Candoco has an impressive recent record of securing commissions from big-name contemporary choreographers, Hofesh Shechter and Emanuel Gat among them. This latest double bill from the company of disabled and non-disabled dancers is composed of Let’s Talk About Dis, from TED talk sensation and Sadler’s Wells New Wave Associate Hetain Patel, and Notturnino, from Swiss choreographer Thomas Hauert.
Patel is a visual artist but Let’s Talk About Dis, as the title suggests, is more of a spoken exploration of ideas – in fact, there’s precious little that is identifiably dancing. After taping out the performance space and completing some exaggerated warm-ups, the dancers take turns at the mikes, weaving together personal stories, a mix of languages (including signing) and amusing sketches: it has the intimate, devised feel of a Pina Bausch piece before the polish.
The overriding – and repetitively hammered home – theme is identity and how it’s affected by perception; how we are labelled by others and how we choose to deal with those constrictions. Laura Patay, for instance, excitably relates in French a story of how a little boy accosted her on a train platform, pulling on her arm stump and calling for his mother to look, and how, unable to cope that day with such an intrusion, she imitated a monster to scare the wits out of him. Her embarrassed professed interpreter, Toke Broni Strandby (also missing his lower left arm), instead claims she’s talking about the difference in height between the dancers and his diet of hummous.
Andrew Graham shifts from a broad Liverpudlian accent to a French one with a change of microphones; three dancers enthusiastically ‘sign’ using a dildo; they swap around the telling of personal anecdotes and attempt to ‘interpret’ others’ sporadic dance displays (‘er, you can see my nails are… accessible… and… um… that’s the floor’). It’s all lightly entertaining, occasionally bluntly provocative, but meanders too much and, without sustained dance content, feels pretty insubstantial.
Hauert’s piece is possibly more disappointing. Notturnino uses the soundtrack (and subtitles) but not the images from the documentary Tosca’s Kiss, about an Italian rest home for retired opera singers. There’s a yearning melancholy to the old singers’ reminiscences and sing-alongs, as they try to hold on to past glories and dreams, which, combined with a rich helping of Verdi and Puccini, would, you’d think, open up all sorts of choreographic possibilities. Hauert, however, doesn’t really find his way into all this.
He’s created a couple of affecting short solos and one extended moment where Tanja Erhart stands without crutches on her one leg, with the other dancers arrayed around her on their backs, their extended arms and legs offering her gentle support when she needs to reach out for balance – very much tapping into the mood of the soundtrack. But for much of the time, they flock around the stage following one dancer, then another, like a shoal of fish; putting in a lot of vigorous movement, certainly, but not really offering a coherent danced response to anything we’re hearing.
An array of loosely-worn pantomime-style costumes (including a lion suit) are swapped around among them, which gives the ensemble the appearance of dishevelled travelling players – but the insistent voices of the documentary mean you find yourself thinking you’d rather be seeing the ageing opera divas than what’s actually on stage.