Cuckoo, Sadler’s Wells, stage review: ‘Wrapped in silk but no clear centre’

Candoco Dance Company. Photograph: Camilla Greenwell

The Candoco Dance Company returns to Sadler’s Wells, staging two radically different pieces of work. Despite their wonderful ethos, thematic issues plague the evening.

Formed in 1991, the company’s groundbreaking inception and collaboration with disabled and non-disabled dancers has been inspirational. In an industry still obsessed with classical ideas of beauty and youth, this is refreshing.

We launch first into Set and Reset/Reset, a reworking of Trisha Brown Dance Company’s piece Set and Reset. The dancers frolic in light chiffon colours of pale greens and blues, looking like butterflies escaping their silken cocoons. Celeste Dandeker-Arnold’s beautiful creations are transparent enough to see the contours of the dancers’ bodies writhing under the thin fabric. Laurie Anderson’s rhythmical robot audio underscores this piece, repeating the phrase “long time no see”.

Despite breathing fresh life into the famous work, the piece has very little build. Repeated background audio and dawdling cello coupled with random almost casual routines means there is not much at stake. Dancers in wheelchairs and crutches swing and fly to and fro.

The second act is an almost antithesis to the first. Jeanine Durning’s Last Shelter is a post-modern experience, filled with microphone-stream-of-conciseness-monologues and a feeling of improvisation. Under hospital-style strip lights, the dancers, now in relaxed sweats, move tables and chairs around in a piece as odd as it is surreal. Everyone gets a crack at some mic work, but some performers are more gifted than others.

It’s the almost emotionless choreography of this piece that pickles the mind. The blank faces and robot background music flow into more plonking on the piano. But feeling never follows. Fortunately, enigmatic solo work keeps this piece feeling fresh, especially that of Ihsaan de Banya and Joel Brown.

Despite boasting talented dancers, the pieces sit uncomfortably together. The first feels like it is going nowhere, while the second goes everywhere at once. The sets and costumes are stripped back as you would expect, but so is the emotion. What is left seems hollow, wrapped in silk layers but without a clear centre. I commend the company for everything they stand for, and their important position in the dance world, even if this recent offering fails to dazzle.

Cuckoo by Candoco Dance Company can be viewed online here.