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Candoco Dance Company celebrates 25 years with shows featuring music of Nils Frahm, Laurie Anderson

20 October 2016, 10:00 | Written by Andrew Hannah

This weekend at Sadlers Wells the Candoco Dance Company - a company of able bodied and disabled dancers - celebrates their 25th anniversary with two performances feauring the music of Nils Frahm and Laurie Anderson

One piece, titled Beheld, features music by German composer Frahm reworked by fellow musician, the dutch artist Rutger Zuydervelt who performs under the name Machinefabriek. Another piece, Set and Reset/Reset has music from US legend Anderson.

Ahead of the performances, we spoke to Candoco's Artistic Director Pedro Machado about the company, and the intersection between music and dance.

Hi Pedro, how did you first get involved with the company? You were a dancer with them first,is that right?

I auditioned in 1998 and danced with the company for about 9 years, then I left for a brief period and when Celeste Dandeker - who had founded Candoco - retired, I'm now in the role of Artistic Director together with Stine Nilsen.

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but how difficult is (or is it not?) it to combine able bodied and disabled dancers for a performance? Are there limitations....or is it the opposite,does it open up new avenues of performance?

In one way it's just like other companies work, we go into the studio, try out ideas together, see what we like and move on from there making it better and developing the work. However, often the diversity of dancers in our cast create some new possibilities, sometimes even surprising. The difficult part is to free ourselves from a vision of Dance that is primarily non-disabled, to expand and define new parameters. The other difficulty is that dance training favours an homogenised body so it's difficult for some of our dancers to access the levels of training and working experiences similar to their non-disabled counterparts. Our disabled dancers have to be fairly resourceful and creative about their training paths...

What can you tell us about the pieces being performed this weekend? What's their origin?

Beheld was created together with the dancers by Alexander Whitley, who has choreographed for the Royal Ballet, Rambert and other major companies. It's a beautiful exhilarating piece that plays with our ability to see movement and effort whilst displaying a strong sense of cooperating from the dancers. I guess its origins were in conversations we had with Alex before offering him the commission and by his ongoing research. It's interesting for Candoco to work with a classically trained choreographer as he brings a deep understanding of form, effort and style but at the same time he cannot rely on 'ready-made' steps or even fall back on years of ballet training from the dancers. So Alex had to find common denominators for him and the cast.

Set and Reset/Reset's origins date way back as this is a re-staging project made with the Trisha Brown Dance Company of one of most memorable and beloved post-modern pieces of contemporary dance: 'Set and Reset', first performed in 1983. We first staged our version in 2011 to celebrate our 20th anniversary, then toured it for 3 years and brought it back again on our 25th year as it's one of our audience's favourites. Apart from being a great piece of dance it's our first major reconstruction of a work made exclusively for non-disabled dancers, this time made with our cast of disabled and non-disabled dancers. I think it puts in practice our belief that anyone can dance as long as they have the skills, even if it's manifested in ways that differ from the traditional norm. It also raises questions about the essence of a piece, where does it live? and how much dancers bring to a role just by being themselves, having their history present int their bodies... The piece is full of intricate moments and playful performances, it's cool and sexy, alert and relaxed, full of impulses and responses. If you've seen Set and Reset before you'll be in for a treat and if you've never seen it don't miss this chance.

Now, you're using music by Nils Frahm and Laurie Anderson....these feel like two musicians whose music might work well in dance performance and I guess they've performed in similar spaces....what brought you to their music? And why these particular pieces of music?

I've known Nils Frahm's work for a while thanks to a common friend, from a time when his 'home' in London was the St John in Hackney rather than the Barbican. I thought his music would be great for dance but it had to be with the right choreographer. When we started talking to Alex about a commission I asked him if he knew Nils' music and I could see his eyes lighting up before saying yes, I knew then it would work. I think both Alex and Nils have started in their field at an early age, via classical training, then went exploring and enjoying their freedom through different components to make their work. Both create work that is atmospheric, cinematographic, evocative... with plenty of space for contemplation. And for me they both create work that it's tender and dynamic capable of touching a subtle emotional nerve. Nils didn't have time to create an original score for us but allowed us to use and remix his music to fit the piece, so we've invited Rutger Zuydervelt to rework his music into a score, dirtying it up a bit to match the sweat and effort on stage.

Laurie Anderson composed the score for Set and Reset and even played it live in the premiere back in 1983, we are thankful for her generosity in letting us use this remarkable score for our version. Her music is full of layers, surprises, with a quirky humour and an engaging beat. Just like the dance.

Dance and music and inextricably there anything that wouldn't work for the company? Or, again, are you not bound by limitations or boxed in by genre constraints?

We are careful not to use something too sentimental as some people's projections and perceptions around disability can get a bit mixed up but even that can work in the right setting. Apart from that we are happy to explore anything as long as it's appropriate for the work. That's the beauty of working with a variety of choreographers. In the past we've had a haunting original score from Scott Walker, compilations from Lila Downs, danced to opera or Bach and even had an installation of automated guitars on stage creating a soundscape of drone and humming...

Have you worked directly with the musicians or spoken to them about using their music?

A couple of choreographers work closely with composers as collaborators so the work develops together, we also had live music on stage a few times and that was great, including one of the dancers playing the guitar. For our next commission we approached PJ Harvey but somehow I think we need to start thinking of a plan B.

What can people expect from the performance?

Dance, specially dance that's more abstract, can be fairly open ended so part of what audiences will experience will happen in relation to their own memories, sensibilities and imagination. And dance, like a lot of great art has no function, instead is a chance to pause the world for a bit, transcending reality, so it's hard to predict for sure. I hope people find it beautiful, fun, though-provoking, stimulating, refreshing... I know I do, I've seen it many times and I still find new things to watch, or let it change me in different ways.

Beheld and Set and Reset/Reset will be performed at Sadlers Wells by the Candoco Dance Company on 21 and 22 October. Tickets are still available.
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