The past couple of times I’ve been in London, my friend Shahin has invited me to attend modern dance performances at one of his favorite venues, the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells. I never know what to expect when I tag along, and I’ve never been disappointed. Last Thursday, we saw The Enormous Room, a production from Stopgap Dance Company. It was a transcendent experience and, for me at least, something entirely new. The story follows Dave and Sam, a father and daughter who are learning to cope with the death of Jackie, their wife and mother. Impossible not to notice is that David Toole, who plays Dave, has lost both of his legs; and Hannah Sampson, who plays Sam, has Down syndrome. The rest of the cast is comprised of a mix of disabled and able-bodied dancers (including a phenomenal wheelchair dancer named Nadenh Poan). The dancers’ disabilities have nothing to do with the plot—they hold no more significance than does the color of their hair—and the result is that you at once fixate on the physical reality and come to forget it.
By the end, I was stunned by the force with which The Enormous Room deals with grief and loss. But I was shattered by the way in which the dancers, in overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges, embodied the human capacity not to stop at grief and loss but to harness it into meaning and art.