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