The background sound of waves tells us we're at the seaside. A man in a wheelchair glides onto the stage and nervously chats up the audience as he fiddles with his electric guitar. Perhaps he is busking on the pier. He begins to strum and sing to a backing track and soon has the audience clapping along. 

Candoco Dance Company, <i>You and I Know</i> © Camilla Greenwell 2016
Candoco Dance Company, You and I Know
© Camilla Greenwell 2016

A woman appears, right at the edge of the stage, bopping happily along in her own little world. She’s in a short dress, shorts and army type boots. One of her arms ends at the elbow.

She dances closer. He notices, their eyes meet, they smile. The singing stops, the guitar goes away but the song continues. As the chorus says, "I don't know how to dance", a pas de deux unfolds. At first it’s delicate and joyful, with clever and interesting lifts, glides and turns, contrasting the smooth speed of the wheelchair with its solidly planted feet. As we hear waves and a new song starts, the couple become playful, with a delicious small-scale sequence that works with their hands and arms extending and entwining along the surface of a table where they sit side by side.

More waves, a new song, and the mood changes. The couple fall apart. She is angry, banging her one hand and two feet to create broken rhythms against his two hands together. She runs, he pursues, able to go much faster on his wheels than she can run. The anger cannot be sustained. They are closer than ever, expressed in a sequence of astonishing floor work, using the wheelchair and each other to create shapes and directions before flowing, unison glides and sweeps and a final, grand and beautiful lift turns into a slightly abrupt ending and warm applause.

This was a delightful and creative duet, presented free by Candoco Dance Company as part of the Southbank centre’s Unlimited festival of new works by disabled artists. Joel Brown and Laura Patey were both excellent. He smooth, athletic and strong and she slightly skittish, hesitant and teenage-anxious. 

Arlene Philips made choreography that was full of original ideas crafted around these particular performers. The work has a powerful sense of exploration within a basic, engaging human story. It was refreshing to see so much clever and fascinating movement in a short piece made by creatively using the opportunities offered by the dancers’ disabilities. A perfect example of people being “differently able”, extending the possibilities and creativity of their dance.

At the same time, it was easy to follow and fun. The toddler sitting next to me was as fascinated and entertained as I was. I was grateful and pleased to have seen this.