Dance / Contemporary dance

Review: Hot Mess / Face In, Bristol Old Vic

By julie cresswell buck, Thursday Feb 27, 2020

Candoco Dance Company’s double bill features Face In, choreographed by Yasmeen Godder, and Hot Mess, by Theo Clinkard, both performed by Candoco’s seven extraordinary disabled and non-disabled dancers. Their performances are always outstanding, innovative works of art, and this was no exception.

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Both halves of the show felt like being witness to an intimate mess of ambitions and movement, where seven friends explore their boundaries in a safe space. Both pieces, although vastly different, gave me the impression that I was spying on seven university mates exploring new party scenes or synthetics highs or physical environments together.

I think this effect is partly thanks to the wardrobe (which could be their own clothes?) and the score (drones to 90s industrial anthemic dance), but also thanks to the unique choreography and the strong bond very apparent between the dancers on stage.

Candoco Dance Company’s ‘Face In’ by Yasmeen Godder. Photography by Hugo Glendinning

Yasmeen Godder’s Face In is a game changer. Saying that this piece thinks outside the box is too tame. It’s a fabulous flux of choreography in pairs, with each dancer using their abilities and disabilities in totally unique ways.

You are aware of the missing limbs only for a moment. The four physically disabled company members give the idea of ‘imperfection’ a royal spit in the face. It is of course unsettling when a non-disabled dancer sits on the back of a disabled dancer – it feels uncouth and disconcerting. But why? These dancers are strong and fluid and beautiful, the same as their four-limbed, walking counterparts, and this company proudly makes no distinction.

I have three favourite moments: wheelchair user Joel Brown essentially does a wheelie to roll over the full length of a fellow dancer; Mickealla Dantas using her crutches as a machine gun, then a balance framework, then a farcical nose; and Olivia Edginton, suddenly alone on stage, hilariously zipping herself into her hoodie.

The dancers shift tremendously well through what feels like one rite of passage into the next. Funny faces are not a part of the performance… until suddenly there’s all out face pulling. Towards the end they seem to find such freedom, seen in the wild expressions and even wilder choreography.

The message I get from Face In is that we may despair, but there is always support. Face In is sensual and wild – an exercise in how to let go. And so much fun.

Candoco perform Hot Mess, choreographed by Theo Clinkard. Photograph by Stephen Wright

It’s a hard piece to follow – Hot Mess takes us somewhere entirely different. There’s no messing around, no soft intro this time, just straight in to the bizarre and the oddball (in the form of wrestling with paper). Our seven dancers are almost unrecognisable thanks to costumes, props, prosthetics and perhaps a shower.

Hot Mess often feels as if we’re witnessing an improv rehearsal. It’s out there, unscripted, and leaves us with more questions than answers.  But the choreography is so comfortable and thought provoking; it is definitely not a rehearsal, just pretending to be one. They know this, so issue a manifesto to clarify their glorious madness a little:

Hot Mess shifts uncomfortably through 35 minutes, but it opens up a space in my heart by doing so, taking me somewhere new.

I think I had one eyebrow raised the whole evening.

For more information about Candoco’s tour, visit candoco.co.uk/whats-on

Main photo: Hot Mess by Stephen Wright

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