Javier de Frutos - could there be any juicier name for a dancer? - has had to get used to a certain reputation going before him. "That gay guy who performs in the nude" is a hard one to shake off, no matter that he does many other things besides. And even after an hour in the company of this cheerful, baby-faced intellectual, reassuring in a woolly hat and talking nineteen to the dozen about his passion for Tennessee Williams - as well as 101 directing projects that do not involve wanton exposure of flesh - it's not hard to see why performers find the prospect of working with him scary.
That's scary as in disturbing, unsettling, levering up old stones to reveal hidden secret places. For the over-arching theme of all de Frutos's dance pieces to date has been vulnerability, damage and repression - the frayed underbelly of human experience that is mostly tucked away from view. Recently he made a slyly sardonic piece for Rambert with the dancers as weary has-beens in a Las Vegas chorus line. It made an entertaining, but ultimately tragic, comment on the shortness of a dancer's life.
CandoCo, by contrast, is a "can-do" dance company made up roughly 50/50 of able-bodied and disabled performers, some of them in wheelchairs, one of them a girl with one leg. And if you are sitting reading this and thinking, "Hmm, disabled sex and dance group therapy - isn't this a bit tasteless?", you can be sure that CandoCo got there before you. Confronting taboos is what this company is about, and 10 years down the line, there is not much left to flinch from.
Of course, the issue of sexuality and the disabled is a hot potato. The mistake is to imagine it's taboo only for the able. So when CandoCo recently reformed and commissioned de Frutos carte blanche to create one half of its first double bill - showing at the South Bank later this week as part of a national tour - it was a decision part brave, part reckless. But de Frutos felt trepidation too. He arrived with his own complexes about the kind of people he would find, doubting their openness to the psychological probing his work requires.
"At first I tried not to think about the wheelchairs," he says. "In a blunt way I thought, well, technically it just gives me more toys to play with. But it took me a long time to feel comfortable about digging into these people's stories. That was my hang-up, not theirs. The trouble is I no longer know what politically correct is. Humour is one way I use to approach things. But I'd listen to these people laughing and joking about themselves, not sure whether I could join in. Does the Jewish joke rule apply here, or not?"
It can't have helped that the group was initially resistant to the choreographer's way of working. He calls it "method dancing", in reference to the acting technique in which the performer is fed all kinds of cerebral information before inhabiting a role. "If a dancer's brain is equipped with enough information, somehow the body language will follow," he says. …