Candoco dance company makes art inclusive

Members of the Candoco dance company  

There is a ‘can’ in the name. So when some members of Candoco, a leading U.K.-based contemporary dance company, who are in a wheelchair or on crutches, introduce themselves as dancers, you realise it’s about ‘I can do it too’. And it comes through in Candoco’s choreographic works that bring together physically challenged and able-bodied artists on the same stage.

“But mind you, we are not here for therapy or sympathy. We are here to celebrate each body, irrespective of the shape and form. We are known by the virtue of our creativity, not novelty,” emphasises Mirjam Gurtner, sitting in the British Council office in the city. She is part of ‘Studies for C’, a Candoco production that is currently touring India.

“Each choreographer comes with his or her own style and vision. And as dancers, we adapt to their language,” adds Dan Daw, wearing art on his tattooed arms. He partners Mirjam in a duet performance, choreographed by the award-winning Javier de Frutos, which was staged at Spaces recently.

Together, the artists convey Candoco’s spirit, for Dan is physically challenged and Mirijam is not. “Yet we perceive art as it should be, inclusive and imaginative,” they aver.

Talking about the company’s repertoire, Mirjam explains, “We have been performing to extremely appreciative audiences across the globe since our celebrated collaborators have been exploring our dance philosophy through hard-hitting, diverse themes. The effort has never been a forced integration of challenged people, but to make the dancers feel empowered and bring to the performing space their identities and experiences. We want the audiences and the artistes to do some soul searching.”

Though some of the Candoco members are trained in ballet, Daw says since they work around the premise of freedom of expression and thought, the choreographic works entail constant improvisation and assimilation. “Many influences are at play — nature, life, disability, history and more. Candoco has been in existence for more than two decades, which means we are a crucial link in the changing aesthetics.”

It all began in 1973, when Candoco’s founder Celeste Dandekar sustained a spinal cord injury when performing with the London Contemporary Dance Company in Manchester. She was unable to walk and couldn’t move her arms. She thought that was the end of her dance story. But that was not to be. Friend and dancer-choreographer Darshan Singh Bhuller made her dance in a short film for BBC and she realised her wheelchair cannot be an impediment in her creative journey. In 1991, when she founded Candoco with painter and dancer Adam Benjamin, she became a trailblazer as far as integrated art was concerned. She conducted intensive courses and workshops for challenged artists, not to be dismissed as a ‘disabled’ dance company. After Benjamin left and Celeste’s retired, Candoco is now led by its two former dancers Stine Nilsen and Pedro Machado, who continue to make the wheel chair move as well as the feet.

‘Studies for C’ India tour is presented by the British Council.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 8:29:03 PM |

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