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How crutches became Claire's dance buddies.

Llewell yn Flores


SHE has always had weak bones because of congenital osteoporosis. Eventually they started to break and by 14, she started using crutches. That however, could not subdue Claire Cunningham's wish to do somet thing, to perform. She dreamt of singing and did. But, as they say, in life expect the unexpected. She had been performing on stage since 1999 as a classical singer. But wanting to do more as a performer, she sought to add more skills. She trained in acting and then became interested in aerial choreography, thinking that the arm strength she developed from using crutches would allow her to suspend herself in space. However, she remained diffident. Claire said it wasn't her big dream to dance growing up. "My dream was to sing, it hadn't occurred to me to dance." One thing led to another. Her aerial piece for a company led her to dance when an American choreographer hired her to do a dance piece she thought would be aerial. She was surprised to learn that the choreographer, who found how she uses her crutches very interestit ing, wanted her to dance on stage. Through the choreographer's enct couragement, her interest and conft fidence in dancing grew, and finally the door to stage dancing opened. She started dancing in 2005. People in Doha got a chance to see Claire's work during the just concluded Arts and Disability Festival at Katara held under the Qatar-UK 2013 progt gramme. She is one of the artistes to have their works featured in the two week festival that concluded on March 30. It showcased highly talented but physically challenged professional art tistes from the UK. The showcased piece, Three, is the work of Claire and Gail Sneddon. It is a fusion of dance and video animation, which, combined with the voice and sound effects presented a very stimulatit ing story, visually and emotionally. The piece stemmed from Claire's reflections on being on crutches for most of her life and her starting to see her connection with the crutches as a marriage - a long term partnership. Gail Sneddon has been Claire's chort reographic mentor since 2010 to whom Claire mentioned the idea of building an imaginary boyfriend from crutches. Gail was fascinated by the prospect of prest senting the mix of emotional states that brought about the idea of an imaginary boyfriend using video choreography and spatial design. And so began the work on producing Three. It is the story of a young woman rest signed to the idea that her lasting partnt nership could only be with her crutches instead of a man. The piece presented a picture of the many elements of a relt lationship - love, loyalty, dependence compassion, frustration, fear. It also brings the audience to a journey of emot tions and perceptions that could either lead a person to seek a human relation or create a defensive wall.

In the story, the crutches stood as an armour, preserving the woman and at the same time limiting her facility for human interaction.

Some of the thoughts Claire had regt garding her crutches were whether they are the reason she was not in a relationst ship. Perhaps, the crutches repel people from her. "Maybe people just see the crutches and they don't want to see any further," she said.

Working on the piece brought Claire to questioning these thoughts and how they came about. This eventually led to re-evaluation of her self-image. Perht haps, the crutches are not the reason people are not interested in her.

"There are lots of reasons that we all have for keeping people at a distance.

It's different with everybody; we all have our reasons as to whether (we think) we're attractive or not." The piece ended with the woman letting go of her crutches as her lifetime partner and acknowledging her need for and right to human touch.

Claire is a multi-disciplinary perft former and choreographer based in Glasgow. Her work includes the critict cally acclaimed solo show ME (Mobt bile/Evolution) - combining dance, text, aerial and visual art, which earned her a Herald Angel Award.

In 2011 Cunningham was awarded an Arts Admin Bursary, and through the Unlimited Commissions for the Cultural Olympiad created 12, a large-scale group work for Candoco Dance Company under the mentorship of Gail Sneddon.

Cunningham is also part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Auteur Developmt ment Programme.

Gail Sneddon originally trained in contemporary dance at the Laban Cent tre for Movement and Dance in London.

She studied many dance and different choreographic techniques. In 2000 she set up her own company Modusforum and began creating performance based installations which combined movemt ment, sound and spatial design.

This interest in creating multi-art forms works led her to pursue an MA in Scenography at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Some of her works include Paula, Lorraine, Shelly and Caroline (2010), a multi screened dance installation inspired by a research into physiological effects of trauma, and Darkness (2010), a live installation based on nyctophobia (abnormal fear of the dark).

Gail and Claire worked in collaborat tion with the National Theatre of Scotlt land to create Three, a large-scale multiart form, which has toured Britain and shown in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Date:Mar 30, 2013
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