With CounterActs, Candoco Dance Company brought together the work of two British artists to produce a double bill of shows at Bristol Old Vic, Beheld and Let’s Talk About Dis. While the two could not be more dissimilar in terms of style, they dovetail nicely in their rigorous interrogation of identity and constraint. Candoco, now celebrating its 25th birthday, is the company of disabled and non-disabled dancers, an inclusivity which is tackled head-on in CounterActs with great wit and startling performance.
Beheld, the first of the two performances, is in a strange way the more ‘traditional’ dance piece of the two, despite being unerringly abstract. Choreographed by Alexander Whitley, the piece is a sprawling drift which offers beauty in form. Dancers melt into the floor or sink into darkness, and there is an incredible intertwining of bodies. At some points there is so much happening on-stage that there is a risk of sensory overload on the part of the audience.
The piece is set to insistent and claustrophobic music by Nils Frahm, who is well on his way to becoming one of the great composers of the 21st Century. Using the simple prop of a sheet of lycra, there is stunning group dance as well as solo performances. There is terrific interplay between Toke Broni Strandby and Andrew Graham and an outstanding showcase of physicality by Joel Brown. The solo by Tanja Erhart is an inquisitive one, leaning in to the hoisted lycra sheet as unidentified limbs appear through it, throwing fragments of light and eventually enclosing Erhart. This is a piece which questions what the body is, abling the disabled and disabling the abled, and the result is achingly beautiful.
Let’s Talk About Dis
The second piece, Hetain Patel’s Let’s Talk About Dis, continues this interrogation, albeit in an entirely different style. This is an exposition of both the inclusive nature of the company and dance itself, worked around a series of spoken word pieces which challenge societal preconceptions, first about disability and then about dance.
A highlight of the piece is a routine featuring Graham, Strandby and Laura Patay. Patay speaks in French about her experiences of being disabled, translated into English by Strandby and then into sign language by Graham. Strandby, however, distorts Patay and can only discuss how Candoco is inclusive because “some of us are really really tall…we have very different heights and we all move differently because of that”. Erhart, meanwhile, opines that the company is inclusive because it employs both “female and non-female dancers, white dancers and…” before looking around her at the all-Caucasian troupe.
The wit continues through the articulation of various interpretive dance routines, first by Adam Gain and then by Patay and Erhart. As Patay arches her body downwards, Strandby notes that “yes Laura, that is the floor.” As Erhart writhes Gain translates it as “breaking out an imaginary utensil.” Megan Armishaw kneels at the front of the stage to complain about being a non-disabled dancer in the company, how she never appears on any of the posters: “you only get a solo if you have a missing limb.”
Taken together, Beheld and Let’s Talk About Dis form a compelling and rigorous account of inclusivity and inquisition into the body. While Let’s Talk About Dis is formed through wit and autobiography, Beheld is a thing of great style and beauty. While the juxtaposition could have been a jarring one, it instead creates something quite extraordinary.