We had a quick chat with David Toole, ahead of his visit to DanceEast, Ipswich on the 20th April with Stopgap Dance Company’s latest integrated dance show The Enormous Room.
First of all, welcome and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. As we know, the Stopgap Dance Company returns to DanceEast in Ipswich with The Enormous Room; but what can you tell us about this new show?
I think this show in particular connects with an audience on a very human level. It deals with loss and the relationships within that situation. I think it’s something that most people have experienced at some point in their lives. The story itself deals with the characters of Dave and his daughter Sam, they’ve recently lost their wife and mother respectively. Dave has refused to accept this and locked himself in a room with all his memories of his wife, Jackie. Sam wants to move on and sees a way out in her best friend Tom. Dave and Sam have different memories of Jackie and this is represented by this character being played by two dancers. The final character, Choc is the link between the two worlds and has come to take Jackie to the next one. The second half of the show deals more with Sam dealing with her struggle to let Jackie go and is a more abstract part of the show. To emphasise this, the set is totally stripped back to leave a bare space for the dance to take place.
For those still contemplating tickets, why should they come along?
I think people who come to the show get to see a show that as I said, deals with a subject we can all relate to. It’s also an opportunity to see a piece of high quality theatre performed by a talented and skilled group of dancers.
There’s also going to be a workshop for dancers with disabilities that Stopgap is holding at DanceEast ahead of the show – what advice would you give to those interested?
I would certainly recommend going along if you’re thinking about it. The workshop is open for all so don’t be afraid to take the plunge. It’s an excellent way to learn more about the work we do and perhaps how some of the show was created. It’s pretty much the way I got into dance in the first place many years ago. I was contemplating going to a similar workshop and nearly didn’t go until a friend of mine persuaded me to. Who knows where I would be now if I hadn’t gone?
Aside from DanceEast, you’re also touring the show at a few other venues, so what’s the best and worst part of touring?
I’ll be totally honest, I love touring and don’t really find much wrong with it. It can be a little tiring, and sometimes due to the schedule you don’t get a chance to see some of the places you visit, but overall it’s my favourite part of my work.
You’ve been dancing for two decades now, but how did dancing first come into your life?
I always wanted to perform growing up. My father was a singer in the Northern clubs and I guess this is where the performing bug got me. I used to perform in all of the school productions, but once I left there we’re no opportunities to go further. I found myself working as postman for nine years before fate led me to my former music teacher. She told me about a dance company for disabled and non disabled dancers who were holding a workshop. This was a very young CandoCo dance company. I attended that workshop and then fortunately after a series of coincidences I was asked to join the company and stayed there for seven years, touring around the UK and abroad.
Who is your biggest inspiration in terms of dance and your career?
My father obviously was an influence, watching him sing. Growing up I used to watch Gene Kelly a lot and actually preferred him over Fred Astaire. If I could back in time, he would be the one I’d love to try and do something with. I’ve been fortunate to dance with some beautiful dancers in the past and of course I get to work with wonderful dancers every day. I’ve never been one for making plans or wishes so am usually happy where I am at that time.
Your career has also included a prominent solo in the 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, what was this experience like for you?
Probably the biggest thing I’ve ever done and ever likely to, and to be honest it was all a bit surreal. I was asked to do something for the ceremony and I agreed, not really knowing what it might involve. When it was mentioned about the flying, I thought fine without thinking of the height thing. I am actually afraid of heights so had to get over that one pretty quickly. The night itself went by so quickly. You are so focused on doing a good job you almost forget the large crowd in the stadium and large TV audience. To be honest, I was just really happy I didn’t fall over.
You’ve also done a fair share of film work, but how does this compare to stage work?
It’s very different… Performing live on stage you get an immediate reaction from an audience and you only get one chance on the day. When you’re involved in filming, you have no idea of how you are perceived and usually you have the luxury of getting to do things again if they’re not perfect or you’re not happy. I wouldn’t say I prefer one over the other as just appreciate the opportunities when they come along.
Stopgap is obviously doing a great job at keeping the arts diverse and promoting integrated dance, but do you think there’s still more that needs to be done?
I always think more could be done throughout the arts and of course dance. It is always interesting when we do our outdoor performances, and the reactions of the audience who generally are not even aware that inclusive dance exists. Occasionally, after these performances, we have members of the audience wanting to know more about the company or where they can see more.
In which case, do you think Dance is still a popular art form – or do you believe there needs to be more exposure to the art form in order to keep it alive?
Yes, dance is still a very popular art form, its just that maybe audiences need to be aware that there is more to the dance world than the popular companies and what they see on TV with Strictly.
Thank you for your time David, and we look forward to welcoming you to DanceEast on 20th April!