Freeing the Spirit of Movement

Feature in Issue 7-4 | Winter 1995

Kevin Alderson describes his liberating experience at the Candoco International Summer School in August.

Candoco are one of Europe’s leading integrated dance companies, touring astonishing work that is deeply moving, provocative, humorous and highly accomplished. The sheer quality and versatility of their work is striking. Able-bodied contemporary dancers often impress, but to see a man hop off his wheelchair and seemingly vanish into the floor and then propel himself at speed with his arms around the space, is just as incredible.

Several months after seeing their inspirational show at the Dublin Theatre Festival, I attended the company’s first International Summer School, at Stoke Mandeville, spending a week in an integrated group exploring dance.

Dance and physical theatre often collude and flirt as artforms, and whilst many actors these days are required to dance, generally dance is held at arms length. I had no previous experience of an integrated environment having only ever been in able-bodied company. In this context, off I went, both excited and terrified, but eager to learn and discover new ways of working and integrating.

Being an apprehensive ‘Non-Dancer’ led me to avoid the performance and choreography options and I chose improvisation. Improvisation means many things to many people and plays a key role in physical theatre. The secrets of its success are difficult to pinpoint, and often its understanding proves to be elusive and bears unsatisfactory fruit. The course was a journey of discovery. No objectives were set and there was minimal input, though there was a clear structure with solid starting points each day, a series of building blocks from which to work and develop. The starting exercises were always simple (though not always easy): leading and following with a partner; taking or borrowing a move from someone else; using energy impulses to create sequences; using an internal dialogue to generate movement. The emphasis was always on listening and feeling, sensing, tuning in to another person’s movement, making it your own. Allowing the body to follow its impulses and intuition, going with it, developing it, generating movement and making it into dance, not working from an imposed technique base. The company concentrated on ways in which the performer’s awareness can be broadened, enabling them to explore pathways in, through and around each other’s movements and the dynamics of space. Sessions always finished with a free improvisation, giving us the crucible in which to work our alchemy.

It is difficult to describe just what happened. Improvisation is all about process and creativity and all I have are a mixture of impressions, vivid memories and snapshots. The technical mechanics of the course do not explain the rollercoaster of emotions that our improvisational journey took us on. It was often commented that something was being created that was greater than the sum of its parts. Of course openness, trust and energy were all essential components, but in the space of a couple of hours just how did I find myself being led by my head, around the space on all fours, by Jon in his wheelchair?

Freedom was the key. This may seem a contradiction for someone who feels constantly constrained and frustrated by their physical state or a rigid wheelchair, but they too dream of moving beyond the immediate and exploring their physical expression and voice. This is also about validity and overturning the accepted maxims about which movement is valued and which is dismissed. This is not just pertinent to dancers – we have each picked up a stock in trade vocabulary with techniques that have been woven in to our physicality. The process of the body expressing itself beyond its normal repertoire, opening up physically and emotionally, is a common route for the actor.

When ideas float around my head, I often imagine seeing myself moving about in ways usually beyond my practical capacity. But on the last day, in the closing free improvisations, I began to feel myself dance and move in a way that I had only ever dreamed of. That desire, yearning and will to move had been released – a spirit and energy reclaimed and rekindled. The body seems to move itself with a will of its own. To have experienced this, to have seen it in others and shared their freedom, will be my abiding memory. It was a truly liberating week.

This article in the magazine

Issue 7-4
p. 15