Candoco Unlimited is a varied and impressive offering from Britain’s foremost integrated dance company, set against the backdrop of the world’s largest celebration of disabled athleticism and physical achievement. Candoco Dance Company, after more than twenty years raising the profile of deaf and disabled dancers, covers new ground in commissioning the work of two disabled choreographers: Marc Brew, with his formal, technical Parallel Lines and Claire Cunningham, with the more theatrical 12.

Candoco Dance Company performing 12 © Rachel Cherry
Candoco Dance Company performing 12
© Rachel Cherry

In a further nod to the Paralympics and Olympics context, Candoco have united the three consecutive host nations and expanded their core seven-strong cast with five additional dancers from China and Brazil.

Brew’s work, Parallel Lines, uses the Olympics scenario as a launch pad but makes a quick departure into something altogether more abstract. The piece’s main premise is its set of movable ropes, lines that both separate and connect. Whilst their symbolism is questionable (the blurb declares that Brew ‘draws lines across the globe, connecting Olympic host cities’) they carve up the space in varying ways, proposing new choreographic situations and restrictions with which Brew can work and adding definition to his structures and shapes. The linearity seeps into the choreography, which is characterised by a congruence of lines and shapes intricately counterpointed.

At times the classic combination of solemn string music and unemotive, linear dance that dominates the piece feels old-hat, but Brew provides refreshment through the morphing set alongside minor shifts in tone, often dictated by Galasso’s score.

Candoco’s strength is its celebration of each dancer’s individuality, both for the abled and disabled company members. Parallel Lines highlights each dancer’s distinct character both through their ownership of Brew’s material and through his use of unison.

Parallel Lines generally displays continuity and logic so it is disappointing that it ends so indecisively. Lights and music fade out after the brief introduction of a new idea not developed to fruition, ending the piece rather anticlimactically.

At the other end of the spectrum is 12. Cunningham’s work seems unconcerned with logic and continuity, unfolding through a series of surreal and disconnected sketches. It is theatrical and representational and lacking in a lot of the conventionally good dancing of Parallel Lines. It works well opposite Brew’s vastly different work and highlights the company’s versatility and willingness to try work from any definition of contemporary dance.

Candoco also show a willingness to take risks with Cunningham, who is relatively new to dance, and for whom choreographing a group of dancers is a new experience. Marc Brew, on the other hand, trained as dancer before becoming disabled; he danced with Candoco for several years, and has his own company.

Whilst Brew’s work is at the very most informed on a physical level by his disability and that of his dancers, Cunningham makes it her subject matter, particularly focusing on her crutches. Here the crutches, a support for Cunningham in her everyday life, are represented as instruments of coercion. The crutches find manifestations as rifles, as a collar and leash, and as manipulative puppet strings before softening their image and reappearing as a stick for candy floss and a guitar.

Candoco Unlimited provides a well-balanced programme in which the weakness of each piece is the strength of the other. Brew provides the well-constructed dance whilst Cunningham’s 12 brims with original visuals and ideas.