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. 

 

Flayin’ Alive: Interview with choreographer Karole Armitage

‘I’m not dancing,’ Karole Armitage says, talking about the upcoming set of performances that Dance Umbrella will be presenting in London this autumn. ‘It’s too hard!’

While this is perhaps unfortunate, it’s also understandable. At 57 Armitage has no desire to get up onstage and shake a leg or, more accurately given her erstwhile gifts as a dancer, rocket into and then throw off-kilter an incredible balance. Now she’d much rather leave it to others (‘My remarkable dancers,’ she calls them) to negotiate her often fabulous mix of classical and contemporary movement.

 

Karole Armitage

 
As a choreographer, and the artistic director of the New York-based company Armitage Gone! Dance, Armitage has cultivated a reputation for artistic innovation that ultimately helped transport her from her birthplace in Madison, Wisconsin to a decade and half of living and making work in Europe. ‘Though I have a very independent, American pioneer spirit,’ she explains, ‘I am European in my expectation of how art can be produced and consumed. I’m still an outsider in the United States, and an explorer everywhere.’

Either side of the big slice of time she spent abroad, Armitage studied film-making, cooked up the dances for the terrific Broadway revival of Hair and worked with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Michael Clark (in his novice days), Madonna and Michael Jackson. In 2012 she’s been hired to choreograph a production for Cirque du Soleil.

Clearly what fuels her work is a healthy push-and-pull of eclectic creative forces. Just consider her career trajectory. Rigorously trained in ballet, she followed a few seasons of dancing for Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève (where the repertory was exclusively that of the Russian-born genius, George Balanchine) with five years as an outstanding member of the masterly Merce Cunningham’s Manhattan-based troupe. For a young dancer, who at the time knew next to nothing about modern dance, it could hardly get any better – or so it seemed. ‘The first couple of years with Merce were thrilling,’ she says. ‘I was about 20 years old and he was creating me. I was learning a new way to think and move, and meeting Jasper Johns and Bob Rauschenberg, and touring with John Cage. I loved it.’

Armitage, however, had a mind of her own. Eventually, as she admits, ‘The thrill was gone and I wanted to explore new ideas.’ And so she became her own muse, stimulated as well by the lovely abrasions that collaboration with cutting-edge composers (like Rhys Chatham) and trend-setting designers and visual artists (Charles Atlas, David Salle and, a little later, Jeff Koons) can bring.

A molten pixie with a voracious talent, Armitage became an overnight sensation in 1981 with Drastic-Classicism. An audacious mix of blistering, red-hot motion and blastingly high-decibel live sound, this controversial dance (at Queen Elizabeth Hall on 11 & 12 October) became her international calling card. It also reinforced her status as the reigning ‘punk ballerina’ of post-modern dance.

Those two words still cling to Armitage’s name, but she doesn’t mind. But how much of the punk label was real and how much, in the words of dance critic Arlene Croce, just ‘a sophisticated ploy’?

‘In the mid-1970s I was thinking about how dance was all about no,’ Armitage recalls. ‘No virtuosity, no emotion, no costume, no story, etc. This moralistic stance didn’t appeal to me; I felt it was leading to an audience of insiders. I wanted instead to connect to an audience with all the beautiful history of the art form, combining the refinement and poetry of ballet with the intimacy and intellectual tradition of modern dance – not to mention some rebellious rock (or punk) spirit thrown in. So yes, to a great extent it was a ploy, a device for forging a new dance vocabulary with a tongue-in-cheek relationship to punk. But the serious side of my interest in punk was that it wasn’t formulaic. Rock had become an industry (as hip hop has now) and lost its creativity. Punk was creative.’

As Croce wrote when Drastic premiered, ‘Classical values that were flayed alive, stayed alive.’ Time may have inevitably undermined this era-defining work’s shocking freshness, but it remains mighty lively. Armitage revived Drastic in 2009, tightening it up and underlining the innate rhythmic drive of the movement. In doing so she couldn’t help but notice how society itself has changed. ‘This generation isn’t as free as we were [back then], and that of course is due to changes in a world with much more economic pressure on it and reduced resources. We were free spirits with little understanding of how hard it is to survive and no thoughts of making a career. The new generation of dancers and musicians is more sober. Everyone is pretty wild in Drastic, and they have a great time, but [the work] is not as ironic [as it once was].’

Armitage recently revived another of her classics. The Watteau Duets (14 October at the Victoria and Albert Museum) was devised in 1985. Armitage herself originally danced in it, utilising both pointe shoes and high heels to jab, swivel and stamp the piece across. Staged as a series of majestic confrontations between a heterosexual couple, she calls it ‘a really liberated look at a woman’s sexuality.’ But, again, she notes how times have changed. ‘Today it’s hard to get a dancer to go far enough with it, and to dare to be raw enough.’

Still, Armitage is happy to have both of these ‘older’ dances out in front of the public once more. ‘Each of them works on many layers. They’re entertaining, aesthetically challenging and filled with exciting contradictions – hot emotion and cool technique, irony and sincerity, youthful rebellion and a love of tradition. They use dance to express contemporary culture, from sexual politics to the issue of how to mix high and low art forms – issues that artists are still dealing with today.’

In London, Drastic will be paired with two of the three sections that comprise one of Armitage’s newest dances. Two Theories (as it has been renamed) was inspired by The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene’s best-seller on the evolutionary conflicts of theoretical physics. Although Dance Umbrella won’t be importing Armitage’s kinetic take on Einstein’s theory of relativity, audiences will be able to dive into her interpretation of quantum mechanics and string theory. ‘I can’t explain these scientific theories,’ she says, ‘nor do I try in the ballet, but I have an appreciation for their poetry. By looking at them through the body abstract ideas take on human content, linking human rhythms and perception to the hidden forces that make up the universe.’

Armitage’s shape-shifting ensemble have been said to handle her writhing, undulant and volatile choreography – deliberately blurry at some points, and then extremely articulate – with great aplomb. ‘They’re virtuosos who are very fluid and free-spirited,’ she avows, ‘and each is a unique spice.’ As for the audience, the feeling she hopes to induce in us is the sort of ‘awed wonder’ that science itself can impart.

A self-described classicist, Armitage once categorised herself as ‘a marginal, intellectual sort of rebel. I’m not a mainstream kind of person.’ Rather than trash her artistic heritage, as she was once accused of doing, her underlying motive is ‘to warp and massage it and make it into something, image-wise, that’s very different than how people think it looks.’ She remains committed to making work ‘that communicates what it feels like to be alive. Theatre is a good form for describing politics; dance is a good form for erotic, existential and spiritual content.’ No surprise whatsoever then that it’s curiosity that keeps her going as an artist.

© Donald Hutera, 2011

See Armitage Gone! Dance at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Dance Umbrella 2011 on 11 & 12 October. More info and tickets here. 

 

Get to know Candoco dancer Dan Daw

Dan DawHow did you get into dancing initially?
Joining Restless Dance Company nearly 10 years ago was my first serious interaction with the dance world. I had been exposed to it earlier in my youth theatre days, at which time, opted to turn my attention to acting. From the first Restless workshop, I was in love. I knew it was a place I needed to be at that moment in time, but what I did not know is that it would still the perfect place nearly a decade later.

Why did you join Candoco?
As a disabled dancer, being with Candoco was something I aspired to early in my career. Although I was with Restless, I did not think that being a professional disabled dancer was viable until I discovered Candoco.

I had spent some years working as a project-based freelancer, but craved the rigor that comes through working for a professional repertory company. Spawned by my sneak peek into the repertory world during the six months with Scottish Dance Theatre, I felt I was fast approaching the right place artistically where Candoco seemed like, was, and is, the best fit.

How do people react to the idea of a disabled person dancing professionally?
I think it a shame that this is a question that still needs to be asked in light of Candoco’s twenty-year presence. This debate aside, I think audiences are intrigued, and this is why the company has such an extensive education program, and often hold post-show forums in the hope our audiences come away knowing that little bit more about what we do.

How does Candoco approach the idea of ‘normal’?
The beauty of dancing for Candoco is that it is a company, which functions on the idea of the individual, and what is inherent in every one of us as people, and as performers. From my seat within the company, it could be said Candoco are not looking to approach the bogus concept of ‘normality’; it exists only as a concept, and I’m sure as a company we can go to far more interesting places.

How does Candoco approach a work that has been created for non-disabled bodies? What are rehearsals like?
In the creation of Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset/Reset, we have had the privilege of building the work in the same way Trisha Brown Company did in 1983. Staying true to its title, we learned a series of set material. With the splicing of this material, adapted or not, we built and reset it into a new kaleidoscopic form. As the building of the work relied on improvising and making choices in relation to the whole, it very much became ours, and less an arm-by-arm, leg-by-leg regurgitation of the work.

Within its’ making, there has been the chance to create new solos based on the ideas of the originals. Still within the realm of Trisha Brown’s aesthetic and idiosyncrasies, these gave rise to explore our movement vocabulary and its’ idiosyncratic logic.

What are the advantages and challenges of disabled and non-disabled people dancing together?
There are no advantages or challenges specific to disabled and non-disabled dancers working together, but there are infinite advantages and challenges when people dance together, irrespective of ability.

Broadly, the fact that integrated dance is becoming as professionally recognised as our preconceived notion of dance is an advantage unto itself.

Do you have a career highlight so far?
I have two career highlights. During my Candoco career, working with Wendy Houstoun was something quite incredible. I came to appreciate Wendy’s way of deconstructing dance by placing it in relationship to what it was that interested her. The other highlight was performing with Kate Champion’s Force Majeure at the Sydney Opera House. I remember it being a very proud moment.

What inspires you?
The one thing that continues to inspire me throughout my career are those little moments when the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. We all live for these moments, and it is when they happen whilst working that I know I am on the right track.

If you could dance with anyone, past or present, who would it be?
If I could dance with anyone throughout the modern history of dance, it would be with, or even for, Pina Bausch. She was, and her work is, simply stunning.

 

See Candoco Dance Company in Turning 20: Anniversary Bill as part of Dance Umbrella at Southbank Centre on 14 & 15 October. Get tickets here. 

Autumn Dance Season Announced

Our new season of contemporary dance goes onsale today!

The season starts with Jerwood Award-winning Brazilian choreographer Jean Abreu with Inside – his eagerly anticipated new work inspired by the effect incarceration has on the body. Powerful and raw, it explores violence,  solitude and hope within prison walls. Also accompanying the dancers live on stage for the only date in the tour are post-rock band 65daysofstatic. Not to be missed!
 

Jean Abreu Dance with 65daysofstatic, 21 September. Get tickets here.

Then we see the return of ADAD’s Bloom Festival with the Association of Dance of the African Diaspora. Exploring and celebrating dance of the African Diaspora, this three day-long festival featuring performances, workshops, film and talks. The highlight is a Mixed Bill from some of the leading African dance artists from around the world including the London premiere of Norway-based African and Caribbean company, Tabanka Crew,  stars of Norway’s Got Talent.
 

ADAD Bloom Festival Mixed Bill, 24 & 25 September. Get tickets here. 

And returning to Southbank Centre in the autumn is the UK’s premier contemporary dance festivel, Dance Umbrella. One of the hot tickets this year is Armitage Gone! Dance on 11 & 12 October. Not seen in London since 1985, 80s wild child Karole Armitage returns to the festival with the revival of a classic from the punk era and a new work. Striking, elegant and dramatic, Two Theories: Quantum & String is performed by the company of ten brilliant dancers, and explores the poetry underlying the pillars of 20th century theoretical physics.
 

Dance Umbrella at Southbank Centre, 9 – 15 October. See full listings and get tickets here.
 

Get to know… Yamuna Devi

Yamuni Devi is a dancer with Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company. The company will perform at Southbank Centre on Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 October.

What do you fear the most?
Heights

Which mobile number do you call the most?
My boyfriend’s

What – or where – is perfection?
Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

Who is your favourite hero from fiction and why?
Xena warrior princess as she is powerful and strong yet still graceful and beautiful.

What’s your favourite ritual?
Putting on my indian classical outfit and jewellery and then praying to mother earth for guidance and respect.

Which living person do you most admire – and why?
My guru who guides me and reflects my emotions to bring them to a state where I can be aware of them and change them if necessary.

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
Being able to use silks to be upside down in a flowing sequences of powerful acrobatics movements.

What’s your favourite website?
Acroyoga.org

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
Bob Marley and Michael Jackson

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To constantly evolve and to love yourself deeply so that you can love others.

What is the most played piece of music on your MP3 player or in your CD collection?
Niraj Chag Bangles and Miguel Marin.

Tell us about a special memory you have of Southbank Centre?
Performing my own work in the Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall and getting a standing ovation.