CandoCo Dance Company are making a bold challenge to the able- bodied monopoly on dance Peter Cook and Dudley Moore used to do a sketch in which a one-legged man auditions for the role of Tarzan and is surprised by the director's insistence that two lower limbs are an absolute minimum requirement. Like the Dudley Moore character, CandoCo Dance Company exist to challenge such assumptions. Several of the performers are in wheelchairs and, until very recently, their star dancer was a man with no legs at all.

CandoCo was founded in 1991 by Adam Benjamin, a visual artist and Tai- Chi teacher, and Celeste Dandeker, a former London Contemporary Dancer left wheelchair bound after a horrific accident on stage. Choreographers like Siobhan Davies, Jodi Falk, Laurie Booth and Emilyn Claid made work for the group. Some of the work has been a tad drippy and anodyne but Claid's pieces dared to address the queasy question of disabled sex (disabled people, like one's parents and Cliff Richard, are not supposed to have sex). Claid's Back to Front and Across the Heart both received good reviews from critics who found some of CandoCo's other work a little bland. Unfortunately, Back to Front is no longer in the repertoire, as it required the unique hand-walking virtuosity of David Toole, the company's legless star who left last year when the demands of standing on one hand began to take its toll.

At its mildest, disquiet about Candoco tentatively dares to suggest that funding for such work would be better drawn from the education budget; although obviously worthwhile, its work could never be judged on equal terms with able-bodied performance. At its most vociferous, criticism of CandoCo argues that it produces well-intentioned tedium. This culminated in a memorable assault by Alastair Macaulay in the Financial Times: "As sociology, as therapy, as education, it could hardly be more enlightened. As serious aesthetic experience, however, it is a non-starter... What CandoCo offers is victim art.".

Happily for CandoCo, not everyone feels this way: despite high-class competition from Adventures in Motion Pictures and previous winner Siobhan Davies, CandoCo won this year's pounds 50,000 Prudential Award for dance.

Emilyn Claid's `Across Your Heart' is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 on 5 and 6 Dec at 7.45pm

Comments