Candoco’s Counter Acts by Bella Wheeler

Guest Review of Candoco's Counter Acts, Brighton Dome February 17 2017

In an exciting double bill that claimed to challenge 'hidden prejudices and misplaced political correctness with seductive charm' Candoco's Counter Acts introduced us firstly to Alexander Whitley's mesmerising piece Beheld. Aided by Nils Frahm's brilliantly atmospheric score, seven disabled and non-disabled dancers used various props and energetic choreography to explore themes of freedom and constraint.

What appeared initially as a tangled and restrictive web of rope was gradually transformed into an object of playful exploration through the dancer's engagement with it, creating a metaphor for the ways in which collaboration and creativity can alter objects, material and 'things'. In other moments, non-disabled dancers appeared to mirror disabled dancers highlighting the contrasts and possibilities of what different bodies are able to do. In this context a dancer's wheelchair became a medium through which new movements and modes of expression could be conveyed; not better or worse, just different.

A large fabric wall appeared, porous and dotted with dancing lights, the small flickers creating a bridge between previously binary worlds. Abandoning her crutches, the dancer tentatively explored the wall, touching the lights and contorting her body until the wall fell down completely. If I had been interpreting the dance in a formulaic way, seeing what I believed the choreographer wanted me to see in themes of constraint and the overcoming of barriers, the second part of the bill and Hetain Patel's spoken word piece Let's Talk About Dis certainly changed all that.

Scripted through a process that drew upon the experiences of Candoco dancers, this proved brilliantly comedic in its self-conscious mocking of the earnest accounts of living as disabled that audiences have arguably come to expect. Discussions of language barriers, communication across continents and physical differences were interspersed with the dilemmas of missing limbs, teenage sex and how to use vibrators. In knowingly avoiding talking about 'the thing that they were expected to talk about' Candoco created a witty and subversive commentary that did indeed challenge politically correct assumptions about the right and wrong ways to address disability.

Not only did Counter Acts offer an arresting and aesthetically pleasing experience, but it also offered a thought provoking and cerebral event that pushed boundaries surrounding current binary notions of ability, disability and inclusion.

Image. Let’s Talk About Dis by Hetain Patel. Photographer: Hugo Glendinning 2014

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