Ian Abbott on Candoco double bill at Bristol Old Vic

Posted: March 13th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Candoco double bill at Bristol Old Vic

Candoco Dance Company’s Double Bill: Face In and Hot Mess, Bristol Old Vic, February 25

Candoco Dance Company in Yasmeen Godder's Face In with Clinkard's Hot Mess
Face In by Yasmeen Godder (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

In a deliciously niche piece of UK choreographic history, Candoco commissioned the works on the current double bill from Yasmeen Godder in 2017 and Theo Clinkard in 2019; back in 2008 when Clinkard was one half of the brilliant PROBE alongside Antonia Grove, it was PROBE who commissioned a short work from Yasmeen Godder in which Clinkard danced as part of their Magpie evening and it was the first time I encountered both these artists. 

Face In by Godder self describes as: ‘a sensual and disturbing ode to intimacy and imagination, expressed through striking images and daring uninhibited dance, set to an urban indie score.’ Set amongst Gareth Greens’ design of prisms of fruit-salad lighting projected on to white cycs on either side of the stage over 30 minutes, we’re introduced to solos, duets and trio islands of abstract partner work, contact and some lifts mixed in with plenty of Godder’s visual signatures of ripped/embellished costume (designed by Adam Kalderon) and big leary tongue pulling. 

Whilst Laura Patay is highly charismatic (having also been the standout performer in Hetain Patel’s Let’s Talk About Dis) and Mickaella Dantas has a spiky energy, the rest of the company feel really lacklustre in their performance with Toke Broni Strandby struggling in particular. The uninhabited and sensual dance that we are meant to be witnessing and feeling is nothing but a false and fabricated physical frenzy and one that I simply do not believe; they attempt to build and sustain an energy on stage, attempt to create friction or disturbance but none of this transfers to me in the audience — if it ever really leaves their bodies. 

The all-White company are dialling it in and in some sense I can understand it; middle-class choreographic abstraction is dead, it’s dull, it says nothing, there’s no point to it and it’s an exercise only in ego. If this is the material you as a dancer have to work with, then you’ll deliver a certain level of professionalism, but I think you can tell if they really subscribe to either the choreographer or the intention behind the work. 

Clinkard’s Hot Mess self describes as ‘an unpredictable and anarchic performance set to an eclectic score by the award-winning Joe Newman of alt-J. Art installation meets dance piece in this explosive new work by the company that continues to expand perceptions of what dance can be.’ 

On his own website and social media channels, Clinkard offers lots of other contextual information around the work which is worth adding to the slim programme notes from the evening. He says: ‘It’s a piece full of doubt and actively unknowing and I’m genuinely filled with doubt and unknowing when witnessing it. We created an oddly exciting place of collapse and potential and watching these dancers navigate its demands is pretty thrilling. I hope it’s a dance that reflects the times were living in.’ Alongside this he also created:

Hot Mess. a Manifesto

Rejecting:                   Celebrating:
the stable                   the unformed
the fixed                     the unknown
the polished               the potential
the repeatable           the collaborative
the product                the unplanned
the heroic                   the process
the known                  the unexpected
the formal                  the failure
the ordered                the queer
the absolute               the precarious
the resilient               the disobedient
the known                  the messy

In 2019 Clinkard made nine new works for different companies; with Hot Mess I feel like the reservoir of his ideas and concepts have dried up. What we’re left with is the dregs of an alt-J b-side pushed through three effects modulators with seven pieces of dangling material in which the dancers thrash about in the opening scenes followed by half-finished Meyerholdian biomechanical gestures that are neither satisfying, explosive, nor instrumental in expanding perceptions of what dance can be. If I feel a sense of reluctance from the performers in Face In, in Hot Mess it is multiplied to infinity; they are certainly carrying out the manifesto and reject it all, but they also reject the majority of the audience who come to see the company; it is almost uncomfortable to sense the amounts of sighing and fidgeting in the audience. 

Candoco is not a company that is touring small-scale and indie black box studios; it’s touring mid-to-large scale theatres around the world and need work that is befitting those spaces and audiences. Hot Mess does not rise to the occasion. Although Clinkard undoubtedly achieves his manifesto (with a considerably heavy nod to Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto from 1965), it is at a cost to the company, and I cannot see Hot Mess staying in their repertoire for as long as works by Godder, Patel or Thomas Hauert. Titles can be revealing: in informal American usage, a ‘hot mess’ is ‘a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered, especially one that is a source of peculiar fascination’.

It’s really worth repeating for those in the back: middle-class choreographic abstraction is dead.


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