Counteracts at Bristol Old Vic

Founded 25 years ago, Candoco Dance Company integrates disabled and non-disabled people and currently has a line-up of seven dancers who, in Counteracts, challenge the way we perceive others and encourage us to search beneath the surface, discarding the preconceptions we have been socially conditioned to grab at.

For one night only, this troupe of dancers took to the stage of Bristol Old Vic’s main theatre to perform a double bill, the two halves of which are strikingly different to each other. Commissioning classically trained dancer, Alexander Whitley, and visual artist, Hetain Patel, Candoco help us to experience the real people we see before us and make us realise that, of course, we need to see every human as an individual, with unique histories, lives and experiences. It’s an obvious premise but not one that is always a well-adhered to.

Whitley’s contemporary ‘Beheld’ is 30 minutes of joy and breathtaking physicality, each of the dancers displaying strength and versatility. Adam Gain and Joel Brown’s dance-off is a duel that has me sitting mouth agape at the incredible power in both disabled Brown, who is paralysed from mid vertebrae down and thus in a wheelchair, and non-disabled Gain. It really makes you feel that, with a few adaptations, anything is possible. You just have to find a different angle. And I hope that the bewitching image of Tanja Erhart, silhouetted in profile against a huge piece of Lycra, will stay in my mind forever because every time it appears there, I will smile pure happiness at her beautiful body shape. Ah, that Lycra. I’m not even sure I can put into words what the team does with it but they constantly reinvent it to explore the space around them. At one point the dancers press various parts of their bodies into it, from behind, Jackie Shemesh’s Lighting Design capturing something quite rare and astonishing.

Patel’s ‘Let’s Talk about Dis’ is something else entirely. His first foray into the world of dance, Patel has chatted extensively to the dancers to produce a mostly spoken piece that delves into their personalities. The end product is a highly comical commentary about how we view not only disability but all that we may perceive as ‘other’. In one sketch with Laura Patay, Toke Broni Strandby and Andrew Graham, Patay tells us in her native French about her experiences as a disabled person and it’s Broni Standby’s job to translate it into in English and Graham then needs to translate that into British Sign Language. Except none of them really does what they’re expected to, resulting in a hilarious exchange with good comic timing. Megan Armishaw’s confession about how she feels a little overlooked because of her non-disability is also a comedy highlight. Patel has managed to make this an intimate piece of work that displays so well the individuality of each dancer, whilst highlighting that Candoco is very much a nurturing community.

I took my 9 year old daughter to see Counteracts*. And I’m so, so pleased that I did because, as Adam Gain points out, we must continue to have this conversation until this conversation is no longer needed. If we can show the kids that there is much more to everyone than meets the eye, maybe we can finally draw that curtain.



* Sexuality and masturbation is discussed. If you’d rather your child didn’t hear about those things, maybe go without them.

You can find out more about Candoco on their website

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