Performing arts and PE students dash through an exhilarating workshop with CandoCo Dance Company. "Stretch one inch more," urges workshop leader Sue Smith. "Use your muscles."
Dance club members at Sidney Russell School, Dagenham and wheelchair users from the local St George's Centre obey. "Use the movement of the chair between actions." Flicks, lunges, robotic twists and head circling follow. Designed to meet curriculum requirements, this four-day residency (available on video) is part of an integrated project subsidised by London Arts Board, coordinated through East London Dance.
"While students with disability are integrated into mainstream schools in Havering," says education officer Debbie Thomas, "for many, working with disabled people is a new experience. Through making contact, first with hands, getting close to the chair, finding ways of dancing together, barriers break down rapidly."
The session is an exercise in adventurous use of the floor. Wheelchairs and feet glide over the space with random stops and starts. One student, Neil, chooses to work out of his chair, hanging against the wall bars. "If you let go I'd fall over," says Sue, balancing on the arms of co-teacher dancer Jon French's wheelchair, leaning against his head, upending his chair to take his weight.
Groups work as a team towards a final, lyrical sharing in which dancers swing a chair around.
CandoCo's work produces many spin-offs. With themes of trust, the disabled person as leader and follower, sessions are linked to the company's tour of its high-velocity "Across Your Heart".
East London Dance will expand the work into a Community Dance Platform. CandoCo's links with Coventry's Hereward College and Bretton Hall have resulted in students with disability enrolling on its dance degree. Responding to educational demands, the company has embarked on a world tour. "We're a dance company who happen to have disabled performers," says co-artistic director Adam Benjamin.
CandoCo: 0171 704 6845; Paul Hamlyn-funded open, integrated workshops for dancersteachers: Wimbledon Mar 23, Croydon June 6, Essex June 7, Greenwich June 21, Dec 4 QEH. Summer school: Aug 4-11: East London Dance: 0181 471 1073