Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Learning disability dance company saved by mystery donors

AnjaliThe UK’s first dance company for people with learning disabilities, Anjali, is to re-launch thanks to two large anonymous donations.

Anjali closed due to financial issues in 2011. Yet a last-gasp fundraising campaign and gala evening saw the group receive two unexpected donations worth £70,000 – meaning Anjali can re-launch.

Anjali – which means joining hands in Sanskrit – began life in 1993 in Banbury, Oxfordshire, as a series of contemporary dance workshops devised and led by Nicole Thomson, who is now the company’s artistic director. The aim was to demonstrate that a distinctive and powerful quality could emerge from a group of dancers with learning disabilities.

The group developed into a professional company that realised and celebrated the potential of people with learning disabilities. For almost two decades, their performers created ground-breaking dance programmes and worked with renowned choreographers including Claire Russ, Matthew Hawkins and Charlotte Vincent. The company also performed at venues throughout the UK and abroad – including the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Opera House, and with members of the Royal Ballet. They also starred at international events in locations such as Berlin, Lisbon and Madrid, to considerable critical acclaim.

Alongside the intensive training and professional development undertaken by the dance company, Anjali also provided a range of education and outreach programmes that employ and develop the skills of people with learning disabilities. These included the Anjali Youth Dance Company and regular weekly dance classes for children, young people and adults with learning disabilities.

“Anjali has been my life for 20 years and I am so proud that it blazed a trail for disability arts and made such a massive impact on so many lives – not just on all the dancers involved and the people who passed through our education and outreach programmes, but also on the audiences whose perceptions were changed after seeing Anjali dance,” said Thomson. “Obviously I was devastated when we had to close – so I am absolutely thrilled we are able to re-launch. I truly have no idea who the two people were who made these mystery donations that have made this possible, but whoever they are I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Arts Council grant

There has been more good news for Anjali in the form of an Arts Council Grants for the Arts award, to help research and develop a production entitled Genius. This will include two new pieces by renowned choreographers Lea Anderson and Gary Clarke. The production will question society’s perceptions of normality and celebrates the notion of Genius. 

“Anjali is now aiming to retake its place at the forefront of disability dance; to step back onto the touring circuit in order to demonstrate the uniqueness and importance of the company in today’s society,” Thomson added. “We are committed to changing global thinking about who can dance, and demonstrating new artistic possibilities. Creativity is within us all and by revealing each individual’s unique abilities; Anjali demonstrates to the world how dance can be exhilarating, enjoyable and relevant to everyone.” 

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