Candoco Demonstrates that Disability Is No Impediment to Dancing

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Playing Another: Candoco Dance Company, Southbank Centre, London, 9.12.2014 (J.O’D)

Pic credit Benedict Johnson
Candoco Dance Company Pic credit Benedict Johnson

Let’s Talk About Dis 

Dancers: Tanja Erhart, Adam Gain, Andrew Graham, Mirjam Gurtner, Toke Broni Strandby, Laura Patay, Rick Rodgers
Concept, Choreography & Direction: Hetain Patel
Writing: Hetain Patel with the Company
Dramaturgy: Eva Martinez
Associate Choreographer: Lorena Randi
Choir Consultant: Dom Stichbury
Lighting Design:  Jackie Shemesh
Costume: Valentina Golfieri
BSL Consultancy & Interpretation: fingersmiths: Jean St Clair and Jeni Draper


Dancers: Tanja Erhart, Adam Gain, Andrew Graham, Mirjam Gurtner, Toke Broni Strandby, Laura Patay, Rick Rodgers
Choreography: Thomas Hauert
Assistant to the choreographer: Liz Kinoshita
Lighting Design: Chahine Yavroyan
Music: From the soundtrack Tosca’s Kiss, by Daniel Schmid, T & C Film
Costume: Natasa Stamatari

Candoco, ‘the company of disabled and non-disabled dancers’ (founded in 1991) presented two new works at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Let’s Talk About Dis is the first commission from a dance company for Hetain Patel (visual artist, and Sadler’s Wells’ New Wave Associate Artist). Notturnino, is by the Brussels-based, Swiss choreographer Thomas Hauert. Both pieces make extensive use of words, but in different ways. The first, which incorporates the dancers’ personal stories, is more literal, and more humorous. The second transports its audience to a lyrical world in which ageing Italian opera singers reminisce on a soundtrack while the dancers use music, movement and costume to take on new identities. The two works complement each other, but Notturnino is a particularly rich theatrical experience.

‘We’re a contemporary dance company,’ one of the ‘visibly’ non-disabled dancers says into a microphone at the start of Patel’s piece. This could be a riding over of the fact that one of the other dancers is in a wheelchair, that another has only one leg, and that two more have only one, complete arm. Or it could simply be the truth. Words, here, are slippery. An interpreter comically misinterprets. Two people of different sexes recite in unison the same, first-person anecdote (with identical pauses and repetitions). One dancer describes another as ‘short’ before quickly rephrasing this as a more politically correct ‘not tall’. But the politically correct is then roundly flouted by the dancer who complains to the audience: ‘To get a solo in this company, you need to be missing a limb.’ The piece ends, as it had begun, with the dancers standing in a closed circle, repeating the meaningless sound, ‘Ba’.

In terms of movement, Let’s Talk About Dis sends at least two frissons through the audience. But it may at other times be influenced by what the American dancer Ann Cooper Albright calls an ‘ablist aesthetic’. Hauert’s Notturnino, on the other hand, shows the dancer in the wheelchair more often out of his wheelchair, the dancer who uses crutches without her crutches. And it gives crutches to dancers who otherwise do not use them.

The soundtrack is in Italian, with subtitles projected on to a grey screen. The lack of images creates an effect of blindness for the whole audience. The music, much of it (if not all) by Puccini, plunges us into a dreamlike atmosphere. Wearing brighter-coloured clothes, the dancers move first of all as an undifferentiated group around the stage. They then take it in turns to put on costumes that hang from a rail at the side: long dresses of taffeta and satin; coats of velvet and brocade. The men sometimes put on the dresses. A woman adds a grey fur collar to a green gown. At different times a lion suit (a reference to The Wizard of Oz?) is worn by both a man and a woman. The costumes often cover the dancers’ bodies completely. Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting blurs the edges of things. It is, again, not always possible to tell the disabled and non-disabled dancers apart.

The most striking moment of the piece, though, is clear. The dancer with one leg emerges without her crutches. She wears a coat of blue velvet, decorated with gold braid. She stands like Hans Christian Andersen’s Steadfast Tin Soldier. At the point when you think she must fall, the other dancers, lying in a circle around her, all raise their legs or arms into the air. They provide the support she needs, when she needs it. The dancer goes on standing at the centre of this circle as the aria of a dying operatic heroine plays on the soundtrack. Sometimes she catches hold of a hand or a foot. Through blinked back tears I see that a man in a wheelchair in the front row has taken out his mobile phone to photograph, or film, this really astonishing scene. ‘I’m silly to be crying,’ one of the ageing opera singers on the soundtrack says to the other as the music comes to an end.

John O’Dwyer

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