Tributes paid to 'exceptional' Leeds dancer Dave Toole

Tributes have been paid from across the world of dance to "exceptional" Leeds dancer David Vincent Toole OBE.

Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 11:36 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 11:44 am

Known to friends as Dave, Toole was born in Leeds on July 31, 1964.

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He leaves his sister, Cath, and his nephew, Jack, and niece, Mary.

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Toole in rehearsals with Stopgap Dance Company (photo: Chris Parkes).

Toole was born with the condition sacral agenisis, causing malformation of the legs, which were later amputated at 18 months to improve his mobility.

His father was Terrance Toole - a joiner by trade who also performed around the pubs and clubs in the north-east his brother Douglas in a singing and comedy duo.

His mother was Jean Lendill (she remarried after Terrence's death). Her maiden name was Dawson and she had several jobs - auxiliary nurse, then a pharmaceutical assistant at Boots, before becoming a care home worker.

Toole was educated at John Jamieson School in Roundhay and Park Lane College before completing a short course on computing at University of Leeds.

David Toole with Sue Smith earlier in his career (photo: Anthony Crickmay).

After university, Toole spent nine years working in a post office in Leeds.

He said in an interview with BBC in 2013: "It was basically sitting at a desk all day typing postal codes as letters flew by you. Very boring, and I desperately needed a change."

Encouraged by his former teacher in the early nineties, Toole attended a workshop held by the then nascent Candoco Dance Company at Yorkshire Dance, who later asked him to join the company.

Lloyd Newson of DV8 Physical Theatre said: "I remember him telling me the story of when he’d been working for the Post Office and he came home and said to his mother 'mum I want to be a dancer.'

Toole in The Enormous Room (photo: Chris Parkes).

"She replied 'can I just remind you, you don’t have any legs.'

"That wasn’t an obstacle for David - and he became one of the most outstanding and alluring dancers I’ve ever witnessed on stage."

Toole enrolled on a course at the Laban School while working part-time with Candoco in 1993.

His career as a dancer then took off and he began touring the world with Candoco, playing an important part in their success in the nineties.

This success inspired a host of new disabled-led and inclusive dance groups all over the world and the UK is now considered as the world leader in this field.

He branched out into acting and had small roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company and more prominently with Graeae Theatre Company, as well as various TV and film productions, most notably in Sally Potter’s The Tango Lesson.

Graeae Artistic Director Jenny Sealey said that Toole informed a radical change in how they worked when he first joined the company.

She added: “Dave was so many things, our darling wonderful, grumpy, opinionated, glorious, silly, funny, kind, sexy, loving, and wise friend.

"The most unique and left-field man ever and funny beyond words.

"And of course, an extraordinary performer and a unique brilliant dancer.

"But above all, to all of us in Graeae, he was a dear friend and a cherished collaborator."

Toole reached millions of global TV viewers through his solo dance performance during the Opening Ceremony of London 2012 Paralympic Games

Co-directed by Graeae Theatre’s Jenny Sealey, he was the focal point of the ceremony accompanied by the music of Anthony Hegart's Bird Gerhl, sung by Birdy.

Post Paralympics, Toole continued to work in theatre and dance most closely with his long-term collaborators, Leeds-based Slung Low Theatre Company and Stopgap Dance Company.

His last live performance was with Stopgap on tour of Japan in March 2019 with The Enormous Room.

Its autumn tour in 2019 was cancelled when he became critically ill.

Toole was awarded his OBE in December 2019 for his services to dance and disability

This was recognition of his wide-reaching efforts to support the development of new and emerging initiatives for disabled-led and inclusive arts.

Charlotte Darbyshire, Artistic Director at Candoco Dance Company said: “I am with the loss of Dave as a close friend but also as an exceptional dancer whose outstanding presence and performance changed the dance world."

Stopgap's Artistic Director Lucy Bennett said: "Dave was comfortable about being an ‘inspiration’.

"He knew it was not because he was disabled, he knew it was because he was doing a job he was born to do. From the moment the lights came up to the moment they faded to black, he held the audience in the palms of his giant hands.

"We felt Dave was invincible and that he would recover this horrible year. We had plans and productions waiting for him."

Slung Low's Alan Lane called him 'Leeds through and through'.

He added: "It was such a privilege to make so many adventures with him.

"He had an extraordinary talent; he was a brilliant actor and the very finest dancer we've ever seen."

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