Candoco Dance Company Lab: A Personal Response

As part of the events celebrating the 20th anniversary of Candoco Dance Company Southbank Centre hosted 30 dance artists from UK, Europe and overseas, disabled and non-disabled, for the Candoco International Artist Lab, 9-15 October 2011.

The lab participants met Sunday to Thursday in the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall for morning workshops with Dance Artists who had worked with Candoco; in the afternoons they engaged in choreographic and performance research, within six group each led by a maker.

On Saturday, the makers with their performers presented their work and disclosed to the audience some of the ideas, questions and processes they had been exploring during the lab.

The lab Artists also participated in other events part of dance Umbrella and Candoco celebrations, attending talks and performances.


Candoco international lab…


one evening

one afternoon

three mornings


reflecting on dance practices


the sensory memory

the emotional memory

the movement memory


the experience




finding connections

finding a connection

finding another connection









Heart-Mind opening



My experience





being supported

providing support


Energy and support

Grounding and opening


‘Same question different experience’

‘Do what you think it is’

‘inviting being seen’




At the sides people become witnesses of our performance practice


A populated group


A large dance floor

The Clore ballroom

the unknown

the calmness in which we wait

the smiles

a welcoming atmosphere



trillions of breathing cells

‘What if…’


by Irene Cena from Collective Movement 




Set and Reset / Reset – An interview with Pedro Machado, Co-Artistic Director of Candoco Dance Company

Dance Umbrella celebrated Candoco Dance Company 20th anniversary at Southbank Centre: one week of workshops, talks and film screenings which ended with two performances in the Queen Elizabeth Hall of Turning 20 : Anniversary Bill including Rachid Ouramdane’s Looking Back, Matthias Sperling’s This is it and Candoco’s Set and Reset / Reset.

Amongst those events, ‘A Feeling for Practice’, in the Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, gave the public an opportunity to go behind the scenes and understand different ways of reviving iconic work. Richard Alston talked about the reviving of sections from Wildlife which he originally choreographed in 1983 and Pedro Machado, Candoco’s Co-Artistic Director, described the re-staging process of Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset on both able and disabled bodies.

Candoco seemed to approach their process as an opportunity to create a new version of an iconic work as opposed to reconstruct it. Set and Reset / Reset still ‘functions in the same way but there is space for new forms to emerge…’

This interview was an opportunity to ask further questions about their specific approach.

Firstly, I was intrigued by the title! It obviously clearly announces that the project is not about replicating the original piece. Who chose it?

Set and Reset / Reset is a re-staging project, created by the Trisha Brown Dance Company, which gives the opportunity for Trisha Brown’s original Set and Reset to be reset! So the title is part of the project itself and comes from the company. It is important to differentiate this project from the original work as the Trisha Brown Dance Company is still touring Set and Reset. In fact they will perform it in Dublin in May. Set and Reset / Reset is usually an educational project, for students. The Trisha Brown Dance Company does not let Set and Reset be reconstructed otherwise. Only two professional companies have commissioned the project – the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon and now Candoco – and of course their expectation is higher and they are more rigorous when professional companies are involved.

In ‘A Feeling for Practice’, we heard about the revival process from the dancers’ perspective. I am curious in looking beyond that and asking about the company’s opinion about the process and its outcome. I know that you describe the project as ‘a practical encounter with Trisha’, from there emerged a new version of the piece which is now part of your repertoire. How does it feel to have such a piece in your repertoire? Do you feel that Set and Reset / Reset belongs to Candoco?

Oh absolutely! And it is amazing!

When we commissioned it, there may have been two concerns: firstly thinking that Set and Reset was choreographed in 1983 and so wondering what it meant to put out there a 1983’s piece… But in one way, that concern is now gone, because I actually think that the piece is still very relevant. Secondly, Set and Reset was performed by Trisha Brown, Eva Karczag, Diane Madden, Stephen Petronio, etc…, who are all extremely talented artists and iconic dancers almost. They had been doing Trisha’s body of work and understanding it for a while, they had been taking classes in Klein technique which fits into the work, etc… and my dancers are not in that environment. A talent that we have, by having a repertoire with such mixed programs, is always a danger and a challenge too: how can people perform different things? In the middle of the process, I remember we once had an open rehearsal for a few people to come and see, including Betsy Gregory from Dance Umbrella. Unfortunately it was a terrible run, the dancers were disappointed and sad afterwards, they had felt stiff and very self conscious and something didn’t happen. It had been better in rehearsals. However what I found amazing at that time was that all the interactions which we were trying to reproduce, during the improvisation, felt honest and genuine. So I thought that even though my dancers might not be that same group of people, there is still something about them which is very particular and brings this work to life. And I thought to myself ‘we are safe’.

We’ve had very positive feedbacks overall and I see in this work a beautiful piece. The piece was great and the idea of Candoco doing that piece was great too, because that set of dancers brings something to the work which is also new.

Personally, I don’t see Set and Reset as an old piece; to me it appears as quite contemporary and still very anchored in the present time. What was your vision of the piece before the project started? Did you think you had to refresh it? Did you rediscover it?

At the beginning I was concerned about trying to be as close as possible to the piece, even within this frame of a re-staging project, because I thought that would be good for us in many ways. At the same time, I was aware that we are not those dancers in 1983, we are Candoco now. It was a rediscovery of the piece for me. I’m very happy to say that it is much closer than I thought it would be. I had imagined that we would create more material ourselves but actually only very little material is not original, probably 50 seconds of movements overall. All the rest is the same material, done differently.

We re-commissioned costumes and set which was great especially because the artists we decided to work with were very relevant for our anniversary since they are both ex-dancers. We had a very colourful original set which we liked because we knew the rest of the program was going to be black and white and because of the birthday theme. They considered it but in the end they decided to limit to monochromatic which is actually good since it tastes more of the original. Only two pieces of movement were ‘refreshed’. We took it as an opportunity for disabled dancers to use Trisha Brown’s thinking to create something, instead of trying to emulate it. That was very positive for us, to be able to have that experience within the project. Again, if we had stuck to trying to reproduce something, I am not sure that it would have been a success.

Dance Umbrella is celebrating revivals this year: Richard Alston’s Wildlife, Candoco’s Set and Reset / Reset, Karole Armitage performing one of her classics in Queen Elizabeth Hall… There seems to be traces from the past coming back to the surface and a sense of heritage. Considering your re-staging project as a birthday present (!), did you feel the weight of that heritage? What did it mean for you to re-stage such an important work of dance history?

There was an element of ambition and that is why I am so pleased now that no one has said “it is nice, but…”. People found the piece exciting. I too think that Set and Reset is a very modern piece and, according to me, the fact that it is considered old says a lot about dance… and I’m interested in engaging with this. Why is a piece of that age considered old?

In one way I think it is a conventional piece, even though at the time it was unconventional for her, still, it was one of her most conventional works. I think it was almost her first choice of music which just shows how conventional it is! And actually, for a piece that is so serene and lyrical, the music isn’t, it is used in a very interesting way. It was not about asking an artist to make a sound track for a piece of dance but more of a collaborative process. So music, set and dance worked very much on the same level. The piece is rhythmic. However the dance does not follow a beat on the track. The rhythm is defined by the instinct of the dancers as well as by the structure of the piece. It brings to the table this discussion about the relationship between music and dance, in a way that is satisfactory for the audience. Lots of choreographers have been questioning that in the past and Candoco has worked with many of those choreographers. For instance in the first piece of the evening, music and dance come together. Last year we had a piece by Emanuel Gat where the music came and went while the dancers continue dancing. Sometimes it was played at a very low volume as if it had been in another room… We also had a piece with Scarabeus Aerial Company where part of the music was almost insulting and overbearing. There was not such a direct relation. I think that some artists really question this subject because they maybe feel uncomfortable about having the music as a background, almost forcing dance to fit into it and seeing dance as a main thing.

I know that you describe Set and Reset / Reset as a ‘combination between the original and the Candoco dancers’ choreography’. Is it a meeting between past and present?

I think so. A long time ago, we wrote to Trisha Brown and we received a response from her saying that she understood what we were trying to say and she thought it was great. At the time it felt a little worthy which didn’t seem to match what we were but at the same time, it was very nice to have realised that she had understood. It was very important to us and in that sense, it is present. For someone like her, who has been questioning dance so much… She is the result of her generation so she did not have her work performed by disabled dancers at the time, but now we can have that and it is very exciting! We already had touched on that last year, when there was Trisha Brown’s installation Floor of the Forest in the Queen Elizabeth Hall – thanks to the Southbank and to Trinity Laban – we had two dancers involved in it. It was great, because the structure of the piece offered a support which, in a way, acted as a leveller for all the dancers. It was very exciting to see how the beliefs of Candoco could add something to the work instead of taking away from it.

So, yes, I think it was a meeting between past and present.

Also in terms of technique, my training has already an influence from lots of people who did release technique and I myself did release technique in my school. But, for instance, we would not start a class on the floor until Trisha Brown’s work came! So, in that sense, it was important to have that meeting and also understand where the technique comes from, value history and value the past.

Actually, about that relationship between past and present, how much do you see those past works feeding what is happening in dance at the moment?

I think they do in one way or another. Contemporary dance is quite large and it feels like a ‘race of batons’: this element of people learning and passing it onto others. There are threads, passing knowledge.

Again, in terms of training, when we worked with Stephen Petronio I could see things that he had taken from Trisha Brown and developed his own way. Trisha Brown’s work is technical but not restricted to its style of training. We, or at least I, tend to associate the word ‘technical’ almost with Ballet, or also Graham and Limon and then extending further to Bharata Natyam, etc… ‘Technical’ seems to come with all its styles. Release is technical because it is about the function of the body, its articulation, the use of weight and still there is no evident style. Trisha’s work was very important for this at that moment. And nowadays people are still concerned with it, but took it one step, two steps further! Even Rachid’s piece for us takes that step further: it is technical but you are almost not aware of the training. Choreographers bring things to the table to be discussed and people learn from them.

For us to revisit that work was important and for our dancers to deal with such a rigorous practice was exciting.

Finally, for me, embracing those thoughts on past and heritage, is the Merce Cunningham Company performing in London for the last time… Certainly a performance on disappearance which reminds all of us about this specific ephemeral quality of dance – as opposed to other art forms. I’d like to ask you about your reaction when you heard about Merce’s legacy plan?

I was amazed but not surprised. I think it is a beautiful plan. When I heard the details about the way they look after the dancers… For instance I saw that there are provisions for dancers to learn roles they haven’t been in so that they can teach them. I also love the fact that he was not too precious about his technique. He says the technique is a means to an end but he did not feel that it needed copyrights. It was visionary to see what the big picture is. Of course also very sad to know that it has come to an end, especially, I can imagine, for this group of people. But at the same time it seems to be a good way to go, a very generous way of making space for other people to come. An amazing artist, very much concerned about the art form. Very beautiful.

Interview by Lucille Teppa from Collective Movement

The art of puppetry – not just for children?

Our October half-term show is the beautiful The Man Who Planted Trees from Puppet State Theatre Company. Although primarily aimed at children, The Man Who Planted Trees is also for adults. Traditionally, puppetry is seen as a medium for kids, but this is increasingly challenged in both theatre and advertising. We asked guest blogger Jake Orr, Marketing Officer at Little Angel Theatre, to give us an insight into the world of puppetry for all ages.

'Dog' from The Man Who Planted Trees

'Dog' from The Man Who Planted Trees

When people ask me what I do for work and I tell them that I work in a puppetry theatre doing marketing, a strange mix of responses seems to follow. Some are utterly delighted by the idea that there are such things as puppet theatres, others are more bemused by the whole notion. Yet one common occurrence is people repeatedly respond with ‘so the shows are for children?’ The answer is yes, but more often than not, it’s also no.

There seems to be a myth about puppetry, one that evades every auditorium when a puppetry show is to take place, and that is puppetry is just for children. At Little Angel Theatre where I work, the shows we have are often designed for children and their families, but we also have an increasing amount of work for adults. So much so, that our Artistic Director, Peter Glanville, has developed a festival of puppetry work that is solely for adults called SUSPENSE (28 October – 6 November)

So what is it about puppetry that makes everyone think it is just for children? I think the heart of the matter lies in our abilities to believe in magic. Puppetry is magical. From the fragments of materials that are sewn, stitched, glued or strung together, a whole breath and breadth of life can emerge. I have seen a pile of sheets and pillows turn into elephants, or a collection of gardening tools become humans. The transformation from everyday objects to something that appears to be a living and breathing organism is magical, there is no denying that. But can adults truly grasp the idea of magic compared to that of children?

As we grow older, we increasing become weary of having to act and behave in certain ways. We show respect to other people, we are civil and abide by the rules of society, but with this we loose our abilities to engage and play with the world around us. Puppetry invites its audience into the world of imagination, where you have to suspend your disbelief in order to appreciate the work that is being done in front of you. There is no point turning your nose up as a puppeteer as he works an object, it’s far better to surrender and revel in its beauty and magic.

Puppetry has that magical quality that stirs and excites. It has endless possibilities, and requires years of training and skill to be able to perfect in performance, but it also does more than just entertain. Whilst there has been growing uses of the arts as a method of healing and assisting in healthcare environments such as therapy, the use of applied puppetry has also increased.

As an art form puppetry tends to transcend boundaries of languages. It is a visual art form, that doesn’t require a language to dictate and narrate compared to that of a straight play. Figures, objects, or just images that move across the stage manipulated by puppeteers can easily be understood or have imagined narratives for its audience. There is at times something rather captivating about watching a show where the only language that is used is through the movement of a puppet, it’s like switching off the need to think, and instead seeing the magic of theatre and puppetry.

For adults, puppetry can be fun, exciting and adventurous, but it can also be dark and sinister. From our darkest nightmares, and worst situations, the use of puppets to reflect and portray these can be chilling. I’ve witnessed some of the most horrific images through puppetry which wouldn’t have been possible through that of using people. I have been repulsed, amazed and stunned.

We also tend to forget about how much puppetry is around us in films and television. Spitting Image, the satirical television show reflected what the nation was thinking at a time when we were going through great political unrest. There are epic films such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or The Labyrinth which have all utilised puppetry, whether this is mechanical or hand-held to entertain us. Let’s not forget the PG Tips Monkey, the Compare The Market Meercat or the Coco-Cola girls, all using puppetry in their advertising, and all aimed at adults.

Spitting Image

Spitting Image

The truth is, puppetry is just coming into its own. There are numerous adult puppetry shows that are popping up on our stages and televisions. At Little Angel we’re seeing adults coming along to our family shows on their own. Why? Because puppetry is cool, it’s got that magical quality that enchants and excites us. It has endless possibilities and can lead us to unexpected places. Too often people are too concerned to think that puppetry is just for children, well I say, get to your nearest puppet show and enjoy the experience, you won’t regret it.

Come along and see for yourself: catch Puppet State Theatre Company’s The Man Who Planted Trees at Southbank Centre 25 – 28 October. Get tickets here. 

Want to grow your own Christmas tree this year?

To help us celebrate our half-term show THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES, we’re giving away limited edition packets of Scots Pine seeds to our Facebook fans and inviting you and your families to grow your trees along with us . All you need to do is…

1. Be one of the first people to comment on our Facebook post here .
2. Take a photo of you planting your tree and upload it to our Facebook page.
3. Share photos with us over the coming months as your tree begins to grow.

We’ll add all your images to a photo album and create a forest of Pine trees on Facebook!

Fancy coming along to the show? Puppet State Theatre Company’s THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES is at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room from 25 – 28 October. Get tickets here.

Candoco Dance Company turn 20 – watch video

Candoco Dance Company are celebrating their 20th birthday this year. Here’s a look at what they’ve got in store for us over the next week as part of Dance Umbrella at Southbank Centre.

See Candoco Dance Company in their 20th birthday celebrations on 14 & 15 October at Southbank Centre. Get tickets here. 

In conversation: choreographer Karole Armitage

Part of Dance Umbrella 2011, IN CONVERSATION is new series of discussions between festival artists, broadcast online in the lead up to, and during, the festival. This year Richard Alston and Ben Duke share their insights about some of the events taking place.

In this clip Alston and Duke share their responses to ’80s wild child Karole Armitage and her company’s performances of DRASTIC-CLASSICISM and extract from THREE-THEORIES at Southbank Centre as well as THE WATTEAU DUETS at V&A.


See Armitage Gone! Dance at Southbank Centre as part of Dance Umbrella 2011 on 11 & 12 October. Get tickets here. 

Artist profile – ‘punk ballerina’ Karole Armitage

Karole Armitage is Director of Armitage Gone! Dance an 11-member company based in New York. She was rigorously trained in classical ballet and began her professional career in 1973 as a member of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, a company devoted exclusively to the repertory of George Balanchine. In 1976, she was invited to join Merce Cunningham’s company where she remained for five years, performing leading roles in Cunningham’s landmark works.

Alongside Armitage’s more leftfield work, she is also known for having choreographed the videos for Madonna’s Vogue in 1991 and Michael Jackson’s In the Closet video in 1992.

Through her unique and acute knowledge of the aesthetic values of Balanchine and Cunningham, Armitage has created her own ‘voice’ in classical and contemporary dance. Armitage is inspired by disparate, non-narrative sources, from twentieth-century physics, to sixteenth-century Florentine fashion, to pop culture and new media.

Branded a ‘punk ballerina’ in the ’80s, Armitage merged classical dance with punk’s wall of sound, shocking audiences in New York. Next week, she returns to London for the first time since 1985, with her 1981 signature work Drastic-classicism performed to avant-garde pioneer Rhys Chatham’s clangorous score, played live by five guitarists amidst the dancers.

Karole Armitage, Photo: Terry Stevenson

See Armitage Gone! Dance at Southbank Centre as part of Dance Umbrella 2011 on 11 & 12 October. Get tickets here.