Review: Candoco Dance Company - Beheld/ Set and Reset/Reset - Sadler’s Wells

Performance: 21 & 22 October 2016
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 24 October 2016

Set and Reset_Reset, a restaging project by Trisha Brown Company and Candoco Dance Company
Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Performance reviewed: 21 October 2016

Here were two very pure pieces of contemporary dance made by choreographers at very different places in their careers. The opening work – Beheld – is by fast-rising UK choreographer, Alexander Whitley, and was made in 2015 (co-commissioned by – and premiered at – Trinity Laban); followed by a resetting of Trish Brown’s Set and Reset, which the American choreographer first made, in 1983, four years into the theatrical phase of her repertoire. It was revisited in 2011, specifically for performance by Candoco; the first time any major choreographer had restaged an iconic work for an inclusive company.

It is some time since we last saw Brown’s work in the UK, which is unfortunate given the amount of dance we consume, especially in London, and it’s always a pleasure to have any opportunity to view her innovative work. Set and Reset (1983) has a particular significance, since it was the zenith of her innovative experiments at creating dance as a reflection of molecular structures [the works that came immediately prior to it – Opal Loops and Son of Gone Fishin’- had started this particular cycle]. It was also a remarkable work for the extraordinary grey/black designs of Robert Rauschenberg that were key elements of a shared creative vision with Brown’s fluid, angled, and highly articulated movement style and Laurie Anderson’s score.

For Set and Reset/Reset, Rauschenberg’s slideshow has gone but his other designs have been sensitively reimagined by David Lock, in large rectangular grey/black images of giant triangles and other geometric shapes, and in the costumes by Candoco’s founder, Celeste Dandeker-Arnold. The choreography has been reshaped by Candoco, in collaboration with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, and this 2016 revival has again been directed by Abigail Yager, a former dancer with the company who now reconstructs and re-stages her mentor’s choreography around the globe. Anderson’s score remains.

It is amazing how quickly one forgets that Candoco is an inclusive company. The ebb and flow of movement, so crisply and fluidly achieved, is beautiful to watch; and the fact that it is being delivered by a group that includes wheelchair-bound dancers and others with physical disabilities is soon overlooked as one becomes entranced by the quality of their performance. Here are seven performers who make the term “inclusive” appear to be redundant.

In terms of an arresting visual spectacle, they performed the perpetual motion of Set and Reset/Reset as well as I believe any group of Brown’s own dancers can ever have performed her original piece. It was a brave choice in 2011 and it still works so well on these dancers that it ought to become Candoco’s signature piece.

Alexander Whitley’s Beheld is another shared, collaborative vision, in which all the elements pull together in a seamless and delicate performance, which also possesses an unending momentum in its stream of movement cycles, including absorbing duets and in Whitley’s trademark flowing patterns of bodies in the group dances. The work explores the impact of material surrounding the dancers’ bodies through the use of large sheets of flowing fabrics (the set and costume designs by Jean-Marc Puissant establish a strong visual spectacle); these effects heightened by the excellent lighting designs of Jackie Shemesh.

Whitley’s work challenges our perceptions of how and what we see on stage, encouraging the audience to reconsider assumptions about dance and how bodies move, as a performance progresses. As a company, Candoco achieves the same re-assessment in everything it’s dancers perform and – as Beheld shows – there is a perfect match between this “can-do” company and Whitley’s innovative choreography, which taken together provide us with different – but no less exciting – ways of seeing movement.

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

Photos: Hugo Glendinning

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