Left – Claire Cunningham. Photo – Hugo Glendinning
Give Me a Reason To Live by Claire Cunningham, at FOLA, is a work referencing a painting by sixteenth century Dutch artist Hieronymus (Jheronimus) Bosch after Cunningham was invited to be part of a the 500th anniversary of his death. Wanting to create a work without text and one which moves away from autobiography or humour, the Glaswegian dancer/choreographer has created a phenomenally articulate and eloquent performance.
Give Me a Reason to Live explores themes of judgment and the treatment of the disabled in society, in particular the current emergence of propaganda to the effect that society isn't able to afford the disabled, the immigrant, the poor, the ill, or the unemployed, as well as alluding to the inclusion of the disabled in Nazi Germany’s Final Solution.
Cunningham dances with her crutches, making wonderful shapes and movements as they become an extension of her body. At times the crutches act like a crucifix or hanging tree; the medieval associations are also made clear with stunning use of religious choral music from the time. Even if you didn’t know about the Bosch reference you’d easily pick up the medieval aesthetic of the work. Cunningham’s own voice in similar vein is a wonderful surprise towards the end of the show.
Although only 40 minutes long this is an insistent yet calm work, one which allows the audience to witness and appreciate the struggles and the strengths of the disabled body. The show involves an almost painful extensiveness, especially the segment where Cunningham is struggling to her feet; here the use of crutches and the process of getting up is performance in itself. You see clearly how exhausting the daily struggle to manage the smallest things is, but at the same time you’re able to appreciate the beauty of repetitive movement in its own right. There is no invitation to pity; Give Me a Reason to Live (the name comes from a theatre performance exercise) is an opportunity to empathise and share, and to learn. Unforgettable.
2016 Festival of Live Art
Give Me A Reason To Live
Venue: Arts House | North Melbourne Town Hall
Dates: 9 – 11 March 2016