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Stopgap dance company tackle grief in The Enormous Room

PUBLISHED: 08:00 22 February 2017

David Toole during the opening ceremony of the Paralympics. Picture: Lynne Cameron

David Toole during the opening ceremony of the Paralympics. Picture: Lynne Cameron

PA Archive/PA Images

The company, which employs disabled and non-disabled dancers, brings their new show to Sadler’s Wells. David Toole talks dancing, Gene Kelly and the Paralympics

Dancer David Toole flew into the public eye at the London Paralympics Opening Ceremony in 2012, performing in front of 80,000 athletes and audience members and millions more worldwide.

Strapped into a harness and taking off serenely over the crowds, you’d never expect he was afraid of heights.

“I didn’t really think that through,” he says. “I thought, oh yeah that sounds good, it’s a once in a lifetime thing. I didn’t realise what I’d be doing. It only really struck me when we got into the stadium and you see how high you’re going. I thought, well it’s too late to back out now!”

Toole is now one of the country’s best known disabled dancers, also having starred in multi-award winning film The Cost of Living.

Born with sacral agenesis, his legs didn’t develop properly and were amputated when he was still a baby. He loved dancing from a young age, and ideally would have persued it when he left school but “it just wasn’t an option then.

“I left school in 1980. It’s difficult now for disabled people to get into training so 30 years ago it was unheard of. I ended up falling into a job and doing that for 10 years.

“Then I accidentally fell into a workshop. I didn’t really think of it at the time as a career, I just thought it was a bit of fun once a week. But now here I am, still doing it.”

He owes some of this to his mother, who brought him up in front of the classic musical movies.

“It was always Gene Kelly for me,” Toole says. “He was more street and more blokey. It was that kind of roughness that appealed to me more.”

He shares this love for Gene Kelly with Lucy Bennett, artistic director of Stopgap Dance Company, with whom he has been performing for more than ten years. Stopgap, which employs both disabled and non-disabled dancers, are bringing their most recent production, The Enormous Room, to Sadler’s Wells.

The work centres around a father and daughter attempting to cope with the grief of losing a loved one. Dave’s wife has died and he has withdrawn into the living room, unable to let go. But his teenage daughter Sam, played by Hannah Sampson, wants them both to move on and be happy again.

Like Toole, Sampson, who has Down’s syndrome, has been involved with Stopgap for 10 years, but has only just joined the main company having completed training and come through the Sg2 emerging artists company.

“It’s great to see that development when you see where Hannah’s progressed to now,” Toole says. “That’s brilliant to watch and it’s good for other people with that disability to see people like Hannah leading a workshop or performing on stage and thinking, maybe I can achieve that as well.”

The Enormous Room shows in the Lilian Baylis Studio on March 2 – 3, tickets at sadlerswells.com.


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