Pros: Witty, funny, challenging and exciting to watch.
Cons: There aren’t any.
Candoco Dance Company’s new double bill entices, amazes, and confronts its audience unapologetically with a cast of disabled and non-disabled dancers. It does so with such fearless brilliance that it made me question why more companies are not integrated in this way. Contemporary and post-modern dance often espouses an inclusive philosophy (look at all the different bodies! We’re all dancers!) but few companies put this into practice with their casting. Candoco has been practicing what they preach since they were founded in 1991, and their work has never looked more exhilarating, political and powerful than it does in these pieces.
First up is Yasmeen Godder’s Face In, which is a window onto a discomfiting world bristling with energy and aggression. Dressed in athleisure wear, the dancers pose and stare provocatively at the audience. The bright colours and nonchalant bagginess of their clothes call to mind the squeaky-clean perfection of a Benetton advert. However, the subversion of expectations and ‘perfect’ appearances is a constant theme, and some of the costumes are slashed. During the piece, items are ripped off, tugged at and torn as dancers become dogs and elephants. It’s both playful and disturbing. Although the piece gets off to rather a rather slow start, it gradually builds in intensity, layering relationships between dancers which are constantly shifting and uncertain. There are moments of arresting beauty, as when two male dancers touch one another in a simple and unexpected way. Perhaps I’m a little naïve, but I found it really satisfying to watch a dancer who uses a wheelchair interpret the material in a section danced in unison by the whole company. It’s a beautiful moment in the way it showcases the diversity and unity of the company at the same time.
Unity in diversity as a theme is carried into the second work, Hetain Patel’s Let’s Talk About Dis. This begins with the company huddled centre stage, lit by an angelic beam from above, and singing in harmony. After this formal beginning, they break apart abruptly, line up a row of chairs at the back, and mark out a stage space using masking tape. The rest is like watching a deconstructed dance piece, which of course is perfectly constructed. Dancers observe and comment on each other – translating one another’s speech and getting things absurdly wrong. They bicker with each other and gently mock the language of political correctness with phrases such as ‘non-tall’. It’s delightfully funny. Sign language and audio description are integrated cleverly and amusingly into the piece – what if a man with two arms is signing for a man with one arm? Should he hide one of his arms? Is that politically correct? Let’s Talk About Dis captures the anxiety and ridiculousness which surrounds the conversation about disability and the identity of an integrated dance company. When the company finally regroups as a choir, it captures their defiance, frustration, and anger beautifully. This is a bitingly funny and hard-hitting piece, but always playful and never sermonising. It was fantastically enjoyable to watch.
This is the final programme curated by artistic directors Stine Nilsen and Pedro Machado, who pass the baton now to Charlotte Derbyshire and Ben Wright. They’ve certainly ended on a high note. I look forward with confidence to what’s next for Candoco.
Concept, Choreography and Direction for Face In: Yasmeen Godder
Costume Designer: Adam Kalderon
Concept, Choreography and Direction for Let’s Talk About Dis: Hetain Patel
Associate Choreographer: Lorena Randi
Author: Hetain Patel with the company
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.