Review: Candoco Dance Company in 20th Birthday Cabaret at Greenwich Dance at The Borough Hall

Performance: 20 May 2011
Reviewed by Sam Gauntlett - Wednesday 25 May 2011

Candoco Dance Company's Dan Daw in 'Imperfect Storm.'  Part of Renditions 2010. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

On entering the Borough Hall at Greenwich I feel excitement at the prospect of seeing one of my favourite dance companies again and pride as an admirer for some years of such a challenging company, now celebrating its 20th year! Tables are scattered, cabaret style and decorated with slices of birthday cake and candles, and there is a lively buzz of chat and laughter, as company members, current and past mingle with fans and friends.

My introduction to Candoco came at The Lighthouse in Poole when I was working as a budding arts critic/features writer at the Bournemouth Echo, sometime around 2005. The experience could not have been more powerful and will stay with me forever. Having spent my early and teenage years as a ballet dancer and my graduate years in community arts, my interest had been piqued by a flyer that told of a company that comprised of able-bodied and disabled dancers. None of that prepared me for what I was about to see.

I remember a male performer entering the stage. He propelled himself around the space in a wheelchair with a vigour and grace that held me entranced. Soon, however, he lifted himself onto the floor, and with exceptional agility he used his arms to move on the floor until one of his co-stars lifted and threw him to another dancer. I recall involuntarily jerking forward and gasping in horror. But there was no need to fear for the safety of the incredible James O’Shea, whose pastimes I later discovered included mountain climbing. But I had never seen anything like this before and the dynamism of the whole performance and exceptional standard of dance left me exhilarated.

Since Adam Benjamin and Celeste Dandeker founded Candoco 20 years ago, the company has grown a reputation for touring exceptional works, created with diverse dancers and exciting choreographers that push the boundaries of contemporary dance. One of those choreographers is Nigel Charnock, our charismatic compere for tonight. Right from the opening of the evening, his acerbic humour and high energy style holds the audience’s attention and he keeps us all in stiches during interludes between short performances, interviews with dancers and a very unusual raffle draw, where someone wins a latex head!

But the evening begins with an early Candoco film from 1994, called *Outside In*, that features the founder of the company, Celeste Dandeker and a number of original company members. Patterns and shapes are a theme, as is the cheeky sense of humour that is often in evidence in Candoco’s work. Then five men in Elvis wigs, sunglasses and jeans explode onto the stage and wiggle their way through an upbeat version of You Were Always on My Mind, prompting laughter and delighted smiles. Deaf Men Dancing is the newly established company created by Mark Smith, composed of five profoundly deaf dancers, all from different backgrounds. The choreography is reminiscent of sign language as their movements punctuate the lyrics of the music and I can imagine the simpler sections of the dance becoming a dance craze, emulated by fans everywhere.

*Right Arm Solo* by interdisciplinary artist Catherine Long is a stunning, intricate work created with the objective of “reclaiming the place for what is there rather than the loss for what is not”. With her back to the audience, Catherine’s right arm, hand and fingers take centre stage, rolling, diving and swooping to the deep reverberating tones of a male blues voice.

The short excerpt taken from Wendy Houston’s *Imperfect Storm* _happens to be the part I found most memorable when I saw the whole piece performed at Southbank Centre some months previously. A woman narrates, describing the progression of a storm, stage by stage, while Dan Daw sways his body and limbs as though he is a tree being buffeted in the wind. The effect is mesmerising. Equally compelling is short film, _*Taut, by *Charlotte Darbyshire, featuring movement artist Kaz Langley. Her shaky progression along the floor creates a tension that holds the audience in suspense and the film ends when her body relaxes and the shaking subsides. Excitingly, Cando 2, Candoco’s youth company is also a joy to watch and showcases some promising dancers.

The last performance of the evening is choreographed by our host, Nigel Charnock. *Still* is a playfully seductive piece set to Madeleine Peyroux’s *Dance Me to the End of Love*. It starts with a single performer and ends with a stage full of dancers and company members, past and present, and one or two tears are shed. And when Stine Nilsen, company Co-Artistic Director, makes a short speech and says that the company can’t wait to see what the next 20 years will bring, I think that she speaks for all of us.

Candoco Dance Company will be performing in London again later this year in Dance Umbrella 2011*.* **”“:

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