Superhuman or Just Human?

This blog was first started in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands to usher in the Paralympic Games, but that first version got lost in the ether and since then I’ve sat down each day to reconstruct it but each day the imagery, the campaigns, the debates that are raging around these Games move forward at such a pace that the thought I started the night before seems obsolete.

The Channel 4 Superhuman campaign started us all off. Images of individuals achieving Olympic feats are extraordinary, whoever the athletes, why, therefore, the label ‘superhuman’ just for disabled athletes? Anyone watching Usain Bolt, Chris Hoy, Mo Farah, Ellie Simmons or David Weir would agree that what they all achieve is beyond the realms of your average physical accomplishment, but Ellie and David are separated, their stories cut together with the medical story of ‘how’ they came to be as they are, reiterating a sense of something wrong to be overcome rather physical ability to be celebrated in its own right.

We experience this often at Candoco, a desire to focus on the disability rather than the dancer, to pull us towards a medical understanding of the dancers’ journey rather than recognising that the dancers are fine, working and producing the bold and beautiful work you see on stage.

Having said all this – it’s not a straight forward journey for a disabled dancer to get to the stage. Training and employment opportunities are very limited, as they are across sport and most professions, but this is not because disabled people can’t dance or a disabled swimmer can’t swim, it’s the culture and resulting infrastructure in which we work that presumes they can’t and so up go the barriers, often unwittingly, seen and unseen.

So the debates that are continuing in the Games commentary and analysis, across the media, inside and outside of the disability sector, down the pub and in the work place are raising the game, allowing us to talk to a more understanding audience about the issues faced by disabled people. Perhaps the campaigns need to be dramatic and moving in order to achieve that? To get the public listening and to provide a context for us to talk about how the world may not be as straightforward as it seems on the screen. I wonder what the athletes feel about their branding? I would hope they have all participated willingly and can see an end game that will take us beyond these Games.

We talk often about how to represent Candoco – we’ve moved away from ‘integrated’ and ‘inclusive’ language to a simple statement – the company of disabled and non-disabled dancers – so what you see on stage is a dance company with a specific recruitment policy advocating for and working towards ensuring that more people are able to respond to that recruitment policy.

Interestingly our performance tomorrow at the Queen Elizabeth Hall is happening in Unlimited, a festival billed to include extraordinary new work by deaf and disabled artists and carrying the strap line ‘ The revelation starts here’. This has raised a number of challenges for us: we’re not sure what the revelation is? Given that we, and many others, have been producing and touring work for some time. It is also odd that in responding to the commissions we were encouraged to ‘raise the bar’, I’m not sure that Martin Creed or Anish Kapoor were asked to raise the bar with their contributions to the cultural programme? It’s what artists do – strive to make exciting new work. And this is the first time in a very long time we’ve been programmed in a disability festival in the UK as we have fought to be recognised as a ‘mainstream’ dance company. Given all this you might ask why were doing it? Because, like it or not, London 2012 is a game changer, it’s an opportunity to spotlight many things and we’d be fools not to get involved and to use our expertise to highlight what has been achieved, can be achieved and the need for continued cultural change.

Besides, we’re in great company. Some of the most prolific artists in the community are performing as part of the Unlimited Festival. David Toole (a former Candocan who joined the company in 1991) presents The Impending Storm on Friday evening, Bobby Baker and Mark Storer discuss their quest to create extraordinary work in unexpected contexts in a talk on Saturday afternoon and the inimitable Claire Cunningham performs her visually stunning Menage a Trois on Saturday evening.  And of course, we’re on tomorrow night, presenting Candoco Unlimited – an atmospheric evening of two new works with an expanded cast of 12 dancers.

But I think I’ve said enough, the work speaks to all this much better than I do – so come and see for yourself, join in the debate and let us know what you think here or on Facebook or Twitter.


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  1. Ursula D

    Totally agree. My daughter and I hate disabled athletes being referred to as brave. They are dedicated, probably stubborn and have the same determination to succeed as an able bodied athlete. Can we see beyond the wrapping and see the person please.