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Ill-Abilities dance company aiming to challenge misconceptions

Luca and his ILL-Abilities pals will be at Playhouse Whitley Bay on Saturday as part of Breakin’ Convention

Olivier Award-nominated ILL-Abilities, who showcase possibilities for the disabled
Olivier Award-nominated ILL-Abilities, who showcase possibilities for the disabled

No excuses, no limits. That’s the motto of a breakdancing – or b-boy – group called ILL-Abilities which is heading our way this weekend.

Luca Patuelli, one member of the group, has his own personal motto: “Taking the bad and making it good!”

This is precisely what he has done. Luca, from Montreal, was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a neuro-muscular condition which affects the bones and joints and can inhibit muscle growth.

In Luca’s case, AMC affected his lower body meaning he has very little muscle tissue in his legs.

It is likely that, as a youngster, he was not the boy in the class identified as being a professional dancer in the making. It shows how wrong you can be.

Luca and his ILL-Abilities pals – all of them examples of how illness or disability need not be the rock on which dreams founder – will be at Playhouse Whitley Bay on Saturday as part of Breakin’ Convention.

This is the international festival of hip hop dance theatre organised by Sadler’s Wells, in London, where it kicked off at the beginning of May before heading out on the road with some of the world’s best exponents of street dance.

Luca was en route to King’s Lynn, second stopping point on the tour, when I caught up with him. He sounded excited. “We had a standing ovation in Doncaster, we’ve done a workshop in Norwich and now we’re heading for King’s Lynn,” he said.

Since then ILL-Abilities have been to Inverness and Birmingham and have probably gathered a few more standing ovations.

Luca is no stranger to them. A little internet trawling reveals that his extraordinary breakdancing skills have won admiration around the world and not just because of the disability which he barely acknowledges. It is more to do with the fact that he – like his felllow dancers – is brilliant, the crutches not so much aids to performance as showbusiness props.

 

“I started dancing in 2002 and I’ve been dancing professionally since 2005,” says Luca whose nickname within the ILL-Abilities group is Lazy Legz (he was actually a skateboarder before surgery forced him to find an alternative outlet for his energy).

“I used to compete in a lot of the big competitions but then I created the crew in 2007. I’d had the chance to meet and work with all these guys internationally and I brought them to Montreal where we choreographed an event. That was the starting point of ILL-Abilities.”

It truly is an international affair with dancers from Chile, Holland, America and, of course, Canada. Formed to be a ‘super crew’ of disabled dancers, it has now become a global movement spreading that motto: No excuses, no limits.

Luca tells me from the car in East Anglia that he benefited from a hugely supportive family – mum, dad, older brother. “When I was growing up I had the opportunity to participate in lots of things with my friends and they all encouraged me too.

“I would do things in my own way but, for sure, there were times when other kids would tease me or make fun. Even to this day there are people who will stand in my way if I want to do something. They’ll say, ‘Oh, but it’ll be too hard for you’.

“For the most part I try to keep a positive attitude. A sense of humour has definitely helped me to overcome those negative moments. I always try to make a joke out of it.”

Not everything, of course, can be conquered by a joke. When he first started dancing, not realising his bones were more fragile than other people’s, Luca broke a leg – and this during his first public competition (or ‘battle’).

Undaunted, he developed his own dance style which has served him well. And the good thing about the IL-Abilities crew, he says, is that it’s a fount of mutual support. “We encourage each other. When one member’s energy levels are down, there will be another’s whose levels are high.

“Everyone encourages each other as much as possible. At the end of the day we are doing what we love and we know we have to entertain our audiences by performing with as much passion as we can. We are grateful for people’s support.”

Professionally, Lazy Legz is on a high. The same can be said of his personal life for last October he got married to his girlfriend, Melissa, a dancer and occupational therapist back home in Montreal.

Breakin’ Convention arrives at Playhouse Whitley Bay on Saturday at 7.30pm with activity in the foyer from 5.30pm. As well as ILL-Abilities, you will see other performances from the likes of Ukweli Roach, Wanted Posse and local stars Bad Taste Cru. Hosting will be Jonzi D and Ken Masters.

For tickets call 0844 248 1588 or buy online via www.playhousewhitleybay.co.uk

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