INTERVIEW: Candoco on access matters for festival performers

Posted on 14.06.2016

INTERVIEW: Candoco on access matters for festival performers

Candoco Dance Company, You and I Know by Arlene Phillips, Photography by Camilla Greenwell 2016

Candoco Dance Company is a leading contemporary dance company of disabled and non-disabled dancers, celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. They have been touring works to outdoor events and festivals for over ten years. We spoke to Stine Nilsen, their Artistic Co-Director, about how festival access has changed over the years, and their new duet with Arlene Phillips, You and I Know, touring UK festivals this summer.

Tell us a bit about the new duet and the events and festivals you’re taking it to. What’s it been like working with Arlene Phillips?

We were very lucky to get a commission from the Without Walls Consortium, to create a new outdoors duet. The duet is going to a range of festivals across the UK this summer; we started at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival, and our London premiere will be at the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival on 1 and 2 July. We will then continue touring to Cardiff, Bristol, Stockton and back in London later on in the summer.

Arlene Phillips was a joy to work with. She entered the studio with an amazing energy and passion, with clear plans for creating a love-story through dance and music that audiences would feel instantly invited into. Working with our dancers Laura Patay and Joel Brown, Arlene encouraged them to improvise to the music and contribute with their movement suggestions. Working together with Creative Associate Antonia Franceschi, Arlene then choreographed the duet over a short two-week time span.

Audiences are often new to our work, so attitudes and responses are still fresh, audiences are surprised at the quality of the work, and most often positively engaged by seeing works performed by a mix of disabled and non-disabled dancers

You have been touring work to outdoor events for a long time. How have attitudes and accessibility changed over the years?

We first created works for outdoors in 2006 and have most recently being touring two duets by Javier de Frutos very widely across the UK and abroad. We find that audiences are often new to our work (even though we have been going for a while) and so attitudes and responses are still fresh, audiences are surprised at the quality of the work, and most often positively engaged by seeing works performed by a mix of disabled and non-disabled dancers.

The practical impact of touring with performers that may have access needs has made venues and festivals more access aware. For audiences, I notice that the stewards are more aware of sight lines and safeguarding spaces for viewing the work from. In terms of signing and audio description, there are still only a few festivals that I have experienced to be doing this, Greenwich + Docklands International Festival being one of them.

What’s the best access you’ve experienced when performing at an outdoor event or festival?

Everywhere we have been so far, there has been a clear effort to make non-accessible areas more accessible, whether that is putting floor down to wheel over grass, providing transport over fields or filling holes in the ground to ensure a flat(ish) performance surface.

How is it different performing to the general public rather than an audience of ticket holders?

It is great to be closer to the audience outside, being able to see their reactions and engage with their immediate response to the work.

We often get people coming up to us after the show saying they have never seen anything like this before, and it is great to be able to reach people who may not usually come to the theatre.

Candoco Dance Company, You and I Know by Arlene Phillips, Photography by Camilla Greenwell 2016

Do you have any advice for other disabled artists performing in a festival setting?

We usually check and double check logistics, as they can have such an impact on the schedule and can make or break a good show.

Once the practical things are in order, we often go and see other works at the festivals, as it is a great way to see what is happening, network and get to know other artists’ work.

I would be interested to see festivals more actively engaging with all their performers/companies to consider access to their show

What is one change you wish every outdoor event would make?

I would be interested to see festivals more actively engaging with all their performers/companies to consider access to their show; to think about where/how it is best for audiences to see the work, how it is best to understand/hear music and text, see or feel the set etc. If we work more closely together at the early stages, I think we might discover some great practical ideas from everyone involved.

And one very practical wish from a performer’s perspective; festivals should make accessible toilets and dressing rooms near the performance area (often they are more than just a few minutes walk away which is not ideal for disabled performers in terms of maintaining energy for the show).

 

Tour Dates

29 June – Unity Festival Cardiff

01 – 02 July – Greenwich and Docklands International Festival

16 July – Bristol Harbour Festival

06 – 07 August – Stockton International Riverside Festival

27 August – Riverside Stage, National Theatre

06 September – Unlimited, Southbank Centre