Artistic Director Pedro Machado on Candoco Dance Company's iconic restaging project Set and Reset/Reset, taking place as part of the Dance Umbrella festival
London Calling talks to Pedro Machado, artistic director of Candoco Dance Company, currently celebrating their 20th anniversary as the UK's leading troupe of disabled and non-disabled dancers.
London Calling: Could you tell me briefly about the history of Candoco and it’s philosophy
Pedro Machado: Candoco started 20 years ago as a result of regular dance classes – for disabled and non-disabled people. They were held at Aspire (the national centre for spinal injuries), which is known for sports provision for disabled people such as wheelchair basketball. However those early dance classes were unique at Aspire as they were non-competitive and integrated, rather than providing just for disabled people.
This initial group with Celeste Dandeker and Adam Benjamin at the helm was very creative, diverse collaborative and dedicated. The first ever public performance of this group, now called Candoco Dance Company, took place on the ballroom floor of the Royal Festival Hall.
20 years on and we’ve produced about 30 dance works and performed and taught in over 50 countries. Most importantly integration, uniqueness and collaboration have continued to be part of the Candoco philosophy.
The philosophy is simple: we are a professional and ambitious dance company that welcomes disabled dancers as we think, disabled and non disabled dancers working together makes the art form richer. We are committed to making great art that adds to the understanding of dance as an art form; we like work that engages with the public while making people think.
LC: How did you come to be involved?
PM: I auditioned in 1998 and then danced for Candoco for nine years. After a brief time away from the company I returned when I was appointed Co-Artistic Director, together with Stine Nilsen.
LC: How would you describe your directorial style?
PM: Stine and I like to concentrate on the work and on creating an environment where everyone can contribute. This is important as Candoco is formed and influenced by the people in it. As there are two of us we tend to discuss things before making decisions. This helps us to understand all sides of a situation. I often think that I am serving the company with an idealistic vision. I believe in making decisions that are ethical and that respect my instincts, while having an enjoyable time.
LC: What first drew you to dance and have you ever worked in any other mediums?
PM: I came to dance late, aged 23, thanks to open auditions, and a generous work-scholarship at the Laban Centre (now TrinityLaban). I started working professionally in theatre in my native Brazil when I was 15, but over here the accent was seen as a hindrance - so dance became the alternative. On the way I’ve done the odd short film, tv ad, and voiceover job, including an appearance in Crimewatch UK where I’ve played the victim in a reconstruction...
LC: The current performances at the Southbank Centre are taking place as part of Dance Umbrella. What are the benefits to the company of being involved in a festival of this kind?
PM: It is great to be able to present a range of events alongside our performances and working with Dance Umbrella has allowed us to act as curator of a film programme as well as joining Richard Alston in a discussion around re-staging work. We have also recommended Claire Cunningham to Dance Umbrella and it is exciting to see her work performed as part of the Festival. Most importantly Dance Umbrella has co-commissioned one of the pieces of our ‘Turning 20’ programme: Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset/Reset.
LC: Sticking with Dance Umbrella for a second, we’re aware they were one of the organisations who faired very badly in the latest round of arts funding allocations. Do you have any sense of how the dance sector is holding up generally, and are you exploring any new models for funding yourselves?
PM: This is a hard time for everyone but this also brings with it the opportunity to reassess activities and priorities. The dance sector is good at looking at new ways to collaborate and we, at Candoco, are focusing our activity so it is easier to identify partners with a natural affinity to our ethos and additional financial support. Candoco is a great company where partners and supporters can really make a positive impact and see direct results from their contributions.
LC: Set and Reset/Rest is a restaging. This is an idea that fascinates me, and I’d love to know what drew you to this piece and what the actual practical steps of mounting a restaged dance production are?
PM: Set and Reset is a landmark piece of choreography with a distinct place in the work of Trisha Brown, one of the greatest, and most influential living choreographers.
It is fun and accessible while being intelligent and complex. We knew it would stretch the company – something we are always up for.
Starting Candoco 20 years ago was a bit of a risk and we are proud to continue taking risks – it is part of our goal to push boundaries of dance.
This particular project is indeed fascinating as it allows the current cast to go through the original process underwent by Trisha Brown dancers, while preserving the essence and character of the work. This is particularly important to this work, as the process is inherent to the form of the piece. To make Set and Reset/Reset, Candoco dancers learnt original movement material from the 1983 production and went through a process of improvisation guided by Abby Yager, from the Trisha Brown Dance Company. The structure of the piece was maintained, but at times, the particular portions of movement were chosen by Candoco dancers.
LC: Also, more philosophically, is a restaging a new interpretation of an old ‘text’ as it were, or is it more of a homage in many ways?
PM: Probably a bit of both. We have utmost respect for the work but understand that we are not the original cast performing the work in 1983. We couldn’t be. It’s scary to see this work referred to as ‘old text’ as it reminds me of the obsession in dance with everything young and ephemeral.
In most other art forms a work less than 30 years old wouldn’t be considered old. But Set and Reset is still quite modern and feels very now. It offers us a work that is popular and mature, and abstract without being distant; it has an interesting take on collaboration between different art forms – thanks to the design and music element; it’s a great example of technical and intricate movement which is not simply determined by the styles of the dancers’ training, instead it’s functional and responsive to the dancers’ instincts. Our version is pretty special as it brings this work to life today, with a distinct and unique Candoco twist.
LC: Moving on, what are your plans beyond the festival?
PM: We have just started our tour around the UK and we can soon be seen in Leeds, Lincoln, Brighton and many more dates around the country.(check our website for dates and locations).
In February we are making a new piece with Scottish choreographer Claire Cunningham as part of Unlimited, a project of the Cultural Olympiad.
For that we are increasing our cast and being joined by talented dancers from Brazil and China. We are also hosting – as part of our 20th anniversary – an International Artist’ Lab at Southbank Centre with events promoting the development of inclusive dance. 2012 also sees the culmination of our Moving Bodies Programme, a Candoco/Learning and Development project held across the UK over the last 3 years, and supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, bringing together schools, youth dance groups, associate artists and artist development.
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