‘I used to joke,’ says Stine Nilsen, looking back on her quarter-century in London, ‘that I would go back to Norway and become culture minister or something. No, it wasn’t serious! But seriously, I felt that dance was important beyond the studio or the stage. That it was part of the wider world.’
Such an attitude will come as no surprise to those who know Nilsen from her decade as co-director of Candoco, the UK’s pioneering company of disabled and non-disabled dancers. Yet when Nilsen arrived in London from Norway in 1993, her sights were set on simply on being a dancer. ‘There was really only one training course in Norway that was specifically focused on becoming a contemporary dancer, at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts – and I didn’t get in! There were other courses in teacher training, but at the time my one thought was: I’m going to be a dancer.’
Can dance at Candoco
So Nilsen went to study at Laban in London, then worked as a freelance dancer before joining Candoco in 2000, where her Laban classmate Pedro Machado was already performing. Her time as a Candoco company dancer was formative. ‘It really expanded my vision. I was working with international choreographers, I was teaching. But fundamentally, underneath it all there was this constant questioning about dance, what it was and what it could be.’ When company director and co-founder Celeste Dandeker left in 2007, Machado and Nilsen put in a joint application, and became co-directors until 2017.
‘There was lots of learning on the job!’ remembers Nilsen. ‘Commissioning. Running the company. And always questioning. How do we reach the audiences we want to? How do we portray the company? Are we role models? For who? Our shared directorship was really positive for me because we could be in constant dialogue about these issues.’