Feature: Celebrating Candoco

Wednesday 28 September 2011

It’s been two decades since Candoco Dance Company first burst onto the UK dance scene, expanding the ways in which people both with and without disabilities could be seen moving onstage together. So groundbreaking has the company been in this regard that it managed to work its way right out of any categorical ghetto – writes Donald Hutera.

“The interaction between the dancers was always new and rich,” says former company member turned co-artistic director Pedro Machado, _“to the point where we used the term ‘integrated’ to describe ourselves, as in ‘integrating disabled and non-disabled dancers.’ But we’ve done that so now we’ve dropped the term ‘integrated’ and we’re keen to stretch Candoco much further.”

Candoco in Trisha Brown's 'Set and Reset/Reset'Photo: Hugo Glendinning This is exactly what the company’s autumn touring programme is all about. Presented as part of *Dance Umbrella 2011, Turning 20: Anniversary Bill is a triple-bill designed to push a pioneering dance troupe with a proven track record into new creative territory.

Perhaps the biggest news, especially for anyone familiar with the movers and shakers of late 20th century art, is Candoco’s inventive take on Trisha Brown.

Brown, whose work Dance Umbrella celebrated in 2010, is justly recognised as America’s high priestess of post-modern contemporary dance. Set and Reset , her 1983 collaboration with the hip, downtown New York composer-performer Laurie Anderson and the seminal avant-garde visual artist Robert Rauschenberg, rightly remains a career landmark.

Dance Umbrella’s artistic director, Betsy Gregory acted as a kind of artistic broker between Brown and Candoco, allowing the company to get its capable hands on the work. The result is a partial makeover tailored to Candoco, commissioned by Dance Umbrella and dubbed Set and Reset/Reset . The dancers will execute and springboard off Brown’s movement style – relatively simple and yet complex, and therefore highly challenging. While Anderson’s über-cool soundtrack will remain much the same, Rauschenberg’s original designs will be the basis for a new set by David Lock and new costumes from Candoco’s much-loved co-founder, Celeste Dandeker.

Obviously something about Candoco’s proposal attracted Brown enough for her to green light this particular version of an acknowledged masterpiece. Stine Nilsen, the erstwhile company dancer who heads Candoco alongside Machado, suspects it was Brown’s innate interest in artistic experimentation that clinched the deal. ‘Trisha has very clear guidelines for her movement,’ says Nilsen, ‘but also an openness of mind to want to see this translated physically in different ways.’

“We believe that a dancer can perform any style independent of their body type,” Machado chimes in, _“just so long as he or she has the skills, and if the form allows for some flexibility. Trisha’s work seems to allow for that flexibility. We know that the company responds well to choreographers who work with movement devised by the dancers themselves. With Trisha, we’ll see how well they absorb, understand and perform someone else’s movement vocabulary.”

There’s another aspect about turning to this important and vital slice of dance history that appeals to Machado. “It’s exciting that during our 20th anniversary, instead of reconstructing an old favourite from our own repertory, we’ve cast the net further and are performing a work that’s older than the company itself. Audiences can then see what happens when Candoco adds its touch to a well-known work.”

Rachid Ouramdane is a French choreographer whose work appeared as part of France Moves in Dance Umbrella 2005. Looking Back , the ensemble piece he’s made for and with Candoco, builds upon his previous experience making dances which have drawn upon the most revealing physical traits of individuals ranging from adolescents to the elderly and those who play team sports.

“Rachid works very intimately with his collaborators,” says Nilsen. “He’s taken on board the hidden talents of each one of our dancers, exploring the fragile details of their physical characteristics and using that to create a very intense, mesmerising atmosphere.”

Much of the intriguing nature of Ouramdane’s work stems from his complete sense of design. In the past he’s made great use of video, sound and props. For Looking Back (a title which refers to how much of our past experience informs who we are now) his major creative partner is the composer Jean-Baptiste Julien. “Part of the soundtrack for the piece is made live on stage,” explains Machado, “and almost by chance. This is thanks to ‘spiked’ guitars created by Jean-Baptiste and our technical manager, Sam Barret. It’s really cool the way sound is allowed to determine action in the piece, and vice-versa. The distinct rhythmic structure, plus the strong presence of the dancers, stretches time in a way that’s more akin to an art work in a gallery than a theatre space. It has the potential to shift how audiences feel, which is one of the special things about live work. It also allows them to focus on each individual dancer long enough to see something beautiful in all of them.”

Last but not least, Candoco is marking its 20th birthday by commissioning its first-ever solo. “This is something we’ve been thinking about for a while now,” says Stine. “How much emphasis we put on the individual in Candoco, but also the special relationship the dancers have with each other as a group. We wanted to celebrate this with a solo.

We have seven great dancers to choose from,” Nilsen continues, “all of whom would’ve made wonderful solos.” The lucky one was Victoria Malin, a dancer whom Nilsen describes as “articulate, sensitive and charismatic.” Malin has created This is it under the guidance of the up-and-coming choreographer and dancer Matthias Sperling. (His delightfully funny, short new duet Do Not Be Afraid“:, a collaboration with Rachel Krische, can be seen one evening before Candoco’s full-length show.) He and Malin have created a 15-minute piece that, according to Machado, will exist very much in the moment. “Vicky is there onstage with us in the audience, all present in the same room, and whatever happens is a result of that encounter. So, this really is it!”

Dance Umbrella and Candoco will also present a host of other activities as part of Candoco Turning 20 to underline this special anniversary from workshops and taster classes to discussions and film screenings. “There’s something for everyone to be a part of,” enthuses Nilsen. _“This is what’s important to us – to engage and make an impact.” _
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“We want to continue to put great creative work out there,”
Machado adds, “hopefully in partnership with other companies, venues or artists both in the UK and abroad. So although we’re celebrating the past we have our eyes set in the future.”

Candoco Turning 20: Anniversary BillPhoto: Hugo Glendinning Candoco Dance Company’s Turning 20: Anniversary Bill is at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Fri 14 & Sat 15 Oct at 7.45pm, as part of Dance Umbrella 2011.
See www.danceumbrella.co.uk for more details.

This article, by The Times dance critic Donald Hutera, will aso appear on Dance Umbrella’s website.

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