Lifestyle review: inclusive dance company breaks new ground

Candoco is a contemporary dance company that specialises in mixing disabled and able-bodied dancers. Candoco was founded in 1991 by Celeste Dandeker, a dancer who became disabled after breaking her neck. It has since earned a reputation as a pioneering dance troupe, commissioning new works from cutting-edge choreographers.

The company’s latest show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London, is a double bill featuring new works by Hofesh Shechter and Nigel Charnock. Investigative works can be disappointingly self-indulgent. As with any experimental company, past successes are no reliable indicator of the current show. Thankfully both works presented here are mesmerising.

The company is at its best when its work tackles issues of disability head on.

In his eclectic work Still, Charnock explores a variety of emotions through uplifting ensemble dances. But it is Shechter’s Perfect Human that stands out. His is an unsettling work that questions our quest for perfection.

Set to a score that includes an ominous voiceover asking what the perfect human is, the dancers move rhythmically about the stage. The piece conjures up a more sinister atmosphere when the cast don eerie white masks. This search for physical perfection is decidedly creepy.

This “can-do” company has reinvented the rules of contemporary dance. Some performers limp or are missing limbs. Candoco’s cast stretches the imagination of its choreographers, requiring works that match the performers’ capabilities.

In doing so, they have achieved an international standing by including disabled dancers and yet still having the same aspirations as any other professional company: engaging large audiences. Most notably, they came to worldwide attention when performing at the closing ceremony of last year’s Olympics in Beijing.

It may seem strange to point out that unlike previous casts, none of the dancers is a wheelchair user. But perhaps this demonstrates how far the company has advanced the notion of integrated dance, when it is so noticeable that a performer in wheelchair is absent.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London

Candoco performs at Stockton Arts Centre on 5 May.

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