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