5 Questions for Claire Cunningham

Claire Cunningham (photo: Sven Hagolani)

Claire Cunningham is a multi-disciplinary performer and choreographer based in Glasgow. Her unique performance style - which  combines dynamic and imaginative use of her crutches, with vocal, aerial and acting skills - has made her a much-sought after performer both in the UK and internationally.

Ménage à Trois, a collaboration with Gail Sneddon and National of Theatre Scotland, is currently on tour across the UK.

How did you begin dancing?

I had worked as a singer and arts administrator with music-theatre company Limelight (formerly known as Sounds of Progress) for six years, and felt I wasn’t  managing to find a way to work purely as a performer. I realised I needed more skills than just singing so made an effort to undertake some acting training, then aerial (trapeze, ropes,etc) training. The latter  was because I had begun to realise I had a lot of upper body strength  from using my crutches and began to think how could I utilise this,  rather than just see it as a by-product of my impairment.

I got a job with Blue Eyed Soul Dance Company in England to perform in an aerial work they were making, and there met US choreographer Jess Curtis. It was Jess that really opened my eyes to working in dance and got me really fascinated by the possibilities of dancing with the crutches.

I then applied for and received Scottish Arts Council funding in 2005 which allowed me to take time to investigate my potential for movement and train with Bill Shannon. The outcome of my studies was my first  piece: Evolution - which charts my journey into dance.

Where’s your creative place? Either your workspace, or another place that sparks your imagination.

My favourite place to work is The Work Room – the artist-led dance studio based in the Tramway.  I love that room. I feel very calm working in there.  I think one of  the main reasons is because its totally private - that matters a lot to  me.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

'whit’s fir ye’ll no’ go by ye' – my gran.

I've learned a lot from the many different mentors I’ve had – Kally  Lloyd-Jones, Jess Curtis, Gail Sneddon, but I don’t particularly remember specific advice. I absorb information from watching them or  being taught by them. I guess the most vital thing that I’ve learned is that you have to make what you make for yourself first and foremost. If you make work with a view to how people will view it, you compromise the integrity of the work entirely and it will not represent you at all.

Who is your “one to watch” for the future or someone overlooked from the past that you feel should be better known?

Gail Sneddon – my collaborator in making Ménage à Trois – an extraordinary artist that we are fortunate to have back in Scotland. Her  ideas tend to be very large scale and therefore I believe people have been reluctant to fund them but hopefully after seeing what she achieved  with Ménage à Trois people will realise the visionary work she can contribute to the arts scene in Scotland.

Why do you (whoever you may be) do what you do?  (Question submitted by Yann Seznec)

I’m not always entirely sure it was by choice. I guess it feels more  like a ‘fate’ thing for me. It's what I’m meant to do. I can trace my  decision to study music – and therefore to train to be a singer – back  to being told by a teacher at school that it might be easier for me to do art as a career as then I could sit down at a desk. At that exact point I chose to pursue music, so you could say maybe I’m doing it all  through stubbornness and to prove a point! The idea of a job where I could leave work at 5pm and not need to think about work beyond that or over weekends is quite appealing sometimes, but really I know that I would go mad if I didn’t do what I do.

I do have one core philosophy – that is, not to regret. I vow to myself that I wont regret things that don’t work. If I try and it fails, fine, but I can’t bear the thought of not trying and living with regret. I think that, and the stubbornness, is what pushes me on.

This article was published on 12 Mar 2014