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Flash Review 2, 7-31: Walking on
CandoCo Walks -- and Flies -- with Elkins
By Jessica Swoyer
Copyright 2001 Jessica Swoyer
LONDON -- England's weather made
front-page news this weekend as the temperature cracked 90 degrees. Over the moon,
the British declare that their Brighton Beach is now hotter than any beach in
Honolulu. To stress the significance of this "phenomenon" further, in May while
New Yorkers were switching on their AC, Londoners were still sporting their winter
jackets to attend events such as CandoCo Dance Company's 10th anniversary performance
at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
CandoCo is a "can-do" dance company,
made up roughly half and half of able-bodied and disabled performers. The company
is lead by artistic director Celeste Dandeker, who danced with London Contemporary
Dance Company before sustaining a spinal cord injury that left her unable to walk.
She founded CandoCo in 1991 with able-bodied dance teacher Adam Benjamin. Since
then, her greatest achievement has been to ensure that interest in the company
remains focused on artistic achievement rather than political correctness. Since
CandoCo's launch the company has commissioned and performed works by choreographers
such as Siobhan Davies, Emily Claid, and Annabel Arden. Sharing the double-bill
the 18 and 19 of May were Brazilian choreographer Javier de Frutos and American
Elkins's name alone draws an audience
in the UK. The work he brought three years ago to London's Dance Umbrella -- an
annual festival held predominantly at the Queen Elizabeth Hall -- was some of
his best. Fresh, innovative, and thorough, the dances created their own buzz.
But there is some speculation that the buzzing has left the work and now circles
around the name. Judith Mackrell, dance critic for the Guardian, may have recognized
something more than just an under-rehearsed piece. In her 1999 review of the London
based Union Dance Company's performance of Elkins's "Starlings Scatter," she wrote,
"zappy fusion of hip-hop, ballet and martial arts has previously given the dancers
excitement and juice. But in this piece his familiar repertory of moves is lazily
re-hashed, with little evidence of expansion or embellishment."
Interestingly of the five major papers
in London, not one dance critic spent more space than needed for 100 words of
commentary on Elkins's half of the double bill. Instead reviews and even a full-featured
article were written discussing Javier de Frutos's "I Hastened Through My Death
Scene To Catch Your Last Act," an original creation for CandoCo inspired by "One
Arm," a Tennessee Williams short story.
I don't believe London's critics
are implying that Elkins's street style is a trend that has run its course. He
has just displayed standards in his previous work they simply desire to see upheld.
However, his use of popular music, popular dance and universal wit make his work
accessible to a wide audience. It also entertains and provides enjoyment. This,
his audiences embrace him for, as did the full house at CandoCo's performance
Perhaps while in London, feeling
the need to beat Mother Nature to the rays, Elkins created "Sunbyrne," a montage
of holiday stills in motion, set to a collage of former Talking Heads lead singer
David Byrne songs and Beach Boys favorites. The title creates a sun-kissed expectation
that is at first delivered through a cityscape backdrop and bright, colorful costumes
-- an Elkins trademark dating back to his '80s street dance fashion. Yet as the
weather in England took more than half the summer to get hot, "Sunbyrne" also
took its time to deliver.
Maybe a personal attachment to "Barbara
Ann" or "Help Me, Rhonda" made it difficult for Elkins to edit his own work. Both
tunes were danced to twice in the piece. In the first round of "Barbara Ann,"
Kate Marsh gave a series of typical Elkins phrases (combo of body waves, capoiera
floor moves and some body-popping) that after dancing once, she repeated. Fair
enough, but there was something missing in the phrasing -- it seemed too slow
and was not satisfying on its own. But just as worry sets in that Elkins has lost
the plot, faith is restored. We discover, the second time round, that this solo
is actually a duet as Stine Nilsen joins Marsh and together they get the groove
on that was anxiously awaited.
The highlight of the piece was "Surfer
Girl," a duet in which Welly O'Brien and Jorg Koch sail through the air. Undulating
bodies seamlessly ride on the momentum of each lift. Because O'Brien has one leg,
partnering was maneuvered in ways physically impossible for an able-bodied dancer.
This opened space for new perspectives on the possibilities of movement altogether.
The energy of O'Brien's dancing extended beyond her limitations, as she moving
as though she were limitless.
Sans music, Andrew McLay wheeled
himself onto the stage to indulge in a two-minute solo of the arms and torso.
The audience finally cracked the silence with laughter, as what was thought to
be a serious moment in the piece ended with McLay's finger in his ear -- even
checking it to see if it was clean.
Elkins seemed to have most of his
fun in the finale, creating kaleidoscope-like spatial patterns with the full company,
including two wheelchair users. The gliding abilities of the wheelchairs created
the illusion that everyone else was also on wheels. Close encounters blew wind
through dancers' hair, and left trails for the audience's eyes.
Brian Wilson's voice at times carried
the loyal audience through the lulls of Elkins's waves. "Sunbyrne," however, finally
found its boiling point, and had most of us nostalgic for our high school sweethearts
and summer lovin' days.
Jessica Swoyer is a London-based
freelance writer and dance researcher.
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