A GROUNDBREAKING show that began as a workshop in Bradford is shaking up the dance industry and challenging perceptions of learning disabilities and autism.

Helm features eight dance artists who have devised performances exploring their alter egos. Work began last year, when the artists met internationally acclaimed choreographer Theo Clinkard at a week-long rehearsal residency at Kala Sangam. The cast includes Michael Allen and George Webster of Bradford theatre company Mind the Gap.

The show is presented by Yorkshire Dance, TIN Arts and Inclusion North’s Talent Hub project, supporting dancers with a learning disability or autism to develop progress professionally into the dance sector. Research by Mencap shows that approximately eight out of 10 adults with a learning disability have a mild or moderate disability, but less than two in 10 are in employment; largely due to a lack of quality support.

Helm, at Kala Sangam next Thursday as part of a tour, is a series of solo performances, with each dancer “unleashing their imagination”, drawing on their experiences, favourite music and dance styles. The music is by DJs Fuzzy and Liina.

Theo said: “I had an assumption that working with learning disabled dancers was about telling their story, but I wanted to focus on their imagination. Working with this group taught me a lot. We explored alter egos, and what came up were things like astronaut, rock star and cabaret diva. This is artists taking ownership of their creative expression. They are at the helm. “Rather than me going in as the choreographer, saying: ‘Here’s my vision’, we looked at what excites them as artists.”

Touring gives the artists experience of working in a professional environment. “It’s a process of learning what it means to arrive on stage, knowing you[‘re going to be on it in a couple of hours,” said Theo.

“The world is not set up for these guys and we can use artforms to change this. Neurodiversity needs to be part of the equality conversation. Helm, with its brilliant visuals and soundscape, also stands up as a quality piece of artwork in itself.”

TIN Arts artistic director Tess Chaytor said: “We believe artists with a disability should have opportunities to perform and that their work should be just as respected as work of their peers. To do that, the industry must adapt its whole process, from audition to performance. Helm is an incredibly moving piece, reflecting and celebrating the personalities of the artists and their journeys; it will strike a chord with audiences and open their eyes to what life is like for the artists.”