Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs

Posted: November 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs

Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs, Laban Theatre, October 8

Candoco dancers in Alexander Whitley's Beheld (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Candoco dancers in Alexander Whitley’s Beheld (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

There is something remarkable in the way Candoco’s dancers bring out the best in the choreographers they work with and how the choreographers bring out the best in the dancers. CounterActs is no exception, a chance to see again Hetain Patel’s witty Let’s Talk About Dis and to see a new work, Beheld, by Alexander Whitley. It is the latter that catches my attention immediately as I arrive late to see the end of a duet between Joel Brown and Adam Gain. Its virtuosity — especially from Brown in his wheelchair — and spatial ingenuity set the tone for the solo by Tanja Erhart that follows. Whitley does not so much create steps for Erhart as carve dynamic space around her; she is often in silhouette like a shadow puppet with her supports, revealing shapes that are starkly beautiful. The screen behind her, conceived by Jean-Marc Puissant and realised by Jessica Dixon and Amanda Barrow, is made up of four panels of stretched elastic material that looks like a silver metal barrier under Jackie Shemesh’s cool lighting but the dancers behind it bring it alive by pressing their faces and hands into it and lure Erhart towards them. As she approaches in a dream-like state — a quality the music of Nils Frahm conjures up beautifully — she abandons her crutches and presses herself into the material, invisibly supported on its vertical surface as if on water. Erhart shines in this subtle transference of weight and strength until the surface tension eventually gives way and the whole thing comes rippling down around her.

Whitley writes about his current interest in ‘how choreographic ideas can be extended into material forms beyond the body.’ The material the dancers handle in the opening (which thanks to the company I later saw on video) and later sections is a metaphor for bringing out not their differences but what binds them together; in their handling of the material they are all on the same footing and Whitley weaves this equality into playful, complex choreographic patterns.

Another achievement in Whitley’s work is its virtuosity, particularly in Brown’s duet with Gain where he spins on to his back in his wheelchair with a speed and precision that matches Gain; when the latter raises his legs over his head, Brown does the same effortlessly with his wheelchair. With his powerful torso and arms Brown makes his wheelchair subservient to his virtuosity until it becomes almost invisible. Beheld is a work that brings the company together in ways I haven’t seen before in Candoco’s repertoire and in doing so Whitley makes the company look brilliant.

In Let’s Talk About Dis (a witty reference perhaps to DV8’s Can We Talk About This?) Patel talks about attitudes to disability with an openness and humour that was missing from Lloyd Newson’s choreographic sermon on attitudes to multiculturalism. Patel’s idea of Let’s Talk About Dis is to throw all our preconceptions about disability up in the air, play with them, redefine them and let them fall back to the ground of our understanding. He takes his time to set the scene as the dancers wander on, take off their shoes and carefully mark out a square with white tape, a space in which a game of political correctness will be played by the home team on its home ground. Patel’s text, like all his works, is meticulously scripted and shaped (Eva Martinez helped with the dramaturgy); he loves voices both for what they say about the world and for what they say about the person. In his own solo shows he takes on any number of voices himself but here he has gifted his voice to the dancers and, like Whitley’s material, it allows them to compete on equal terms. As a gifted mimic Patel knows his way into the life behind the voice and by listening to the dancers’ stories and their banter he brings out their lives through their words, filtering their offerings through a sense of humour that verges on the absurd. The masterful trio of Toke Broni Strandby mis-translating into English Laura Patay’s story in French about what children have said about her missing arm with Andrew Graham signing in BSL is a like a Mozart aria in its witty complexity and beauty while Erhart relating her sex education in vocal harmony with Strandby is both poignant and gives the signers some hilarious moments. Patel succeeds in talking about dis, or more importantly getting the dancers to talk about dis, in a way that demystifies it, that breaks down barriers. The dancers look relaxed in Valentina Golfieri’s costumes and under Shemesh’s lighting as if their personalities have come dancing into the light, but as Gain says at the end, ‘We’re going to keep talking about it until we don’t need to keep talking about it.’

 

CounterActs at Dance East in Ipswich next week is sold out, but the company will be performing it again at the Bristol Old Vic on February 12, 2016


Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play

Posted: November 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play

Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play, Laban Theatre, October 17.

Annie Hanauer and cast in Set and Reset/Reset. Photo: Hugo Glendenning

Programming is everything in a triple bill; it can be an uneasy alliance of repertoire and new work, an indigestible three-course meal, or it can be like three acts of a play, an analogy Candoco Dance Company adopted for its most recent triple bill. Two of the acts are welcome re-stagings — Trisha Brown’s Set Reset/Reset and Wendy Houstoun’s Imperfect Storm — and the third is a new duet for Mirjam Gurtner and Dan Daw, Studies for C, by Javier de Frutos.

I saw Set and Reset/Reset last year in the company’s Turning Twenty program and thought it suited the company beautifully. It still does. Robert Rauschenberg’s design floats above the stage, though it seems there is a little less floating than before. Even though there is a structure to the choreography, the dancers seem to walk or run on as the spirit takes them, joining in Laurie Anderson’s musical procession that strolls down the west coast of California with its bells, assorted sirens and vocal improvisations in a spirit of carefree timelessness. There is a seductive dynamic of improvisation in the dance, too, a freedom of movement in which the dancers bump into each other and ricochet off each other with singular unconcern. The wings are of diaphanous material so we see what is going on off stage as well as on, a spatial continuum that Brown clearly enjoys and which is enhanced by Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting. The dancers are quite at ease, partly because the choreography is at ease and partly because the dancers have contributed to some of the choreography in the creative re-setting process. ‘Go with the flow’ seems to be the philosophical underpinning of the work, with its random connections, playful exits and entrances and a lightness that comes from Brown’s joy in exploring the air. As might be expected, there is no purposeful ending; the music fades away into the distance and the dance continues until we can no longer see it.

Dan Daw and Mirjam Gurtner in Studies for C. photo: Hugo Glendenning

Studies for C is pure magic. The setting suggests a domestic hearth with a carpet and two chairs, drawn in to an intimate space by de Frutos’ own lighting and haze, but the context suggests a wrestling ring with Daw and Gurtner fully masked and wearing leather jackets covered in painted phrases like ‘Better to Die’, and ‘The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks’. The inspiration is more Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real than Becket’s Waiting for Godot, but the songs by Lila Downs take us definitively to Mexico. In this rich juxtaposition of influences, Daw and Gurtner converse or argue with mute passion in their carpeted ring, giving a rich reading of the characters. The effect of the masks pushes the physical element to a stifling pitch of psychological intensity. Gurtner is mad, and flies across the floor. Daw is upset and stands truculently with his hands on hips. They are a couple that feels trapped by their familiarity, and struggles in vain to break free. The masks add an insectile quality to the characters and the inclusion of the song of La Cucaracha suggests two cucarachas down on their luck going through their death throes, legs in the air, trembling on the edge of extinction. They crawl over each other, Daw pulling at Gurtner’s mask. She kicks him, he howls and after a semblance of compassionate support, the two retreat to their respective corners to the lament, Yunu Yucu Ninu. Gurtner starts to take off her mask as the lights go down. Will she break free? We never see her face.

Victoria Malin in Imperfect Storm. photo: Hugo Glendenning

Annie Hanauer takes the microphone at the beginning of Wendy Houstoun’s Imperfect Storm, surrounded by her group of actors. ‘Tonight we were going to do The Tempest, by Shakespeare. William Shakespeare. But we found it a little wordy.’ Deciding to act it without the text, the only way to get people on and off the stage is to use the stage directions, she explains, and to use lighting (by Chahine Yavroyan) to create a series of tableaux, like paintings layered with costumes. Enter Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio; enter Ferdinand and Gonzalo; enter Prospero; enter Boatswain. Miranda’s already at the microphone. John Avery created just the right music, and Nicola Fitchett found just the right ruffs, hats and other assorted costumes and props. Each character picks a vestige of costume from the overturned costume rack. Sound of storm and lashing rain. Daw puts on his Boatswain’s hat, while others are quaking from the storm, pitched and tossed across the stage. Alonso pulls in a string of lights and drapes then around the shipwrecked group. Victoria Malin begins to recite snatches of Prospero’s lines, which devolve into a commentary on the progress of the play (‘we got trapped in this corner…by lighting’) as three characters fight with two wooden swords and a coat hanger. Malin continues with a brilliant monologue on the courage to stay… while all the characters leave. She then describes the stages of a storm that Daw illustrates in an extended solo, dancing in the spotlight. It is wonderful, from feeling the wind in his face (stage 1) to leaves rustling (stage 2) to whole trees in motion (stage 5) and widespread structural damage (stage 7) by which time Daw is running around in a circle jumping and flapping his arms. Alonso and Miranda enter and Daw is carried off, exhausted.

For all its apparent chaos, Imperfect Storm is a sophisticated work with beautiful writing (Houstoun takes sophistication and writing to another level in her 50 Acts). Houstoun allows the dancers to be themselves on stage while playing a failed amateur drama group without hamming it up. What comes across is a work that seems built up from an acute observation of what the dancers can do, and with their creative cooperation: a work that is not imposed on them, but grows out of them.

We have arrived at the finale, the end. Hanauer muses on how best to achieve the ending since everyone has already left and there are no more stage directions. Perhaps the lights fade slowly to black, or the lights could go off one by one, or there could be hundreds of candles we could blow out, or someone with a torch and the battery runs down. Or perhaps…

And as she continues to muse, the lights go suddenly and convincingly to blackout.


Candoco, Marc Brew, Claire Cunningham: Unlimited

Posted: September 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Candoco, Marc Brew, Claire Cunningham: Unlimited

Candoco Unlimited, Unlimited Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, September 6, supported by The Brazilian Embassy.

Unlimited is a project at the heart of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad that celebrates disability, arts and culture on an unprecedented scale. Twenty-nine new works were commissioned to encourage deaf and disabled artists to push boundaries, by creating work which opens doors, changes minds, and inspired new collaborations. (Arts Council England)

The Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre is an encouraging, life-affirming project that parallels the sporting premise of the Paralympics, and it finds a fullness of expression in the two works commissioned by Unlimited and presented by Candoco Dance Company at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday evening: Parallel Lines by Marc Brew, and 12 by Claire Cunningham.

The motivating idea behind Brew’s Parallel Lines is the lines of communication between the 2012 Olympics host country, its predecessor, China, and its successor, Brazil, and it uses dancers from all three countries. The cables we see suspended and stretched across the stage are both the lines that unite by carrying this communication, and the lines – like race, physical ability or national borders – that can demarcate. Parallel Lines is thus an idea that works on an intellectual level as well as on stage, thanks to Brew’s creative, all-embracing magic. He has the dual experience of being an able-bodied dancer (he used to dance with Candoco) who now finds himself in a wheelchair, so he has a profoundly nuanced understanding of what it means to have unlimited movement and what it means to be physically constrained.

Another force that leads Parallel Lines forward is its score by Michael Galasso (Scenes), creating a series of delightful variations that allow space for the dancers to move in between its layers. Brew has caught the dynamics of the music beautifully in his own treatments of duet, trio, quartet and ensemble, mixing male and female, male and male, able and disabled, with an overarching theme of support, be it from the ground or from a partner. The duet with Darren Anderson and Edu stands out as an expression of courage, strength, caring and love, with a delightful sense of humour. Brew transforms disability into an emotional quality that imbues the partnerships he sets up with an equality and universality that is surely the summit of his achievement. The creative elements of set design (Sam Collins), costumes (Jo Paul) and lighting (Ben Pacey) complete the unity of this work.

Claire Cunningham takes a different tack in her creative process. She is used to choreographing work on her own body and drawing material from her own life, incorporating the crutches on which she relies. She said in a Q&A after the performance that the prospect of creating work on a group of dancers filled her with misgiving and fear. There was the double challenge of creating for both disabled and non-disabled dancers and of assigning the movement’s ownership to someone other than herself. Her solution to the first was, like Brew’s, an emotional one: finding in the crutch a symbol of our forms of dependence, something with which we can all associate. Cunningham’s answer to the second was to get the dancers to create autobiographical material of their own by giving them improvisation tasks in the studio, and taking from the movement what she and her assistant director and mentor, Gail Sneddon, felt was right for 12. The advantage of working in this way is that it has allowed Cunningham to break through a psychological barrier to realizing a much broader palette. The danger, however, is that the material escapes her creative control, as with Pandora’s box, and cannot be enticed back. 12 is thus uneven in its pace, abstruse at times, but never lacking in visually arresting imagery. Crutches are used as guns and as air guitars, and in a particularly oppressive scene, as elements of violent manipulation and submission: emotional dependence has a decidedly dark side. Crutches are also used in less sinister fashion as elements of an animated conversation between Welly O’Brien and Mickaella Dantas, and as puppet sticks in the scene with the bookish Ming Hei Wong and the voluptuous Annie Hanauer who dances around a candy cotton microphone to Mozart’s Laudate Dominum. Dan Daw, whose dramatic talent shines here, is mesmerising as he strives to control an errant arm while seated in a chair. Shanti Freed evidently had a lot of fun with the costumes, and Matthias Herrmann’s score hung on to Cunningham’s roller-coaster vision by the seat of its pants. Karsten Tinapp lit it all admirably through the billowing fog.

What Marc Brew and Claire Cunningham so convincingly affirmed on Thursday night is that there is no notion of disability in terms of artistic expression, and the dancers are all brilliant performers. Candoco’s reputation has been sufficiently established that it is perhaps time to quietly remove its label of disabled and non-disabled dancers. And where, oh where, are the designer crutches?