Like most dance companies, CandoCo focuses on style and artistry in its performances: unlike most others, many of its dancers are in wheelchairs. Celeste Dandeker, the artistic director of CandoCo since it started, says: "Some of the performers were professional dancers before becoming wheelchair users, so they bring all that skill with them and find ways of moving that are very honest; others began their [dancing] career as wheelchair users. But regardless of their physical differences, they are all very passionate and articulate about the way they work."
CandoCo's latest work is The Human Suite, choreographed by the New York-based Stephen Petronio: "With this performance I delved into human gestures; some of the dancers could dance on their feet, some couldn't, but they all have human information and I focused on that rather than on their physical ability. I used music from Tartini's Sonata in A minor. The songs are only 15 minutes long and they combine the beautiful simplicity of humanity with complex baroque sounds. I used music from Johnny Cash because a lot of his songs are based on remembrance. I wanted the dancers to generate movement based on memory."
You would imagine that working with mixed-ability dancers would present some difficult challenges, but Petronio is full of praise. "Those guys are great. The only obstacles we had were our expectations of one another and what they expected from me, but these were removed pretty quickly. The only dispute we had was whether the disabled dancers would be in their chairs. I wanted chairs to be integrated into the performance. I won. Some dancers have legs to locomote and some have wheels. Dancers on wheels can use spaces in such a different and exciting way.
"I usually get things going by doing some improvisation to get ideas flowing, but with this group we began making stuff immediately. It was like we were made for each other. The first time I was asked to work with disabled dancers, I was very reluctant - I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be the most incredible experience I've ever had."
Dandeker is just as enthusiastic about her experiences. "With The Human Suite it was the first time we worked with a deaf person. Being robbed of one of the senses makes the others more in tune. Stephen even learned some sign language and so did the other dancers. A lot more companies are opening up to dancers with disabilities. There is much more experimentation out there and that's the way it should be. Education is as important as performance in CandoCo. Our workshops are accessible to everybody. Until recently people with disabilities weren't even given access to the arts." CandoCo and other integrated dance companies will always be pushing at those boundaries, affecting positive change for people with disabilities.
'The Human Suite', Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 (020-7960 4242) 3 & 4 MarchReuse content