for every person’s unique individuality, seen in every member of Amici. Käthe brought out that individuality in her Art. Wolfgang bought it alive on stage and in the hearts and emotions of those who may meet Amici.
I had heard of Wolfgang when I was a student at Trent Park, because a few students went to work with him. I was always very resistant, maybe I knew it would change my life, and I wasn’t ready for that until later. Then Ann Peaker from Shape used to talk about Wolfgang. I was still resistant.
I nearly didn’t do that workshop as I was teaching in the morning so arrived late. It was for Derby Art Therapy students and was run by Judie Taylor. It took place in July, I think. (We all went to her house for dinner a few years later when Wolfgang stayed with me.)
What I loved that afternoon was how Wolfgang created a whole world through the improvisations, and how lovely the music was. I went home so happy. I felt as if I’d entered another world. I felt free. So I knew I had to come to London. I was a bit scared. I think I rang Wolfgang for a chat before I came. On the first night I met Hilary, and we made friends straight away.
I always used to rush away before the end to catch my last train home. That was frustrating, running along through Earl’s Court. It was the year we did Nigel’s MONKEY piece, and I danced a trio with Margaret and the beautiful black young man, whose name has just slipped my mind. We did Wolfgang’s piece PASSAGE TO SANITY? A lump comes into my throat as I write this, as those times were the most amazing of my whole career. What I loved was how Wolfgang turned beauty around, and I saw in a different way. I saw these young and old disabled people as beautiful. It was like a family. And I felt that I really danced, and it didn’t matter that I was a bit overweight and not great at technique.
So what year did the wall come down? If it was 1989, then that was the year I joined, in the September. I went to Glasgow with AMICI, and to Berlin and Vienna. Berlin was the most amazing time as we were a strong group of women, Hilary, Janee, Anne, Perrin, Elaine and Maggie. Some of us were going through difficult times. I was in a bad state, but somehow it was a wonderful time. I remember the joy as we walked back after the performances, alongside a park. We danced and sang. I was totally engaged in the work. The war, German guilt, and everything that happened to my parents’ generation had haunted me for many years. My Dad had to liberate a camp called Little Belsen. It affected him, and later me. It made me read and question things for many years, and I saw that in Wolfgang too, through his work - the way he was haunted by it all.
Knowing Wolfgang and Amici have been the most formative experiences in my life. I used to love the moments before we went on stage, sensing Wolfgang’s emotion, and feeling it myself. So many very emotional but happy times. But I think the week in Berlin was the most amazing.
Notes from Wolfgang:
The beautiful young man was Reynard Gayle
Nigel Warrack died suddenly in India late last year, to everyone’s enormous sadness and regret. He shared his immense talent as a dancer and musician with all of us and was loved and admired by all Amici members.
Amici dance company starts from improvisation, sensitivity and touch under Wolfgang’s amazing vision and guidance.
I’m so proud to have been part of AMICI in many performances and being able to pass on the baton in dance movement classes with disabled students and later with able bodied but traumatized refugee children who arrived at my school with only their mother tongue and very few possessions. There will always be a special place for creative movement and dance to restore and to inspire!
Thank you Wolf for your love and generosity of spirit; for sharing your dance skills, your music and your imaginative interpretation of simple props around you wherever you are and incorporating them into a dance...and of course thank you for your deliciously scrumptious cooking and so much more...
I found a box of really old papers, cards and things from my past - a couple of old address books, two diaries, 1983 and one, a Spare Rib diary dated 1984, filled with lots of actions I took part in linked to Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, and setting up ‘Southwark Greenham Women’ in my little house in Peckham Rye because we had no centre to meet in. And we had many London actions, some of which I dare not tell about....
I was involved a great deal in direct action as well as the big national events at Greenham Common. I lived there at times, living in my bender, a handmade tent comprising plastic sheets between trees. I can't remember how many 'shit pits' I helped dig. I recall how difficult it was to get a fire going when it snowed, and I smelt of wood smoke all the time.
I experienced Newbury police cells, direct action, police doors, cutting the fence at night - I have Greenham wire hanging in my greenhouse and still possess my large cutters. We made Greenham Common a 'second home' in the High Court at Lincoln Inn Fields, Holborn - what power we felt as women took over and filled the court!
I received an official reprimand from the education authority for my political involvement but didn't lose my job, which would have been a big waste to education because I stayed in London education for 40 years, retiring after being headteacher.
Amici workshops also are written in the diary at times. The 1983 diary has the dates of Rückblick rehearsals at The Young Vic, and the opening night on Wednesday 2nd March. I used to cycle to all the workshops and rehearsals because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to attend. I was teaching, taking political action and protesting, attending meetings, coming to Amici and lots more-I can't believe how I managed it all as I read my diaries! I also had a social life too! During the time of Rückblick I was taking part in very large actions at Greenham Common, as well as actions involving going to Court and supporting women going to trial, including me!
I remember clearly how special that time was, and Rückblick was very intense. I remember Wolfgang’s passion and how we all worked together to achieve the Rückblick performances. I felt proud and special being part of it. I did wonder how the audience would respond to a performance that was so serious and intense. I seem to remember issues that arose because the stage at The Young Vic was 'in the round', so to speak. I was thrilled that my older brother and his wife came to see the performance.
I remember the feelings that I think we all were having during rehearsals and the performances themselves. It was a powerful and amazing feeling, certainly for me, and it totally reflected how I felt about so much in life and still feel. I was teaching in hospital education at that time, at Guy's Evelina Hospital School, and was working with children and young people, and their families, during trauma, and having disability as part of their lives.
My younger son has complex needs and disabilities. I'm in the process of trying to move him out of the adult care system because it has failed him. It's been 10 awful years.....there is so much to tell you about the system and how my son's motivated but obsessional behaviour has led him to being hospitalized (as now) with no control over anything, as it has been for me. It's heartbreaking, truly. it's a long journey.
But I will never forget how Wolfgang welcomed each and every individual to join in and I think he has helped to inspire me to never give up. The presence of Wolfgang and Amici in my life has been truly wonderful. Thank you.
My own recollections and observations of the early AMICI days are a bit sketchy since I moved to East Sussex in 1984, so I was only really involved in Rückblick, but the memories are precious all the same. Looking back, I realise what a profound impression being involved in AMICI made on me, and how the experiences I had dancing and sharing time with such a wonderful group of people has influenced choices made throughout my life. Whilst I never managed to find another dance class that could measure up to Amici, I did work with adults with learning difficulties in an agricultural setting for over 12 years, which I would never have done, had it not been for the early experiences I had through AMICI.
My introduction to AMICI was a bit of an accident really. I was looking for an exercise class and my dear friend Perin suggested I come along to Wolfgang’s class. It must have been around 1981. I do remember her mysteriously saying that your classes were anything but 'typical' but not to make up my mind until I had attended a session. I didn't know what to expect, but figured that if Perin was involved, it would have to be worthwhile.
Even in that draughty church hall where we gathered on a Wednesday evening, it was apparent that something extraordinary was being developed by Wolfgang. We were all very different individuals, but magically became something 'complete' and connected as we all responded to the music Wolfgang provided and to the people around us. Sometimes extremely moving, sometimes hilarious! - but never ever ordinary.
I’d get off the tube at Baron's Court station, and maybe catch up with another AMICI member like Jim, making their way to the church hall. We'd change in the loo then get ready for the ballet warm up followed by pairing off, doing group dances, floor improvisations, or rehearsals for a forthcoming show. Even after all these years there are pieces of music which will be forever associated in my mind with those times. I have been known at home to launch into 'AMICI dance mode' if any of the ballet warm up or show music comes on the radio and will probably continue to do so no matter how old I am! (or who's watching!)
So those early days with AMICI were very formative for me personally. For the first time I was given the opportunity to share with others my love of music and dance under Wolfgang’s guidance: - hands or feet touching another's, a head on a shoulder, an embrace. Your whole body moving to a musical beat or a sad refrain. Dancing at a gallop in a circle! Responding to the music, responding to your heart, responding to each other. Bonding without words. Free expression, mutual respect.
Ability and disability seemed to lose meaning and melt away. The things we all had in common became more apparent. It felt like a family. For the first time in my life it was no longer 'me me me', or 'them them them', but 'us us us'. A chance to celebrate individuality and togetherness. Dancing freely was like reconnecting with the child in me again!
Rückblick was such a powerful piece of work. It was a challenging theme and a complex production. I feel very proud to have been just a tiny part of it. My husband was in the audience in 1983 and I asked him recently what he recalled about the production. He said that he remembers being completely carried away with the whole theatrical experience at the time. But it was only afterwards, when he reflected upon what he'd just seen; considering the mixture of abilities and disabilities, the team work and immense focus involved, that the audience had just witnessed the making of the impossible become possible! - A unique experience! Thank you, Wolfgang!
I was a very new member of Amici when we performed Rückblick at the Place Theatre. I had been introduced to the company by an influential and lovely friend who was inspirational in challenging my assumptions and perspectives. I had little previous dance experience, so I was learning technique, movement sequences, expressive performance and the disciplines of dancing as a company member simultaneously, in a very short space of time.
I remember arriving at The Young Vic and seeing the stage floor studded with hundreds of exposed nails. I spent hours working inch by inch over the stage finding and extracting them, taping over splintering boards to create a safe surface for barefoot dance.
It’s easy to forget that many people in the company were coming to rehearsals and performances after full days at work, finding another burst of energy to keep going through long evenings and then travelling miles, often hours, home, only to repeat the same process the next day. Re-plotting the choreography to adapt to The Young Vic performance space was particularly taxing, especially for Wolfgang, who had to keep the company’s spirits from flagging.
Come the performance nights, the adrenalin kicked in. The opening scene featured groups of dancers arranged under giant drapes to resemble furniture under dust sheets. Everyone had to remain motionless and silent. Some of the positions to be held were painful after just a few minutes. The plan was for audience to take fifteen minutes to seat. On the first night positions had to be held for considerably longer. A few whispers floated from under our drapes. What was going on? Is someone missing? Has there been a disaster? It turned out the theatre staff were trying to find additional seats for the huge number of people who had turned up.
And then, as the tension in people’s limbs and bodies started to really hurt, someone ‘let one go’. The company displayed superhuman self-control to remain composed and posed, silent and immobile but ready to go.
Finally, lights, sound and action! The concentration required, even in a minor role, was so intense I have no memory of the performance itself from the first night, and only momentary glimpses from the others, like feeling the combined power of the raised crosses scene coupled with Orff’s Carmina Burana and the emotional strength of the Mothers’ dance. I can recall the joy backstage when we collectively realised what we had achieved – a rag-tag crew of people from every possible background breaking box office records and attracting great reviews from respected critics.
I also remember after-show conversations in a nearby pub, during which I got to know Elane a little better. We became closer over the succeeding months and are still together, with two daughters who adore dance and have performed in their own right, and recently as grandparents. Rückblick was a story of belief over endurance. I think of our little story as one of love and enduring. Everyone in the company gained something from that series of performances - confidence, skills, friendship, a greater sense of self-esteem. The friendships I made remain some of the closest I have. The values I learned in Amici have informed in a very deep sense the way I work and the work I do. Personally and professionally, Käthe Kollwitz, The Amici Company members and Wolfgang Stange changed my life.
For me, Käthe Kollwitz’s work is profound and powerful and displays many emotions in their raw brutality and desperate intensity.
Rückblick has always been my favourite production. It was a real privilege to portray through dance, replicas of Käthe’s etchings and sculptures, especially the “Tower of the Mothers”, and to portray parts of her life as her sister, Liese.
But for me, all this was done at a time of emotional turbulence as, throughout the rehearsals and performances for the Place in 1982, my father was dying, slowly and extraordinarily painfully with terminal cancer.
Amici and the friendships within the company held me together and were my strongest support.
He died the week before we performed at the Young Vic in March 1983, and his funeral took place on the morning of our Friday evening performance.
I had to chant, “Everything is equal before death” seven times, the first time alone, then joined by the other mothers, and then with increasing numbers of the cast until it became a shout, but somehow it wasn’t too difficult because I just knew that it was true.
The flyer for Path’s production MIRANDA’S DREAM, which appeared at the Young Vic alongside Rückblick
PIECES and HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK
April 1989 at The Riverside Studios
PIECES and HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK came to fruition because the Arts Council had come to see Ruckblick in 1988 and urged us to approach them for funding for our next production. I wanted to encourage company members not only to dance, but also to try out their own ideas to create a short dance piece, so I asked who would be interested in doing so. Kevin Pyke, who had Down’s Syndrome, Margaret Wilson and Allison Sheen who both were blind, and Maggie Landells all wanted to have a go.
It was also important to me for company members to have the experience of working with people from diverse dance backgrounds, so I also invited Nigel Warrack of Contemporary Dance, Sue Burton of the Royal Ballet and my teacher Hilde Holger, European Expressionist dancer, to be contributors.
When I proudly announced to Helen Rowe of the Riverside Studios that we were going to present these different pieces in our next production, she was thrilled, but pushed me to create a whole company piece. I had no creative ideas at this time, being happy just to help Hilde rehearsing her two pieces EMBRACE and BOSCH.
I was suddenly thrown into this unforeseen position. Gill Brearley, who attended my Monday evening class, often created poems made up of words suggested by the students in response to the dance improvisations. Gill was a genius in this random word game. Hungover in Hyde Park was one of the poems that I thought had potential for exploring for a production. Gill was overjoyed when I asked her permission to use the poem. She said that we could make it a homage to Dali, who just had died in January 1989.
I asked Danny Kingshill, Kate Portal and Andrew Hodgson to create the live music for us. I just knew that Gill had to recite the poem, and I thought of David Niman, a student of Hilde Holger, whose red hair made me cast him as the runner, carrying the Olympic torch, weaving through the chaotic crowds throughout the whole evening. Those were the first images I saw in my head in what was to become a truly surrealistic piece honouring the master of surrealism, Salvador Dali.
George Beven was once again in charge of the costumes, poster, leaflet and programme. Iris Andrews and John Bailey looked after the wardrobe and our resident artist George Waud provided the props for us. One prop, a stuffed parrot, belonged to John Bailey. I watched our Katie Barlow constantly talking to herself and decided she should have the parrot, talking to it throughout the performance. What I had not reckoned with, was that she talked to the parrot as directed and then in a moment of outburst threw the parrot into the audience, landing on the head of the director of Education of the then Fulham and Chelsea Adult Education Institute of the ILEA. After that, every evening Gill targeted a friend of AMICI in the audience with hilarious results.
Everybody contributed to the production in their special way. This seemed the most inclusive production, not just because of the cast, but also because of the diverse contributions made by each of them. This made HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK a very special piece of theatre.
Regarding PIECES, one of my most powerful memories is of Hilde Holger’s response to Margaret Wilson’s piece SEASCAPE. Hilde loved Margaret’s choreography and asked me if she could speak to the choreographer. I called for Margaret, and as she walked in with Georgie her guide dog, Hilde was astounded, and said to Margaret, “My dear l loved your piece and, may I say, you have more vision than most people with seeing eyes.” Hilde was not easy to please and that was praise indeed.
Athough I only remember a little bit about the piece I made, it was wonderful to learn so much from Gill, who became a friend (who also came to see me regularly for hands on healing) and of course Nigel, who I had worked with back in the early days and also, just a couple of years ago, gave a workshop for the project ŔADiate I for the RAD. And of course, I attended some of Hilda's wonderful classes too.
My memories are hazy but I can see one of the dancers being lifted like a flying bird by the others and think that tbey were wearing yellow and that the music was Portuguese or Brazilian but that's it!
Sue Collins (Burton)
I was a member of Amici for ten years and recently found a photograph of me with members of the company posed in a statuesque way during the production of Hungover in Hyde Park, London. This picture invoked memories of my feelings of the dreamlike, surreal and bizarre sensations that I encountered at the time.
Dali was a visual magician, a man who explored the subconscious and the world of dreams and I am taken back to those memories and my thoughts that the piece invoked in me at the time. In my reminiscence of this performance I see Amici company members weaving in and out of a dreamlike landscape in a hypnotic dance of surrealistic movement. Recalling his surreal images, legendary pictures of the distortion of time, space and memory.
PIECES was the natural next step for Amici. Instead of being an integrated company of dancers, Wolfgang extended its inclusive remit to choreography, and invited company members to create their own pieces for the next performance alongside other professional choreographers.
I was thrilled to be chosen by Maggie Landells to be in her piece STRATAGEM, as I had always admired her work. Her directions were always so clear, but it was obvious from the outset what the “feel” of the work was to be. That made it so much easier to improvise and to understand where the directions were leading.
Alison Sheen’s piece A SONG OF CHOICE was a totally different and much valued experience, as Alison was blind. It was fascinating to be directed by someone who could not see what we were doing, and a lot depended on the clarity of her explanations and demonstrations. In turn she had to trust that we not only understood her instructions but interpreted the mood of the music and poem as she wanted it expressed.
And then there was HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK, or as we came to call it, “Pissed off in Piccadilly”. Choreographed by Wolfgang, it was a homage to Dali and was a bizarre, ”surrealistic piece of dance theatre threaded with lucid but deliberately unrelated images”. Gill Brearley read her poem, and as we circled the stage mourning Dali’s death, Gill attempted to ask us a series of crazy questions designed to make us lose concentration and laugh. She so nearly succeeded! Margaret Wilson , who was blind, and Kevin Pyle from Strathcona Social Education Centre, were the other two choreographers from within the company, and Hilde Holger, Nigel Warrack and Sue Burton were our professional choreographers.
An amazing variety of works and an amazing variety of choreographic techniques! Amici has achieved another first...people with disabilities choreographed dances for public performance in 1989. It had never been done before!
Allthough, or perhaps because, in Hungover I was Dali, or tried to be, I feel entitled to express certain reservations about him. Although I feel a bit ungrateful as I greatly enjoyed acting/dancing the role of Dali, he is an artist that I admire but rather dislike, finding his technique brilliant but stifling and his humour self-centred. AMICI‘s take on him managed however to be brilliant and humorous but also outgoing and generous.
Great of course was the genius of George Beven in making the show look like Dali ,most memorably in his wonderful whale. There is also much use of puns in Dali which AMICI also did, but for me more profoundly. Much of this was due to another genius, Gill Brearley, in whose hands what might have appeared a simple verbal mismatch turned out to conceal a vast vista or bottomless abyss.
She discovered in a serious of random words a resonance and depth which was in turn imparted to the whole show. Thus it was, that the jolly or comforting nature of much of the music also seemed to conceal depths of unexpected meaning. In The Mood and White Christmas took on a new and not altogether reassuring significance, perhaps not least because of the rough and ready treatment we musicians subjected them to. I‘d like to think this was excused by the general purpose of a show in which even thoughts could seem part of a pattern.
Most haunting perhaps was the presence throughout of an athlete running in slow motion, unobtrusively weaving his way through the chaotic territory of Sainsbury‘s superstore, motorway caff and extinction protest. He did indeed look like becoming extinct when he was carved up as turkey at a Christmas feast. Yet when the show ended the last thing one saw was the athlete alone, continuing to run as darkness overtook him and silence succeeded the Pie Jesus from Faure‘s requiem, sung with piercing beauty by a single unaccompanied voice. While this added what might be thought a requisite catholic touch to a show about Dali, for me it indicated the general spirit of life running onwards in hope even as darkness closes in.
Speaking again as Dali I can only be honoured that AMICI thought me worthy of inclusion.
BOSCH, Choreography by Hilde Holger
Maggie Landells, Reynard Gayle
HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK Reynard Gayle, Chris Collins, Kevin Pyke and Pius Hickey
I have only very vague recollections of PIECES and HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK. Unlike some of the other productions I do not think I have seen any film footage over the years, so my memories are poor. This production was different, as it was not one full production but instead showcased Wolfgang's reconstruction of Dali's images, together with contrasting pieces drawn from the creativity of Amici's members. It was a fun filled production.
HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK was one of Wolfgang's most surreal pieces. I can recall the red-haired runner who kept the continuity of the piece by running in slow motion through the scenes. I remember the joy of wearing bright colours. Up to now in most of the productions we had worn jumble sale clothes in grey and brown or track suits. It was one of the most colourful productions. I remember trying to be a Whale which was I think the final scene of HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK. The strongest memory I attach to this time was when Wolf was trying to evoke our imaginations by asking us to act, move and make noises like animals. He then asked us to make a noise like "an ant". We were all a bit puzzled before the laughter began!
This was also the first production where Amici members choreographed their own pieces. I remember Margaret choreographing her piece about water [?]. We had to wear swimming hats.
The Hilde Holger pieces were an absolute privilege to dance. Such clear choreography and a joy to be involved. !"
POWER, Choreography by Kevin Pyke
THE EMBRACE, Choreography by Hilde Holger
Hilary Beard, Chris Collins
I have so many brilliant memories of my time with Amici that it is difficult to separate them: but there are some of them that I can relate definitely to the wonderful show that was HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK.
To be given the trust and the opportunity to improvise dialogue, to use random words and to explore their meanings, to mispronounce them and make new meanings, to use other voices (particularly Joyce Grenfell’s nursery schoolteacher!), was a revelation.
I have been fascinated by the shape and sounds of words since I was a toddler: their shape, their sound, their meaning. My early mispronunciations, jeered at by my brother, only served to feed my enjoyment.
Very soon after Wolfgang and I met, he created the idea that members of an evening class in dance, should give words describing an improvisation. My task was to use these words to create a poem, which was then used to inspire a dance. The sometimes-unexpected words supplied by members were challenging and exciting. An exercise of this type provided some of the words used in poems and dance in HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK.
A truly surreal experience. The art of Salvador Dali has always fascinated me and to take part in a production that celebrated his work in music, art, dance and words was inspiring. My partner Patrick suggested that the title neatly expresses the feeling of looking over the present London skyline compared with the view at that time!
A few specific memories?
Haranguing named members of the audience in my best Joyce Grenfell voice.
Seeing Amici members' total involvement, enjoyment and energy.
George’s inspired surrealist backdrop paintings.
The frequent appearance of an apparently uninvolved runner crossing the stage in slow motion, eyes staring straight ahead regardless of what was happening around him.
HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK is one of many shows that I had the huge pleasure and privilege of sharing with other Amici members. Belonging to Amici was inspiring, affirming, challenging – and great fun. When I retired to Somerset nearly eleven years ago, Amici: the members and the challenges: is one of the things I missed most (and still do.)
Thank you, Wolfgang and everyone who is rightly proud to belong to Amici.
From German Expressionism to Dada!
Any thriving arts project adapts and evolves in order to remain fresh and relevant and so it was with Amici Dance Company as it moved more towards dance theatre, ever aware of the creativity of its participants.
I remember in rehearsal, voices randomly calling out words to Gill Brearley, our Amici poet and this amazing woman – one of the students - coming up with the surreal ‘Hung over in Hyde Park’. Well, Bowie had used Found Poetry why shouldn’t we? And thus everyone had a voice in the content.
I have a smile on my face as I remember being given an orange to dance with but I was so hungry (travelling to rehearsals from Cambridge where I was now based ) that by the time it came to me showing the movements I had improvised, all that was left was a sagging spiral of peel! A typical response from Wolf would have been, of course, “It’s even more Dali-esque!” It was enormous fun and emotionally challenging as we adapted to lots of new members who had been stimulated and moved to join by our performances and the unique heart and soul which is Wolf’s Amici.
Wolfgang invited Nigel Warrack to lead some Amici sessions. He showed us a range of fabulous lifts and the first seeds of SEASCAPE were sown. When Wolfgang asked me to choreograph a piece, I knew that one of the lifts would be the final image, a strange sea creature covered with fronds of seaweed.
As we learned and improvised new things week by week, I gathered together movements and images that I knew Amici members had done well. The idea evolved of sea creatures and seaweeds mingling, rolling, and twisting in response to gentle waves breaking on a beach or the more powerful slower movements on the ocean floor.
Having chosen the group of dancers I showed them the kind of movements I wanted. Not seeing what they were doing made it difficult for me to give appropriate praise and encouragement, I had to trust their artistic and creative talents to produce something that would reflect my inner vision. I just hoped it would look good as well as feel good to us performers. As it was an abstract theme it gave plenty of scope to individual creativity and I knew that we would all blend together. David Rowlands was extremely nervous of certain movements, anxious about injuring himself or one of us, but he persevered brilliantly in finding the right technique and was a wonderful support. Wolfgang found some gorgeous piano music, Ondine, by Ravel, which thoroughly captured the essence of the piece.
Like lots of others I was invited to choreograph a dance which I based on Amici improvisation and a loose narrative to hang it on. Having chosen a large number of Amici dancers I was pushed for time to rehearse, as were other choreographers, as many of the dancers overlapped with other pieces. The much-heard lament of many a choreographer and dancer, I was very nervous!
Chrissie Kugele shared the principal role with Nicky who was the star of the piece, picking up the idea of a rebellious daughter or citizen battling to escape a despotic ruler or over bearing parent with her fluid body movements and readiness to engage with the ideas, the music and in the improvisation with the rest of the group. In order to assist Nicky’s escape from Chrissie’s clutches, the dancers were grouped in threes and fours, creating a barrier or code with their improvised shapes and cutting off the pursuer’s advance. So much was left to the individual dancers, for which I was both appreciative and continually amazed.
Amici encourages free movement, and this can lead to some very strong characters determining how things should progress. I had observed Wolf as creative director and decided that in the end the piece no longer belonged to me, and, having created a basic structure, decided to trust the dancers, and it worked. It’s such a beautiful experience to watch dancers grow and express themselves. The most heart-warming comment for me came from Didier Danthois, who said at the end that he felt it was a true Amici piece.
I initially found aspects of this production difficult because of the inclusion of poetry and words. We were a dance company!
Like Carmina Burana, the music tells the story for a production, and for HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK it was Chariots of Fire. The finale of the long-distance runner disappearing into the distance was awesome.
Actually, I am more of a Leonardo da Vinci fan than Salvatore Dali, but having Wolfgang on stage was great, and having a real live artist in George Beven to advise it was a great theme for us. With a poet in Gill as well it was certainly different to previous productions.
I believe that from differently able dancers to an able company doing things differently that could do anything happened in this production which our students felt able to advise, choreograph participate and enjoy.
Nothing could stop us now. And the whale!
Our musicians came into their own, and although Wolfgang is a genius at choosing music, live music is also useful as it rounds off the dance as it happens. Back to my original thoughts: are we a dance company?
No - we are Amici Dance Theatre Company.
Perin Parri Hughes
PIECES/HUNGOVER IN HYDE PARK, RIVERSIDE STUDIOS 1989
Flyer, Programme and Press Cuttings
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