Claire Cunningham performed two physical dance, theatre pieces Evolution and Mobile.
Seeing the work of Claire Cunningham was fantastic and my biggest major highlight of the entire festival. Claire's work was featured on Friday 5 Sept as part of Evolution and Sat 6 Sept as part of the Hot House at the Furnace. On both these occasions I received audio description and it was useful and appropriate and added a simple layer of description to the beautiful and graceful dance aerial crutch based performances.
Claire is a striking performer with an incredible stage presence. Her work brings Disability Arts into a new more powerful focus for today. No wonder she has already won awards!
Both pieces of work were in the atmospheric eerie furnace space. Evolution began with Claire lying on the floor, moving gracefully and slowly with the crutches surrounded by a strange light filling the space.
She moves to standing and including the crutches with the dance and her movement, balancing them on her arms and legs. Claire takes us through a series of episodes, memories and personal stories of her relationship with having to wear callipers and then crutches. The stories are short, poignant, mesmerising, funny at times but always strong. The pace of the movement and fluency of the movement gain momentum. Claire leaps entwines herself in the crutches, using them on her arms and legs to create various shapes and forms, sculptural spherical, angular. The choice of music lent atmosphere and mood. Claire’s stories are spoken in a straightforward, humane but factual tone. She has a smooth voice that blends in as part of the integral piece.
The Saturday performance of the newly DaDaFest commissioned piece was just as spectacular. In a way both pieces could have been performed together as they had similar mood and energy. This time we found out more about Claire’s relationship to the many crutches she has.
The piece starts, crutches scattered on the stage, different types of crutches, different sizes. Claire moves around the space picking up a crutch a time and telling a little anecdote about where the crutch came from, one was very expensive £500 but it’s 2cm short, one the crutches themselves are metallic that cut into Claire’s arms. She reflects on walking over different surfaces, having to look where you going not being able to look up especially if walking over cobble stones, where one false move means a fall. (I could kind of relate to this from a visual impairment perspective, I’m constantly having to look down particularly in routes I don’t know when surfaces are uneven and especially in the rain.)
As she picks up the crutches, Claire gradually builds a sculptural spiral mobile hanging in the air, each crutch attached at different points, creating a moving sculpture. The music, again wonderful, but, allowing space for silence. Claire mounts the gently swinging structure and performs a series of aerial movements. It feels celebratory, accepting, challenging.
I’ve always been interested in the way disabled performers explore using their access tools creatively. I’m sure we will see a lot more from Claire Cunningham and I think she will succeed in both the Disability and mainstream dance circuit.
I’ve always loved the work of Alain Patel and C Dela B, and I couldn’t help thinking that Claire's work would fit in with perfectly with this highly respected physical theatre and dance company. So I hope they get to see her work, look out for her work. Brilliant.
About the diva Claire Cunningham, her photos say it all. What I didn’t expect was the childlike retrospective quality, meadows butterflies and beauty her movements and constructions meant to me. As she talked, she flew to beautiful construction meadow music , transformation of shapes and aerial balances entranced. There are tension lines, like guy ropes that she defines and then defies. She is graceful and strong as she creates another realm.
I filmed Claire through the barrier (the only side view I could get close enough) to create a side dimension of her performance between two lights ,a Celtic sprite in a secret aerial ballet casting spells between glow orbs. I ended up with vertical animated lines of movement above which she flies. Lyrical, Celtic and fey, Zen aerial ballet, sculptural, graceful and bewitching. Spell binding performance.