Left – Claire Cunningham. Photo – Hugo Glendinning
Claire Cunningham’s Give Me a Reason to Live is an extraordinary performance piece to witness. Cunningham is an uncommon performer who uses her physical disability to create a completely different understanding of how to use the body in dance performance. And what’s more extraordinary is the dialogue she initiates, in utter silence and stillness, between audience and performer.
Running for a short forty minutes and comprising what amounts to three movements, Cunningham’s work proceeds slowly with a quiet tension. A single shaft of light cuts a slice across her back, which is turned to us as she stands in the upstage left corner. She follows that shaft of light backwards, and slowly her crutches come out of the shadows into the light. It’s then we begin to awaken to her own particular body and movement language, as she emerges ever slowly from the corner.
As she makes her way across the floor, she never faces us. The first time we see her face not in profile, she is folded over her crutches, her upper torso and head hanging. She is turning away from a connection with her audience, she avoids revealing herself fully. This makes the impact of her forthcoming reveal even more important and raw, almost defiant. Once she does face us, stripping down to pale undergarments, slowly raising her head to look at us eye to eye, she demands our respect and our empathy.
Her brow is somewhat furrowed, her jaw tight – she is barely allowing herself to breathe. A subtle transformation takes place within her and she seems to have found an inner strength. She slowly begins to breathe, nervously, deeper and deeper, her body vibrating with nerves and the newfound energy.
In the final movement, she unleashes an angelic voice as she raises herself above the ground, supported by her extended crutches and the wall behind her. She is crucified, mounted like a moth on a pin, white and fluttering, unable to escape, singing its last dying song. She sings Bach’s Den Tod: No one could defeat death among all humanity, this was all because of our sins, no innocence was to be found. Therefore death came so soon and took power over us, held us captive in his kingdom. Hallelujah!
Cunningham reminds us that each human being possesses strengths that make up for our weaknesses, and her work asks for empathy, not pity. She moves out of the dark recesses into full light, surrendering her body to judgement and triumphing. She holds us accountable for our thoughts, preconceptions and actions as she holds us in her steady, strong grasp.
2016 Perth International Arts Festival
Give Me A Reason To Live
Venue: PICA | Perth Cultural Centre, Perth
Dates: 2 – 5 Mar 2016
Tickets: $25 – $36