Country Life's dance critic finds much to enjoy in Jérôme Bel’s exhilarating production.

“Dance is not something you sell to just one person. It belongs to humanity.” Transforming this belief into action, the French choreographer Jérôme Bel regularly creates dances that need no explanation to engage the viewers. As his 2001 piece The Show Must Go On proves, his imagination offers a rare vision of art’s inclusive nature and intrinsic humanity. For the recent restaging of this work, he added 15 performers, recruited throughout the UK, to the disabled and able-bodied members of the remarkable troupe Candoco, and guided them, and the audience, straight to the heart of dance.

A DJ sits below the stage apron, feeding a range of music into a CD player. The dancers respond to each selection. As they say in Canada, that’s it, that’s all. When the performers first appear, they stand stock still, watching us watch them, which gives us time to examine them one by one. Warming up, they boogy in place to “Let’s Dance” and then pepper the stage with energetic solos to “I Like to Move It.” As “Ballerina Girl” begins, the men turn on their heels and walk off, raising a gentle laugh and leaving the women to doodle dreamily through the ballet vocabulary.

the show must go on

Robert Eldridge, Katy Francis, Gary Clarke and Suzie Birchwood. Credit: Pedro Machado

Arms outspread like wings, the cast breaks into supportive pairs to the theme from Titanic. Wearing their own headphones, they clue us into their private musical preferences by calling out a few words. By the time they swing together through the rhythmic recurring patterns of the “Macareña,” we know them as individuals.

Though isolated from the performers by the traditional separation of “them” and “us,” the audience at Sadler’s Wells quickly understood that both groups are essentially the same. Occasionally facing an empty stage, we waited as they had for the next song and then responded ourselves, sometimes listening, sometimes singing along quietly as if we were home alone.

The longer we watched the performers move, the more distinctly we recognized the singular expressivity of each body. Without costumes, scenery, narrative or text, the dancers and their unique qualities emerged as the dance’s subject.

Candoco brings this exhilarating piece to the Nottingham Playhouse, 17 and 18 April,  www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk and to the Tramway, Glasgow, 22-23 May, www.tramway.org