Candoco for a number of years has successfully commissioned new works from contemporary dance creators (Hofesh Shechter, Javier de Frutos and most recently Hetain Patel) for its unique combination of disabled and non-disabled dancers. In 2011 they took the new step of taking on a work created for a conventional dance company in the form of Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset. Following on from that success, they now restage Jérôme Bel’s The Show Must Go On, originally created in 2001. Here six of the dancers of the company are joined by fourteen people recruited by open audition. It’s a complete mix of ages, body types and abilities. Some have some dance training, many don’t and some have some kind of disability. For some this is their first stage appearance. When they enter, all in ordinary street wear, they could have been plucked from the no 38 bus queue outside Sadler’s. Everyman is on stage.
Is this going to provide a satisfying dance experience, you might be thinking at this point? Well, The Show Must Go On is as much about popular music and our collective reactions to it as it is about dance. The music ranges from Bernstein and Piaf to the Beatles and the Police, nothing too recent. They are the sort of songs you might decide to play on a Saturday night after too many drinks and sing along to, or which might come up at a wedding reception. There’s a DJ just in front of the stage to play the songs from CDs (“CDs!” someone in my row gasped, “How old fashioned!”). Those songs prove to be strongly rooted in our collective memory. The work lasts about 90 minutes without a break, but doesn’t flag; rather it becomes more engaging as it progresses.
There isn’t a huge amount of actual “dancing” in the work. The work starts with a completely bare stage while the DJ plays Tonight. The performers only enter a couple of songs later, to emphasize this is as much about listening as watching. To the Beatles’ Come Together all the performers enter, stand in a line and regard the audience quizzically. Each of them has their own routine going on all at the same time: the gent with the magnificent white beard takes off his shirt to show us his tattoos; a bloke with a well padded-tummy rather bravely slaps it so it reverberates. The dancer in the wheelchair spins.
If this all sounds a bit worthy and solemn, it soon gets overtaken by fits of the giggles. When the song Ballerina Girl comes on the men on stage give each other a despairing look and exit. This leaves the women trying out their childhood “I want to be a ballerina” poses. The distance between the ideal and the reality is huge but it manages to be touching as well as silly in showing the aspiration still lurking inside imperfect bodies. What really gets the audience laughing though is My heart will go on, where randomly paired-up couples decide to re-enact the iconic pose with arms spread wide from the Titanic movie at the front of the stage. When that section of the stage sinks down into the pit out of sight the effect on the audience is convulsive. And the next song is Yellow Submarine. At this point you have the sense that the audience is completely onside and is happy to follow the performers and the DJ wherever they want to go.
In Imagine the audience begin to sing along, faintly at first then louder. When we get to the Sound of Silence (another piece to an empty stage) the singing is more full blooded, though it becomes very obvious that not all of us can remember the words. So then the audience begins to laugh at itself. It’s not an experience you would often have at a dance performance, but it’s not really helpful to think of this as one. If you want to watch beautiful bodies in motion there are plenty of other options out there. If you fancy a collective chance to let your hair down at a quirky and warmly inclusive event then this could be for you.
The Sadler’s audience loved this and gave the performers a standing ovation. It was fascinating to see the mix of people that Candoco had recruited for this. Some individuals have real stage presence. All of them are brave in stepping out onto the Sadler’s stage and engaging with us. The work now tours to Nottingham and Glasgow.