Dance, for me, is people moving,’ says Gary Clarke of the Candoco Dance Company, quoted in a Sadler’s Wells programme containing so much explanation of ‘The Show Must Go On’ that it is like having to read the description next to an installation in a modern art museum in order to understand the piece itself. But even this definition of dance wasn’t broad enough for this production, during which large sections involved either a completely blank stage or members of the dance company standing, and most certainly not moving. Either physically or metaphorically.
‘The Show Must Go On’ begins in darkness, with no set, scenery or action of any description. Recordings of ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story (and not even the ‘Quintet’ version) and ‘Let The Sun Shine In’ from Hair were played, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, this is very pleasant, and as someone who enjoys musical theatre I am loving this, but this is not what I came to see. In fact, there is nothing to see at this moment. I was expecting to see some dancing.’ I did in the end, but came away somewhat underwhelmed. Even when the company arrived on stage, at least ten minutes after the show ‘began’, they simply stood in a semi-circle for an entire song.
Only to the beat of the unsubtly titled ‘I Like To Move It’ (which, for the uninitiated, is a 1993 house and reggae tune by an American electronic dance duo called Reel 2 Real) did we f-i-n-a-l-l-y get some, well, people moving. The oldest in the group, 64-year-old Robert Eldridge, promptly took his top off and jiggled his belly for the duration of the number. A young man began throwing another young man around like a ragdoll. A young female dancer did squats and sit-ups with just one hand.
Several of the company were what the programme describes as ‘disabled’ – for this read ‘PHAB’ – physically handicapped and able bodied, though apparently Candoco also caters for people with learning disabilities as well. To Candoco’s credit it was not particularly noticeable whether a company member was on crutches, in a wheelchair, or had full unassisted use of their entire body.
There were two numbers with more mainstream dance routines. The opening line of Lionel Richie’s ‘Ballerina Girl’ had the gentlemen of the company promptly walk off stage, to audience laughter, before the ladies performed ballet-style moves. By far the most entertaining number was the choreography to Los del Rio’s 1994 tune ‘Macarena’, lifting the mood quite significantly.
I suppose, not being a follower of popular music, some of the references were lost on me, however it was clear that what dancing did take place (or did not) fitted the music and the song being played and vice versa. But even I understood the outstretched arms to the strains of Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’. The front of the stage then descended (or sunk, if you will) into the orchestra pit, taking the company with it, before we were treated to The Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’. This was followed by what sounded to me like a tune by Edith Piaf (but not ‘La Vie En Rose’), and then John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. Three songs, back to back, with no dancing or dancers to be seen.
The house lights rose for The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, during which the company stood and watched the audience watching them. That is to say that they were engaged in an interpretive dance of the lyric ‘I’ll be watching you’. Worse still, for Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing Me Softly’, the company lip synched the first half and then lay down for the second.
During one number, as the theatre was plunged into complete darkness once more, the sound was deliberately cut out repeatedly, as though the audience should fill in the gaps, which members of the audience who knew the song in question duly did. Who is entertaining whom? This is the sort of philosophical question which director Jérôme Bel likes to pose in his work.
Maybe I am too much of a traditionalist to fully appreciate this kind of ‘immersive theatre’. While some of us were simply laughing at a dance production’s distinct lack of dancing, some in this unassuming audience seemed to like it, enthusiastically cheering and awarding the company a standing ovation. ‘Do you see a lot of dance?’ someone asked me just before the show. I replied that I didn’t. It is with some disappointment that following this evening’s performance, I still haven’t.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Co-commissioned by Sadler’s Wells London, Tramway Glasgow and Dance 4 Nottingham with additional support from Greenwich Dance
UK Tour Dates 2015
20 – 21 March at 7.30pm, Sadler’s Wells
17 – 18 April at 8pm, Nottingham Playhouse
22 – 23 May, Tramway, Glasgow,
Design and direction: Jérôme Bel
Assistants and Re-staging: Dina ed Dik & Henrique Neves
Performers: Vanessa Abrea, Allan Binns, Suzie Birchwood, Toke Broni Strandby, Jia-Yu Chang, Gary Clarke, Karim Dime, Robert Eldridge, Tanja Erhart, Linda Fearon, Katy Francis, Adam Gain, Andrew Graham, Mirjam Gurtner, Tom Morgan, Mathew Morris, Laura Patay, Susan Sentler, Jo Bannon, Betty Skelton, Mickel Smithen
Music: Leonard Bernstein, David Bowie, Nick Cave, Norman and Charles Fox, J. Horner, W.Jennings, Mark Knopfler, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Louiguy Galt Mac Dermott, George Michael, Erick “More” Morillo and M. Quashie, Edith Piaf, The Police and Hugh Padgham, Queen, Lionel Richie, A.Romero Monge and R. Ruiz, Paul Simon
Original Creation: Paris, January 4, 2001, City Theatre
Sunday 22nd March 2015