By Cammie Finch, Vermont College of Fine Arts
A review of Candoco Dance Company, who performed February 22 on the Flynn Main Stage.
The lights dim and the audience holds our breath. The stage is blank and bare, save for a swatch of a rainbow projected against one side. We wait for an uncomfortable amount of time. There is no music. Someone’s stomach is gurgling. Someone coughs. We listen to each other’s breaths, wondering if the show has been delayed.
And then a man walks out. He is tall and lanky—at least 6’5”. He wears a loose singlet, jean shorts. He stands still and looks out at us. The music refuses to cover this awkward silence. One of the man’s arms culminates at a stub where an elbow used to be. We wonder where we should look. There is no music; only the sound of bare feet on the stage and the sound of the dancer’s breath.
He begins to move. He dances robotically at first before shifting into more fluid brushes. Gradually, another dancer adds to the space. Then another, until all seven core dancers of the London-based Candoco company share the stage. They are dressed casually, as if for a neon Adidas ad. Is that the scratching of a vinyl record we hear in the background? The sound lulls us into a false sense of comfort. Two dancers slink close to each other, their movements mimicking the fearless magnetism of an ignited affair. One dancer lies on the ground, breathless like a corpse. Another dancer flips upside down and holds himself up in an acrobatic handstand; the weight of his wheelchair balanced atop him. Then comes the organized chaos, as if a technician in the wings has turned the dial to full volume.
What looked to be a moment of intimacy between two dancers turns suddenly violent. They choke each other. They bite each other’s limbs. Two people grab a dancer away from her crutches, hold her up, and parade her around the stage. She screams for help, but the other dancers do not pay attention. They stand blind as bystanders. The dynamic and political lyrics by the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble add to the fraught and feral nature of this scene.
This is Face In, the first half of Candoco’s repertoire for tonight, choreographed by Yasmeen Godder. This is a conversation (or perhaps a battle) between the Id and the Ego, between impulse and control, passion and aggression, stillness and action, beauty and ugliness. This is a world where crutches can grow into phalluses; where faces can show pain and passion at once; where beauty can exist in the sound of a graceful exhalation; where the strength in a moving body can be exquisitely showcased.
During intermission, the audience closes our jaws, wipes away our sweat. We reset ourselves from the shock of experiencing a dance we never knew existed before. We wonder what could possibly follow in the second act. My friend and I sit together in silence, unable to speak about what we have just witnessed. Finally, she turns to me and says: “Every time I watch a dance performance, I think about how strong the human body is.” Yasmeen Godder’s sequence not only displays this particular troupe’s physical talents; it highlights the intricacies of the human mind. How strong we are to keep venturing in a world that seems to push and pull us from all directions.
Without dimming the lights, the curtains rise again. The set has changed. It is also stark—a few chairs, an exposed brick wall. What follows is the carefully scripted sketch by visual artist, Hetain Patel. Let’s Talk About Dis was first created in 2014, specifically for Candoco to perform. Throughout the creation process, Patel sat down with each of the dancers and interviewed them, not as dancers but as people. He then used passages from the interviews and wove them together as a seamless text to be performed.
While much of the piece is verbalized, a few dance sequences are integrated throughout, as well as speech conveyed with British Sign Language. I would have loved to see more dance in this second half, mostly because I was floored by the first half of the show, but the second half had its own charm, and even a bit of comedy.
The two halves of the show work together to fully communicate Candoco’s mission as a company. Yes, they are first and foremost dancers. But they also are advocates for diversity of all kinds. Candoco takes pride in its internationality, welcoming dancers from countries such as Brazil, Denmark, England, USA, and France. Along with sign language, the dancers speak in their native languages to us (with an English translation provided).
Dance, too, is a kind of translation. A way to show emotion and tell stories without verbal language. A way to explore various identities through movement. But don’t think for a second that Candoco is afraid to speak out loud about the tough stuff.
At one point of Let’s Talk About Dis, a dancer grabs the microphone and tries to speak over the other dancers, who happen to be singing a myriad of choral sounds. They attempt again and again to interrupt her. “We won’t stop talking about dis until we don’t have to talk about it,” she says. By “dis,” she means that everyone, the dancers and the audience, know that the human eye is drawn to difference—difference in bodies, in language, in appearance, in ability—and that this company is not going to stay silent about it. As an organization specifically designed for disabled and non-disabled people to dance together, they will continue to empower each other for who they are and what they love to do.
After all, they are Candoco—and they can do anything.