Review: Candoco Dance Company

MILO YIANNOPOULOS: ‘In short, they’re absolutely fucking brilliant, prosthetics or no prosthetics.’

Thursday 29th April, The Junction. £6-12.

I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by Candoco. But I think that’s understandable: you too might have imagined that a dance troupe with a number of seriously disabled dancers would be mildly uncomfortable to watch. That there would be admiring but awkward chatter in the interval, right-on cooing from the stalls and a whiff of patronisation. That the dancing would be so-so, amateurish at best, but that there would be rapturous applause anyway because – well, they’re so brave, aren’t they? You too might have wondered: are you supposed to feel pity? Guilt? Shame? Discomfort? And is it ever OK to laugh?

And then there’s the fact that Candoco is a contemporary dance company, suggesting an odd conflation of pretentious, inaccessible Art-with-a-capital-A with a “diverse” mission statement.

Well, let’s put aside the question of disability right away, because I think Candoco would want me to. In short, they’re absolutely fucking brilliant, prosthetics or no prosthetics. And while last night’s final number, a haunting meditation on powerlessness, could be read as a triumphant battle-cry (or, alternatively, a hymn to quiet strength in the face of discrimination), so irrelevant were the dancers’ disabilities in the main that it took me a while even to notice them.

The first half of Renditions, a triple bill of new works, lasted 35 minutes – a single piece, elegant and muscular, with the most classically attractive choreography of the evening. It was called “The Hangman,” but if a single-word summary of it were possible I’d go for “exuberant.” Chris Owen was breathtakingly good – especially when he unexpectedly began to hand out Fry’s Turkish Delight to the front row (I did warn you it was contemporary dance).

“In translation”, which opened the second half, was more challenging, and not being an expert in this idiom I’m guessing a lot of it played with conventions I’m not best placed to comment on. From my point of view, it went on a bit. I sensed the dancers were less comfortable with this one. There was more fidgeting in the stalls too, but that might have been embarrassment from not knowing when or how to clap the previous number.

The most experimental piece, “Imperfect Storm”, was saved to the end. While eminently mockable – it reminded me of that brilliant French & Saunders with the wooden chairs and lots of grunting – it was, in fact, wonderful; a surrealist fusion of snaking lights, tutus, clothes rails, eerie repeated dialogue, stand-up comedy and a ravishing extended solo.

It’s incredible what the dancers in Candoco can do with their bodies. By any standard, they are simply awesome. They’re also funny, partly because they don’t allow their show to be hijacked by worthy commentary: they just get on with the job of staging elaborate, beautiful, moving shows that leave you wanting more.

To say that Candoco overturned my expectations would be an enormous understatement. They were a privilege to watch.