ould you like to join in rather than just watch?" CandoCo's founder, Celeste Dandeker, asks me. We are planning my visit to this highly acclaimed dance company's annual summer school. "I can't," I reply, blushing. "Two left feet and no co-ordination."
Dandeker lets this pass with nothing more than a benign smile. I only realise why when, a few days later, I find myself at CandoCo's Norman Foster-designed building in north London, observing the workshop participants who have gathered from around the globe. Half are disabled: several are wheelchair users, three have cerebral palsy, one is an amputee and one is profoundly deaf. Faced by their determination to dance, my two left feet suddenly seemed less an encumbrance than a blessing.
This mix of able-bodied and disabled mirrors CandoCo itself. Dandeker, 41, was on-stage with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre in the Seventies when she had a fall that would leave her wheelchair- bound. For several years, she believed her performing days were over. Then she met Adam Benjamin, a young dancer and teacher. Together, in 1991, they founded CandoCo, the country's first "integrated" dance company - which now comprises three wheelchair users and five able- bodied members.
The enthusiastic response they met with took them by surprise. Choreographers, including Siobhan Davies and the Theatre de Complicite, have collaborated with CandoCo to create works that have changed attitudes to disability among audiences in the UK, America and Australia. In October, the company are off to Japan.
Equally important has been CandoCo's education programme, with workshops and residencies around the country. "All my life," says Angela Smith, who has cerebral palsy, "I had been told the way I moved was odd. People stared at me. After going to a CandoCo workshop I started to believe that my movements could be beautiful, that I could dance."
CandoCo can be contacted at the Aspire National Training Centre, Wood Lane, Stanmore, Middx HA7 4LP, telephone 0171-704 6845
Breaking down barriers
Key to the education work is helping able-bodied participants to overcome their inhibitions about disability. Classes often start with simple exercises in exploring movement and taking each others' weight, as a prelude to designing more intricate pieces which are shared with the rest of the summer school at the end of the day. When they started running workshops, Dandeker and Benjamin had no blueprint from which to work. They just followed their instincts and developed a unique approach - which is today copied by groups around the world.
Sense the music
Shisato Minaninura (eyes closed in picture) travelled from Tokyo to take part in the CandoCo summer school. She has very little hearing but, like deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie, senses the music with the rest of her body. Several of the able-bodied participants in the summer school are dance teachers who want to learn about CandoCo's methods so that they can welcome people with disabilities into their own classes. Other participants are dance students with ambitions to choreograph who are curious about CandoCo's work.
Leader in the field
CandoCo's international reputation attracted France Geoffrey (26, centre of the group) to travel to the summer school from Montreal. Geoffrey sustained a spinal cord injury just before starting a dance degree, but, after her rehabilitation, took up her place as a wheelchair user. She has previously collaborated with one of the CandoCo dancers, Kuldip Singh-Barmi, for a TV film and …