Dressed to thrill

Two dancers wowed the audience at Sadler’s Wells, one in bespoke dress created for the occasion. Juliet Diener and Sam Carlisle report on a creative collaboration

Denecia Allen and Alice Bellini on stage at Sadler’s Wells

As a child, Londoner Denecia Allen lived close to Sadler’s Wells and often passed by the globally renowned theatre; she thought it was a place of wonder.

Earlier this year, the 18-year-old, wheelchair-using dancer took to its stage to duet with the English National Ballet’s Alice Bellini. The pair performed at an event that brought together disabled, learning disabled and non-disabled dancers.

The Empower In Motion gala was a dream come true for Allen. It was made even more magical by the bespoke, jewelled dress she wore for her Sadler’s Wells debut, created by award-winning disabled designer and advocate Victoria Jenkins.

Allen said: “It was unreal. I had to pinch myself to check it was real. It was magical as if I was dressed to go to the ball. Amazing to be on a stage where I had watched others and now it’s me.”

A spirit of collaboration across the disabled community made the evening possible.

Empower In Motion showcased well-known classical repertoire and original contemporary styles of inclusive movement, brought together from across the UK and beyond. Performers included stars of the American Ballet Theatre and Berlin State Ballet, telling moving and inspiring stories of unity, resilience and the transformative power of art.

London-based charity icandance, which we are involved in and where Allen has honed her ballet and contemporary dance talent, brought Allen and Bellini together to create Reunion. The piece celebrated a coming together after the pandemic as well as a coming together of difference and the joy that is created when dance is used as a tool to transcend differences.

The two women formed a close friendship and their duet is a beautiful reflection on Bellini’s world, which is driven by perfection, and Allen’s experience of living in a world that is far from perfect for disabled people.

When the pair were invited to perform the piece as a key part of Empower In Motion, we approached designer Victoria Jenkins to create a bespoke dress for Allen.

We were thrilled when Jenkins said yes. We had seen her appearances on Channel 4’s Unique Boutique where she creates stunning outfits for special moments in disabled people’s lives.

Her designs change perspectives through fashion by making visible the often unseen beauty of different bodies. Allen’s dress was based on the idea that disability should never be hidden. It shaped Denecia’s body with each graceful move.

In design meetings, Jenkins listened to Allen’s challenges with conventional dance dresses and created a stunning teal green, long-sleeved dress in a fabric that enhanced the dancer’s performance in her wheelchair, allowing her movement to flow.

Just as the duet showed two very different worlds coming together in celebration, the design collaboration exemplified the power of adaptive fashion in breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for all individuals to share their talents.

Jenkins said: “The entire performance was breathtaking, I had tears in my eyes the moment the lights went down. Nothing will beat watching Denecia performing with Alice in her bespoke costume. As someone who wanted to be a ballerina, being able to have a small part of myself on that Sadler’s Wells stage was profound for me.”

All proceeds raised on the night went to the Children Today Charitable Trust as part of its 30th anniversary. The trust provides specialised equipment and care for families across the country.

Juliet Diener is chief executive and Sam Carlisle is a trustee at icandance

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