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To Belong review at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton – ‘richly uninhibited’

Luc Loots and Els Laenen in To Belong at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton. Photo: Bart Grietens Luc Loots and Els Laenen in To Belong at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton. Photo: Bart Grietens
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Nirvana’s Come As You Are is the perfect opener for this Belgian dance piece about what it means to be part of a group. Danced by eight performers with learning disabilities, it’s an uninhibited exploration of solidarity, individuality and vulnerability – and pushes some tricky questions around creative ownership.

On a rare visit to the UK as part of Brighton and Manchester’s Sick! Festival, Theatre Stap is a learning-disabled theatre company with a 30-year history. To Belong is its second collaboration with a choreographer – in this case Koen De Preter, whose work jettisons virtuosity in favour of ‘natural and honest’ movements.

There is raw impact and sensual richness in seeing different kinds of bodies on stage, whether the performers are shuffle-dancing in couples, raving solo, clustering in their underwear to an irregular drum beat, or simply circling their hands in line. But it’s also a piece sharp to individual personalities and subtle interactions.

To Belong also urges some of the key questions for learning-disabled art, and ergo performance in general. When does our veneration of raw authenticity come at the expense of a performer’s right to develop? How complicit are the performers in the creative decisions? In contrast to Jerome Bel’s collaboration with Swiss disabled theatre company Theater Hora, the directorial hand here remains problematically invisible.

But your overwhelming feeling is of wanting to join them – that the spirit of inclusivity is operating in the direction of the audience. After all, how often do you see dance performed by people who look as though they had the same as you for tea?

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Richly uninhibited Belgian dance piece pushing some key questions for learning-disabled performance