Candoco Dance Company
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre
Founded in 1991 by Celeste Dandeker and Adam Benjamin, Candoco was the first company of its kind in the UK - a professional dance company specializing in the integration of disabled and non-disabled dancers. Artistic Director Celeste Dandeker retired in 2007, and Stine Nilsen and Pedro Machado, former dancers with the company for seven and nine years respectively, were appointed Co-Artistic Directors.
Making its first Dance Umbrella festival appearance - and Dance Umbrella has been running since 1978 - the Company brings work by Sarah Michelson (The Hangman), Emanuel Gat (In Translation), and Wendy Houstoun (Imperfect Storm), a mixed bill of new works under the collective title Renditions.
I have always had a soft spot for Candoco Dance Company, having been thrilled over the years not only by its embracing inclusivity but also by its experimentation, innovation, revelatory programming, and terrific dancing, proving there are no limits where there is a will and a way. Nigel Charnock's work for them dazzled and opened my eyes. But a company is only as good as its creative team.
I came with high expectations. These were sadly dashed by a raggle-taggle bag of artistic inspiration. The dancers, however, rose to the demands of three very different imaginations, but how well the choreographers use the different bodies, this clay, their momentum and propulsion, in the end defines the quality of the finished product, as well as the equality of opportunity.
There are seven dancers, four non-disabled, three disabled, not that this is immediately apparent - none is in a wheel chair as has been the case in the past. Of course, many disabilities aren't visible, in the same way that foreignness, the other, isn't always apparent. We are all the same under the skin. They are a tight-knit group.
What is apparent is the unevenness of the choreographic work on offer. The Hangman is flawed / floored by its long-winded incoherence. An image of a bird in flight makes fun of the clipped-winged static work. Peter Drungle's loud triumphal cinematic score contradicts the minimalism on the stage. The drama is all in the music; the stage picture is obscure.
On an exposing bare stage, lights pointing at the audience, dancers in black and white outfits, leotards, vests, and tights, walk on and off and on again, hold positions (Bettina Carpi balances centre stage, whilst Elinor Baker clings like a limpet to the back wall), dance solos and uncomplicated duets. Lights flick on and off - the aural and visual is tested, as is our attention span over forty-five long minutes.
An enclosed black space with down lights, dancers in individualistic casual clothes, flowing movement, fluent interpretation, sophisticated semaphore, Emanuel Gat's In Translation to Bach's English Suite No 2 in A Minor is beautiful, intelligent, and proves the dancers can dance to Glenn Gould's recording, to silence and squeaking feet in the middle section, challenging the idea that music shapes our responses, and instigates and gives impetus to movement.
The last piece, Imperfect Storm, signed for the hard of hearing, is an amusing take on The Tempest, apportioning speaking and non-speaking roles to the performers to suit their personalities and physical appearance. Dan Daw makes a perfect quizzical Fool, and Victoria Malin and Annie Hanauer read the lines well.
Spoken physical theatre on a bare stage under a 'Martin Creed' single light bulb, it brings comic relief. Moves and tableaux illustrate the text - supposedly The Tempest's stage directions. It is playful, witty: dressing up and play-acting, that's what this is. Anyone can do it But if you've seen James Thiérrée's La Veillée des Abysses image of a tempest, this really is kid's stuff.
Dedicated dancers and performers, and all the best will in the world, do not a work of art make. The auditorium emptied a little after the first work. But, one must keep faith. All companies have their ups and downs.
Dance Umbrella 2010 runs till Sat 30 Oct across nine venues including a free-to-view animation of Trisha Brown's early work by Candoco Dance Company and Laban students (Fri 15th - Sunday 17th October, Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer).
Reviewer: Vera Liber