For 30 years, pioneering company Corali has subverted audience expectations. Now it’s helping queer-dance duo Thick & Tight with a work about poet Edith Sitwell

We’ve all got our teas?” checks Daniel Hay-Gordon, looking around the circle of people sitting in a rehearsal space in Brixton, south London. Mugs clutched, things can start, and the discussion is about the early 20th-century poet Edith Sitwell. Hay-Gordon and fellow dancer-choreographer Eleanor Perry set about describing Sitwell to the gathered group: her unhappy childhood, her distinctive appearance, “wonderful slightly hooked nose and big, hooded, very beautiful eyes”, says Perry. Sitwell had Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that caused her to have unusually long limbs and fingers, Perry explains. “She felt her hands were as expressive as her face.”

This chat is not just cultural history, it is preparation for a performance. In a few weeks’ time, the dancers in the circle will be embodying the poet, transforming on stage into eight Edith Sitwells, complete with headdresses, rings, robes and mannerisms. Sitwell, Perry tells the group, overcame her challenges, and other people’s judgments of her, “by being extremely singular and very proud of who she was”, and that strikes a chord with the assembled dancers, who all come from Corali, a company of performers with learning disabilities. They know what it’s like to subvert expectations and be unashamed of their own difference.

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