“The world’s foremost inclusive dance company, continually expanding perceptions of what dance can be.”
This is how Candoco Dance Company describes itself.
“I have taken the decision to step down from my role at Candoco,” said Dan Daw on leaving his role as Associate Artistic Director in 2021 – he was in the position for six months. “I took the job thinking I could build space and time around things, instilling the idea of Crip (disabled) Time into the fabric of the organisation, but I kept being met with ‘I’m too busy’. It simply wasn’t sustainable, and, from my reality, it felt very ableist and therefore unsafe.”
When describing the premise behind their latest show In Side Out, Candoco references its “30 years of inclusive practice” and the fact it “looks to the future by presenting a new evening of work as a prologue to the next chapter in their rich history” – one wonders if this prologue includes reflection? 2021 was part of their 30-year existence, and they were publicly called ableist by their exiting crip Associate Artistic Director. This still feels substantially problematic to me.
The performance itself, or should I say ‘happening’ was introduced by the Artistic Director Charlotte Darbyshire. She also narrated throughout the evening, which was a nice addition to the normal, sometimes cold theatre experience, defining an environment of inclusion from the outset. The happening also existed outside the Lilian Baylis studio space with dance films on a constant loop, site-specific performances before the show and during the intervals by members of the extended ‘Candoco community’, and 30 years’ worth of archive images on display.
In this celebratory programme, Seke Chimutengwende presents In Worlds Unknown exploring “themes of lostness, uncertainty, navigation, and survival”. The piece also combines “intricate choreography with poetry written and performed by Candoco dancers”.
I’d describe the work as poetry with dance, as the text wasn’t an addition – it was the work fundamentally. Rich in language, but a little too random to follow towards a specific point or overarching narrative. There was also the odd technical problem mic-wise which was a shame as the performers were offering committed spoken word. Choreographically it celebrated the individual to the point that it lacked cohesion. The fact that we had dance, spoken word, text on screen, and music (well muzak really, by Jamie McCarthy) made the experience feel a little overwhelming. One didn’t know where to focus, or what to savour. The movement I did see had a Limón flavour, full of arcs and swing with a pedestrian-style base. It was watchable if you were able to focus in one place for long enough!
The text on screen also didn’t correlate with the actual speed of the spoken word, so that was another level of audience unease — old-school subtitle-delay vibes.
The piece introduced the five dancers very well though; four who spoke (Ben Ash, Ihsaan de Banya, Vanessa Abreu and Markéta Stránská), and one who signed (Anna Seymour). But overall, it didn’t enthral me choreographically or premise-wise.
Following is Annie Hanauer’s work soft shell. It poses questions about “seeing and being seen, what we show and what we keep hidden, and where each of us might break the rules by being who we are”.
I didn’t get much of the above, but the work somewhat offered what the first lacked. We had partnering throughout, in duos and a foursome (the same cast minus Ben Ash). And moments of unison taking some influence from the initially house music-style soundtrack that developed into a more chilled session (by Fran Lobo). This environment was less pedestrian and more confused sass. Confused as in all the different styles we were offered. Highlights included strike-a-pose sass, popping, locking, swirling dervishes and unexplained convulsions. Further unexplained was the adornment of green, shell-like body-con outerwear pieces (by Shanti Freed) two-thirds of the way through the piece. The work had a tasteful lighting design that further emphasised the sassy club vibe. But I still don’t quite know why we were there in the first place.
On Wednesday 16 November, audiences saw Object Permanence, the latest work by dance artist and Candoco Independent Researcher, Kat Hawkins. On Thursday 17 (and Friday 18 November) the programme was altered to include SCÁLING “an intimate and detailed performance practice” by Candoco dancer Markéta Stránská in collaboration with dance artist Charlie Morrissey.
This was the one for me and, in retrospect, basically what I came to see. Seriously good work. Important work. Morrissey momentarily introduced the piece, suggesting it was a work in progress of sorts and would take about 20 minutes to complete – and off they went.
They ‘performed’ the work in the round (chairs and cushions had now been placed on the additional three sides of the stage) and it felt like an industry audience kind of night – and that proved evident as the audience perhaps became aware that they now had an audience themselves.
I don’t know Morrissey, but I like him. Some people just exude a good soul. This was the third piece Stránská danced in the evening, so we already felt like friends. Morrissey and Stránská met in a dance class in 2019 and haven’t looked back since, and it’s evident why. If lucky in life you meet your soul mate. The same happens for dancers – a kindred spirit who just gets you, your body, your inner movement.
The work is a practice as research experience. It’s an honest, no holds barred exploration of partnering and what it entails. The observational learnings suggest trust, awareness, guidance, responsiveness, risk, and bravery. As a duo they’re so connected, but much more than just physically. There’s a mutual sixth-sense situation. The piece builds throughout: it starts minimally, and as the connection and trust builds so does the movement, in size and scope. This isn’t a ‘pretty’ piece – we are invited to watch the actual nitty-gritty – with moments of discomfort, questioning, elements of failure and recuperation. It’s very engaging.
As an able person I can’t pretend to understand how it must feel to live otherwise. I imagine many persons with disabilities feel they waste a lot of time trying and having to ‘fit’ into abled environments when their personal needs, and overarching inclusion is negated. This work was the antithesis of that. The exploration was about dance and partnering, acknowledging, and working specifically with Stránská’s body – she’s a single leg amputee. I didn’t want to mention this as it feels exclusionary in manner, but SCÁLING was developed from her being. Her body. It wouldn’t work on a different dancer in the same way and that’s what takes it into the realm of rare, movement authenticity. Something that only tends to happen when a practitioner is also the creator – a double whammy. Stránská’s reality being supported and matched by Morrissey’s commitment and sensitivity. See this necessary work if you can.
As the theatre part of the happening came to an end, our narrator (Darbyshire) made us aware of a continuation in the Fox Garden Court. She explained that Candoco dancer Joel Brown was sharing a seed of a much bigger future work in the making: “inspired by his US Mormon upbringing and the tradition of ‘Family Home Evening’ where families come together, sing, share talents, and family business” – as intriguingly autobiographical as that sounded… I decided to leave the seed until it’s harvest time.
All in all, an interesting evening. Though on reflection the most interesting work felt more like a private venture of someone who also happens to dance for Candoco.