There was a day, almost 20 years ago, that changed my life: the day I stopped in the cold corridor of the old Laban building and spotted an audition notice for Candoco. Today is another significant day: my last day working for this remarkable company (although I certainly embrace the 'once a Candocan, always a Candocan' motto).
What attracted me most to the company then was that they were going to work with directors from Théâtre de Complicite, this suited me as I saw myself more as an actor than an dancer. The truth is that I had seen Candoco live but knew little about the company then. I know much more about Candoco now, to the point that 'they' became 'we', but I still learn new things in my role and find myself excited by familiar or new experiences.
The last 10 years have been particularly exciting, filled with much learning and other pleasures, leading Candoco as Artistic Director together with the brilliant Stine Nilsen. Stine left Candoco three months ago to direct the Coda Festival in Norway and I still think of her everyday; like Candoco she will be forever a part of my life. Together we commissioned, rehearsed and toured work by many choreographers we admired, nurturing their ideas while welcoming the effect they had in the company. We scouted for, chose, managed, directed and supported the development of many talented dancers, and when they left the company it was with a mixture of sadness and pride that we said goodbye. We represented Candoco in many ways and situations to the point that our identity was linked to the company, and to each other.
Stine and I always had several conversations going on at the same time and we were able to pick them up from where we had left them, even if days apart, or sometimes jump ahead with the understanding of something new without having to brief each other much. And although we never talked enough about our personal lives there were moments when we would be silent and look into each other's eyes and that would be enough, just seeing each other like most people could not, then again ready to talk about conversations with choreographers or plans to substitute an injured dancer or ideas to feed into an application. We have danced so many duets together throughout our life – even while at college – but this was the longest, most complex and rewarding one by far.
Because there was always something going on, never a dull moment...and even in the quiet moments we were already planning something (or sorting something out). And with the support and hard work of our committed and bright staff, in the office or on the road, we turned ideas into conversations, into action, into experiences.
So together we produced more than 20 pieces and had the pleasure of watching them again and again; or revised previous productions, often substituting dancers and learning more about Candoco's values when we did it; we took part in the official celebrations of two Olympic games, representing Britain; we visited many countries, sometimes to prestigious dance festivals, sometimes to places where contemporary dance is a novelty and disability is a taboo subject; we saw young people come to our youth classes, stay and grow, grow and move on; we saw Candoco become a regular company at Sadler's Wells, while finding ways to perform at Duckie, or at the Wellcome Collection; we toured open air festivals throughout the UK with short duets, more accessible to audiences new to dance; we supported associated artists with work, training and to pursue their artistic ambitions; we indulged in our annual Lab for artists, a brief but valuable refuge where artists can meet and exchange ideas with little constraints; with guidance from our Executive Directors we held tight through many financial difficulties and grant cuts, finding ways to do what we wanted in a more sustainable way... the list is endless, never a dull moment.
And there were many people around these many moments, for a start the Executive Directors, Lauren, Rebecca and Jo and all the staff throughout the years, true partners in this wondrous madness we kept creating. And our Board of Directors, supporting and questioning us in equal amounts. I'm lucky to have seen innovative choreographers create work and to be able to exchange ideas with them. I've been humbled, many times over, by the dancers' dedication and willingness to push themselves further, physically and creatively, watching them 'discover things' and create in performance was always one of my favourite pleasures. I was moved every time I saw Cando2, our Youth Company, rehearse, do class or perform. And I felt proud, for everyone involved, whenever an audience member came to speak to me after the show, charged with an energy they could hardly understand. And there were many moments like that...
I've made, and exchanged ideas with many friends in the sector, funders, associate artists and the many generous dancers we welcomed in our studio. Their support for Candoco helped us to keep going forward. And how exciting that now Candoco will continue to grow and develop, change and create under the leadership of Charlotte Darbyshire and Ben Wright. In the few days we spent together in recent weeks I could see how they are so right for the company and how they are eager for what will happen with their ideas. They are in for a treat, so is the company.
Finally, I'll be forever thankful to Celeste Dandeker-Arnold and Adam Benjamin for having started this great company and for its first dancers Sue, Kuldip, Lea, Jon, David, Helen, Charlotte... for pushing the company forward, setting the bar high in terms of rigour and ambition but also for establishing an environment of friendship and support. And I'm specially thankful to whoever put an audition sign up in the Laban corridor, back in 1997.