Unlimited: Candoco present CounterActs

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Inclusive dance company Candoco brought a divergent double bill ,which included two of their recent productions Beheld and Let’s Talk about Dis to the final weekend of Tramway’s Unlimited Festival, 23-24 September 2016. Review by Joe Turnbull.

Black and white image of a dancer in profile

Candoco Dance Company, Beheld – credit Hugo Glendinning

Candoco Dance Company’s reputation as a leading inclusive troupe is evident in two-part performance CounterActs. It is a double-bill of contrasts, lurching from complete unabashed spectacle to introspective identity comedy. This is a repertoire that shows the merits of working with different high-profile choreographers, displaying the deft versatility of the seven performers.

Beheld opens with all seven passing a square sheet of material between each other, effortlessly moving like a well-oiled machine. There is a pendulum-like quality to their tightly choreographed movements, underscored brilliantly by the fast-paced music of composer Nils Frahm keeping a breathless pulse running throughout proceedings.

Virtuosic solos and duets add a nice counterpoint to the hive-mind group scenes. Added to this, despite the synchronicity in the collective movements there are moments of tension alluding to a dualism of conflict/cooperation and of the struggle of the individual within the multitude.

In one section the group interlock with rope exchanging weight, place and tension, each taking it in turns to be at the centre of the conflux. The precision of movement is truly spectacular and there’s something magical about the number seven in synergy.

As Tanja Erhart undertakes a ponderous solo, a giant screen at the back of the stage, seemingly made from the same material as the square at the beginning begins to ripple. The lighting creates the delicious effect that this malleable surface is metallic. Performers behind the screen push and pull it in places creating aberrations on its surface. It seems to resemble a thin film between two realities. It has a hauntingly alluring quality that gradually sucks the soloist towards it before the ravishing metallic limbs engulf her completely.

This would have been the most fitting ending. However, they continue to experiment with different uses for the same material, which feels like an attempt to do too much. One scene resembles the parachute game commonly played at school and am-dram clubs; a clumsy edition to an otherwise seamless show.

Visual artist, Hetain Petal’s work often deals with identity and Let’s Talk about Dis is no exception. There is very little dance in this piece. Instead, the performers take it in turns to step up to two microphones and ruminate on the absurdity of being part of an ‘inclusive’ dance company. Inclusive of what?

Each performer is encouraged to explore their own identities whether that be their native language (French, Spanish, English, American) or disability (or non-disability). The latter is deliberately avoided throughout, mimicking the societal discomfort with disability, and an unease at talking about it, despite the fact as many as one in five people in the UK are disabled. It’s apparently less awkward to talk about your auntie’s dildo, as one of them does openly in a section that feels a bit of a tokenistic nod towards sexuality; an attempt to shoehorn too many elements of identity into one piece.

A central convention the piece sets up is having the performers interpret for each other, but things get hilariously lost in translation. One dancer recounts an experience in French about children ridiculing her impairment. Her translator turns this story into a bizarre tale about how her mum admires his complexion, which is due to the fact he eats a lot of chickpeas, much to the French speaker’s consternation.

Meanwhile a third dancer reinterprets in BSL using just one hand to mimic the impairment of the person he is interpreting for, again much to the latter’s consternation. The French speaker instead tries to communicate through dance, clearly emphasising her impairment. The translator repeats the same bizarre chickpea anecdote.

This sequence speaks to a central problematic for visibly-impaired dancers. Dance is all about the body. It’s almost impossible to make their impairments incidental to their visual language and their performances. They can’t (and shouldn’t) hide their impairments yet it’s hard for them not to become the focus. It also seems to poke fun at the impossibility of translating dance into verbal language and the perceived mystification of contemporary dance to many audiences.

In one brilliant moment a tall performer refers to the others as small, then corrects himself “or should I say not as tall? Actually non-tall. That’s better”. This lampoons the disabled/non-disabled labels yet inverts the power relation. Another memorable section is when one of the non-disabled dancers laments the fact that in Candoco the disabled performers get all the solos and are included on all the promotional material.

For an ‘inclusive’ company this piece presents them as perilously discordant. As if to counter this, they come together and harmonise their voices at several points. The intention is clear. Candoco Dance Company is made up of a group of very different individuals, but CounterActs proves that when they converge they are greater than the sum of those parts.