CandoCo @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The innovative CandoCo Dance Company is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary with the premier of two new pieces, The Journey and In Praise of Folly, performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank at the start of a UK tour.

Founded in 1991 by Celeste Dandeker and Adam Benjamin, CandoCo was formed to create an environment in which disabled and non-disabled dancers could perform together. Since then they have worked with a wide number of choreographers and performed all around the world.

The first piece of the double bill, The Journey, is choreographed by Fin Walker, who has fashioned pieces for various companies including Richochet and Rambert Dance, as well as CanDoCo. The Journey uses a rhythmic score by Ben Park, as well as periods of silence, in which the dancers create jerking, ragged movement, with each dancer influencing the movement of the others.

CanDoCo remains an integrated company: one member of the current lineup is deaf and two members use wheelchairs, however far from proving limiting these factors actually increase the dancers’ potential for expression. In particular, Walker has choreographed James O’Shea, who lost his legs in 1998, to beautiful effect. O’Shea uses his wheelchair to create intricate patterns and fast paced turns and sweeps, as well as astounding the audiences with his strength and beauty as he uses his arms to throw his body around the stage.

Unfortunately, the music, which at first seems to compliment the dance movement eventually seems to truncate it and the piece begins to feel repetitious. The silent sequences however demonstrate the potential of the piece to better effect, with the sounds of the dancers breathing and feet slapping on the floor creating a natural rhythm.

Athina Vahla choreographs the second piece, entitled In Praise of Folly, inspired by the creation myths and exploring the struggle of man to make sense of his place in the world. Incorporating dialogue, music, sounds and silence, this piece is drastically different from the first.

James O’Shea, playing God, and Pedro Machado, playing Lucifer, discuss the construction of the world and the eventual conception of man. Lucifer asks what is the purpose of man? And God replies “to suffer.” What follows is a series of solos and duets in which man’s folly and ultimate suffering are portrayed to beautiful and often heart breaking effect.

Most memorably the spotlight singles out a dancer, blindfolded, struggling and falling, in a metal tunnel – one of the most poetic representations of human suffering I have ever seen on the stage.

As with The Journey, this piece is not perfect, the music is often too loud to clearly make out the dialogue between the two men, and the movement of props around the stage is often distracting.

Having said that, this piece has a real emotional kick to it and is often very funny. When God tells Lucifer he will now create woman, and Lucifer asks what woman’s purpose will be, God replies “you think man suffers, you haven’t seen anything yet.” I suspect we have yet to witness the best of what CandoCo can offer, but during moments like those this double-bill came close.

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