Candoco, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London <br/>Flashdance, Shaftesbury Theatre, London

The aesthetics of prosthetics &ndash; or, the peculiar demands of the disabled pas-de-deux
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The Independent Culture

Don't stare. That was the rule dinned into all of us as children on meeting a disabled person.

But the dance company Candoco invites audiences to stare, and hard.

Candoco (that's "can do" as opposed to "can't") puts physically disabled dancers on stage alongside regular ones, challenging us to deny that someone with cerebral palsy, or a prosthetic limb, is capable of creating beauty or sustaining the gaze.

In terms of choreography, Candoco aims high, commissioning work from prominent mainstream dance-makers. Some of these have taken the line of seeming to ignore the physical inequalities. Others have manipulated the differences to deliberately discomfiting effect. The three works in Candoco's latest touring programme don't really do either, with the unfortunate result that you begin to question the quality of the dancers whose parts are in full working order.

The Hangman, by Sarah Michelson, is baffling whichever way you look at it – an assault on the senses with its blinding lights, martial moves and senseless costume changes, but, even more a test of patience. A quick Google turns up that the Hanged Man tarot card "is not a victim – he has gone to his fate happily and smiles out at us". But it's no use knowing this after the event. I swear I've never been so bored by 40 minutes of dance. I might even have crept home early, had it not been for the hope of seeing more of Annie Hanauer, a dancer so lithe and radiant that the fact that she has a piece of brown plastic in place of a right forearm scarcely registers.

Emanuel Gat's In Translation provides fleeting pleasure with its busy, darting movement, but it was unmemorable save for a beautifully considered solo for Victoria Malin, a tall, elegant dancer suffering what seemed to be hyper-extendible joints. Unfortunately, it's human nature to try to identify each disability as you watch.

So it was a relief when Wendy Houstoun's Imperfect Storm made you forget all that and enjoy. From the premise of acting out and speaking all the stage directions from Shakespeare's Tempest (a task that proves chaotic) emerges a minor comedy gem.

Perfect bodies and acres of flesh are a given in Flashdance, a staging of the 1983 musical film about a female welder at a steelworks who loves to dance. So far, so hoary, and to the film's five songs, which include the disco hit "Maniac!", the stage show adds 15 new ones, plus a plot revision so thorough that Flashdance emerges as what they call in the biz an old-fashioned Broadway book-musical, complete with corny emotional arc, complete subplots and storming set-pieces. It's now a tight little ship.

What Flashdance doesn't do is subtlety, and the noise-level starts out blasting and goes on up. Arlene Phillips's choreography is generous in quantity and gratuitously saucy throughout, all thrusting bums, thigh-stroking and Page Three smirks – all the old Hot Gossip tricks, in fact.

What goes slightly haywire is the chronology, as the main body of the show channels 1980s porno-lite and between-scene segments are 21st-century locking and popping. But who cares when the performers are hotter than welding guns? The energy levels leave you gasping.

Candoco: Poole Lighthouse (0844-406 8666) 26 & 27 Oct; and touring. 'Flashdance': Shaftesbury Theatre (0207-379 5399) booking to 26 Feb 2011

Next Week:

As Kim Brandstrup hitches his new ballet to the coat-tails of a Frederick Ashton classic, Jenny Gilbert wonders whether that's allowed

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