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Flash Review 2, 7-31: Walking on "Sunbyrne"
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 Doug Elkins.

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 in May.

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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