I’m not a great fan of contemporary dance. Or any kind of dance, for that matter. To be honest, I’d probably rather be home cleaning the hard to reach parts of the toilet bowl and getting a slight buzz from the cleaning fluid fumes. Also, I knew I was going to see CandoCo, a dance company which has pioneered the integration of disabled and non-disabled dancers. To me, it all sounded just a little bit too worthy, a little right-on. So it was with some trepidation that I took my seat in the Queen Elizabeth Hall for Celeste Dandeker’s last show as artistic director of CandoCo, the twisted double-bill The Stepfather/And Who Shall Go To The Ball.
Of the two pieces, The Stepfather was the more accessible. A cheery little slice of American Gothic set in a Deep South not unlike Norfolk, The Stepfather makes inspired use of the Violent Femmes Country Death Song and more surprisingly, Ethel Merman, to weave its tale of incest, murder and suicide. The wonderfully twitchy Jorge Crecis plays the Stepfather, a poor sap who marries a brassy ukulele-player (Nadia Adame) only to find himself unable to resist the charms of her three daughters (Bettina Carpi, Natalie Ayton and Zoe Brown). So he does what most men would do. If they’re from Norfolk. He gives in to temptation, has sex with one of his stepdaughters (Bettina Carpi), is exposed and, driven by guilt and remorse, drowns her before hanging himself.
Dark and playful, The Stepfather is a claustrophobic, sweaty little tale, bubbling with illicit sexuality and forbidden desire. Nadia Adame is particularly good as the mother, her crutch as much a part of her sexuality as her wiggling walk, but the stand-out performer is Bettina Carpi. Accompanied by the sounds of dripping water, her ghostly, post-murder dance with the Stepfather’s dead alter-ego (disabled performer Marc Brew) as he sways from a noose makes for a hypnotic, haunting, strangely satisfying climax.
After a twenty minute interval, I find the second piece And Who Shall Go To The Ball? is much closer to the type of contemporary dance I’m familiar with. The type of contemporary dance that strikes fear into my black little heart. The type of contemporary dance that’s devoid of narrative and features the kind of discordant musical accompaniment that makes Nine Inch Nails at their most ear-bleeding sound like the Von Trapp Family. The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore was a loooong time ago for composer Scott Walker.
Strobes flash like lightning in the dark illuminating the dancers moving to Walker’s harsh, brutal score. The intensity builds, the dancers’ movements become sharper, more violent, almost primal at times, throwing themselves around with a raw, bruising, desperation (couldn’t help noticing Carpi sporting knee-pads). The only respite from this aural and visual onslaught is provided by Brew and Crecis whose duet (do dancers duet?) is simple and beautiful; an interdependent ballet of doppelgangers.
Ultimately, I haven’t a clue what And Who Shall Go To The Ball? was about, what the point was meant to be or if it even had a point. The piece is dark and violent, an assault on the audience’s senses. I came away feeling as if I’d just received a good kicking; battered, weary, glad to have survived more or less intact. Maybe that was the point. Dandeker may be leaving CandoCo after 16 years but she’s bowing out at the top of her game with two very different pieces, each challenging and exciting in their own way. The Stepfather/And Who Shall Go To The Ball may not have been the most cohesive satisfying night I’ve ever spent in the theatre but it was certainly enthralling.
Published in art disability culture