CandoCo: Still/The Perfect Human @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

choreographed by
Hofesh Shechter and Nigel Charnock
CandoCo has always commissioned works by very prominent choreographers, and this season is no different, featuring works by man-of-the-moment, Hofesh Shechter, and DV8 founder member, Nigel Charnock.

As a company that comprises disabled and non-disabled dancers, Candoco strives to challenge perceptions of what is considered dance and who can dance.

Shechter’s piece for the company, The Perfect Human, explores this very concept.
Shechter wanted to question the notion of the perfect human, and uses the piece to ironically deconstruct, and ultimately overturn, this man-made ideal.

The score, a combination of sounds, beats and music composed by Shechter himself, also contains soundbites from the Danish film, Det Perfekte Menneske (The Perfect Human), repeated throughout the piece: This is the perfect human; How does he move? Why does he move like that? There is no question that this theme is particular poignant for CandoCo the beautifully executed solo by Annie Hanauer, performing with a prosthetic arm, highlights the absurdity of this concept.

The choreography is mostly made up of sharp, jerky movements; sometimes the dancers’ bodies simply tremble, and nothing else. These are not attractive movements that are nice to look at; Shechter wants to challenge our own idea of what is considered perfect.

At times, however, it does feel like the concept is being overplayed. White, ghostly masks are sometimes taken off, or forced on, the dancers by others. While this creates a haunting appearance suited to the mood of the piece, the use of masks also feels a little obvious.

At one point the Mamas and Papas’ California Dreamin is blasted out from the speakers with an empty stage. One dancer walks on with a sign that says Perfect, and walks off again. Another section sees three female dancers pull down their trousers, turning around to expose their bare legs before walking off. Shechter is a choreographer capable of asking these questions subtly, so it is a shame that he has chosen, instead, the more obvious, narrative path.

One dancer has described Charnock’s piece, Still, as a rollercoaster ride of emotions. And it shows: it’s a series of sketches about love and loss, a bit like a dance version of a very eclectic compilation tape. I doubt there will be many other occasions one can hear house, death metal and God Save The Queen back-to-back within the first five minutes of a dance performance.

One particular highlight was a duet by CandoCo’s two male dancers, Chris Owen and Darren Anderson, which could have come straight out of the DV8 repertoire: very aggressive movements are punctured by brief glimpses of homoerotic tenderness, in the form of touches and embraces. The overall forcefulness is wonderfully juxtaposed with a stunning strings piece by Bach.

There are two particularly memorable scenes. The first has a confessional tone, where one by one, bitter ex-girlfriends recount their significant other in short monologues, whilst dancing to the innocent melody of their individual music box. The monologues gradually overlap each other to form one big chaotic mess of music, movements and angry voices. The use of vocals really adds to the charm of Still, resolutely refusing to limit itself to any one thing.

Bettina Carpi really steals the scene as the craziest female of all, sprinting onto the stage to jump up and down, a little over-enthusiastically to the point of creepy, to give the audience her two cents on the topic.

And Carpi, together with Anderson, form the duet that got the most laughs of the evening as an archetypal happy couple, all broad smiles and perfect unison. During a heat of the moment, Carpi takes off her underwear until you realise that she has another pair on underneath. In a very funny frolicking sequence, the couple runs around as Carpi shreds more layers of her underwear while Anderson also takes off his many layers of boxer shorts. The movements have a Russian feel to it, with hops performed with bent knees and jumps with the knees pulled up. Like pornographic Russian dolls, if you will.

There are many other ‘sketches’ worthy of mention, such as one where the entire cast suggestively (but comically) strut their stuff to a Leonard Cohen cover, and an audience participation scene involving the dancers chasing each other around the auditorium, swearing and climbing over audience members, to Underworld’s Born Slippy.

Still may seem at best disorderly, or at worst a complete shambles, but that is clearly part of the fun. Charnock encourages the dancers to try anything, and to say yes to any questions or doubts they may have. At times, this leads to some scenes having seemingly non-existent choreography. But when the final product is this much fun, you really cannot complain.

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