Choreographer and Director: Hetain Patel
Premiering in 2014, Candoco Dance Company’s 30-minute piece Let’s Talk About Dis centres around a discussion of who can dance in its attempts to blur the boundaries between disabled and non-disabled performers. Just as intriguing perhaps is the secondary question of what constitutes dance in a show with no music that focuses primarily on narrated stories told by seven dancers exploring identity and political correctness.
Uploaded to the Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage for one week, Hetain Patel’s show is designed to expand your mind, tackling, head-on, the assumptions we make about the relationship between physical form and the ability to express feeling, emotions and narrative. One of Patel’s most ingenious approaches is to demonstrate that dance is a language like any other so, as the Company speak French and English while Signing, movement itself becomes an equal tool of communication.
Patel also achieves this in other ways, particularly in sections where choreographic descriptions are relayed to the audience through a microphone during a moment of dance performance. Often this has a comic effect as the narrator tries to find the right words to match the physical gesture, while at other points the explanation moves away from the technical to a more interpretive summary of the themes and storytelling within the sequence.
Much of Let’s Talk About Dis is dominated by discussion, however, as the performers introduce themselves and the remit of the Company to offer an inclusive space regardless of background or protected characteristics. It is a particularly candid discussion that draws attention to the differences between the dancers – how tall or ‘less tall’ they are being a continual refrain – but Megan Armishaw, Joel Brown, Tanja Erhart, Adam Gain, Andrew Graham, Laura Patay and Toke Broni Strandby never shy away from confronting the casual prejudice or negative attention they have received as individuals in everyday life. And the point is well taken.
Yet, there is little dance in the show and that is perhaps its biggest drawback. In 2014, when this production was recorded, the conversation was still very new, even ground breaking, so there is a greater focus on discussions about our expectations of what a dancer might look like and how wrong our assumptions of physicality can be. And while representation in the industry still has a long way to go, watching this in 2020 you feel Patel gives his seven performers too few opportunities to really showcase those talents – actions speak louder than words after all.
But of course, Candoco is also questioning the meaning of dance itself, looking at rhythm, syncopation and communication in different ways. In one segment, two performers tell the same story about an ‘aunty’ who cared for them as uncertain teenagers using the same gestures, facial expression and vocal inflection in the delivery of this tale. They move in time with one another, offering variation in who is talking but returning to a coordinated duet.
Is it dance in a way? All of the sequences in the show use the performance space to move the Company around one another, developing a connection with the audience through those choices. There is rhythm and flow even in the spoken parts of show that form a harmony of sorts. Jagged and perplexing at times, insightful and direct at others, Let’s Talk About This may provoke an existential crisis in the viewer, but that is where change begins.
Available here until 3 December 2020