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Tramway's Unlimited Festival: 43 Percent

43 Percent - credit 21st Century Challenges

Today Tramway’s Unlimited Festival opens - an international programme of performance, visual art, discussions and more celebrating extraordinary work by disabled artists. Tonight 21st Century Challenges present the world premiere of 43 Percent, with a further performance on Friday 16 September. The dynamic new work by Gary Gardiner and Ian Johnston follows their successful sold-out Unlimited commission Dancer in 2014.

We chatted to Gary and Ian, along with Creative Director Lucy Gaizely to find out more about the performance…

What does 43 Percent mean and what does the performance explore?

Lucy: There’s 57% water in the human body and 43% other matter, we’re looking at that as metaphor to explore the universality of Gary and Ian as two human beings, as well as their differences.

Gary: And in relation to that this idea of dividing human beings into categories of what they are. The medical definition of what it is to be human, alongside the social definitions. We explore that medical definition through a voiceover.

Ian: Yeah we have the voice of Dr Zac [Zac Scott performing in the show]

Gary: We also have ideas from lots of other people like family members and friends…

Lucy: We asked family and friends to film themselves being asked a series of questions about you and Gary. Then they have to dedicate a song to you. What song did your dad choose for you Ian?

Ian: Madonna’s Holiday. Gary’s mum chose Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You.

Gary: So it’s about what’s meaningful between people, my relationship with my mum and Ian’s relationship with his Dad and his sisters. Then using this as a basis to help the audience to better understand us by a medical definition, but then by a social definition.

What do you hope audiences take away from 43 Percent?

Gary: We want to open up that question of what sums us up, what makes us uniquely human but also uniquely ourselves. We use each track of music that’s been selected for us an experiment in our bodies through our dancing, and we explore the idea of being broken which builds up throughout the performance.

Lucy: There’s a lot of dancing isn’t there Ian?

Ian: I love dancing, [in 43 percent] I like dancing to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, and Waterfalls. Gary thought it was called something else…

Gary: So my sister picked the song Waterfalls for me because when I was about 15 and she was 14 I thought the lyrics were ‘Don’t go Jason Waterfalls’ as opposed to ‘Chasing Waterfalls’!

That’s interesting that she chose a song about water when you consider the title for the show…

Gary: Actually separate to us discovering the 57% and 43% notion as a metaphor for what we wanted to explore with the show,we found that family and friends were choosing lots of images and songs featuring water imagery without it being planned at all. Including a friend of mine who dedicated a track to us about a time we went out kayaking together, so there’s definitely a running theme of water throughout the performance which came to us naturally and through the creative process we’ve honed it a bit.

43 Percent Gary Gardiner and Ian Johnston

How do you work together when you’re approaching a new piece?

Gary: What’s the first thing we do when we get a piece of music Ian?

Ian: We dance to it.

Gary:  So we dance to it straight away, trying it in lots of different ways and discovering what feels natural.

Lucy: Then we workshop some of the key academic questions about what we think the work is about. We’ve got a bigger creative team than when we did Dancer, so we try to explore ideas and get to the ‘meat of the matter', but in really light and playful ways. In terms of working though there’s one thing Ian doesn’t like though, which is notes...

Ian: Yeah I like to just carry on, I’m like come on Gary we’ll just get on with it and do the work!

Lucy: I think both Gary and Ian are really similar, they learn it in their bodies. And Ian has an amazing memory so he recalls everything.

Gary: I would say with 43 Percent, that as all the songs have been dedicated to us it can trigger a memory, and that can influence how something comes out. There are lots of moments in the performance where the meaning isn’t singular, there are a number of different threads of meaning.

The last time most people will have seen Ian and Gary performing together was in Dancer, what are the similarities and differences in the pieces?

Lucy: Ian and Gary’s relationship, their friendship is central to both performances. But I suppose with Dancer we were establishing that relationship on stage, whereas now it’s just taken for granted that these are two dancers in that space and it doesn’t need any formal introduction.What’s similar is that 43 Percent is also a meditation, we’re not saying it’s about any one thing in particular. But this time we’re part of a much bigger team with Dr Zach and we have a live cellist, whereas Dancer was much more intimate with just Ian and Gary on stage.

Gary: The aesthetic we’ve created is bigger and probably more dynamic in comparison to the intimacy of Dancer, but they are similar in theme. In Dancer it was an introduction to Ian and the idea of dance being your agency in the world. This performance begins with that presumption already established, and then goes on to explore other things that are tied up within it.

What does it mean to be a part of Unlimited?

Ian: I’m proud to be part of it.

Lucy: It’s exciting to be part of that body of work. It’s a really challenging programme, people are really pushing the envelope. I feel like eventually we’ll supersede the notion of their being a festival for disability arts. I feel Ian doesn’t really consider himself a disabled artist actually he just considers himself to be a dancer?

Ian: Yeah [nods in agreement].

Lucy:  But the platform and the legacy of Unlimited is so impressive, it’s an excellent model and an exciting way to produce work. And we’re looking forward to seeing some of the other performances.

Ian: Seeing Claire Cunningham, she’s on after us. I'm a disabled artist and so is Claire Cunningham - we have that in common. I think that is good because she is a good artist.

Do you have plans following Unlimited?

Gary: There’s a producer in Chile who came to see us this summer in Edinburgh for Dancer who is interested in taking it over there.

Lucy:  And we’re hoping we’ll be able to tour 43 Percent as we’re very proud of it as a piece, it’s very ambitious.

Gary: We definitely want to do more with this work as a performance, but also I think just continuing to work together and see what arises.

Lucy: 21st Century Challenges is Gary and I, and has become Ian too, and it provides opportunities for us to work together in multiple roles. Ian as a learning disabled artist can offer so much collaboratively, it seems really logical to work that way. So Ian might direct a piece of work with me in it or one of our collaborators…

Ian: And remember I’m helping you…

Lucy: That’s right I’m making a show in February and Ian’s going to be the associate artist and mentor for that piece, and he’ll be brilliant at that. We're really looking forward to it.

43 Percent is a Tramway co-commission, following on from the company’s successful Unlimited Commission Dancer in 2014, which was presented at Southbank, FIERCE Festival, BAC, People Dancing Festival, Behaviour Festival, The Place and Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016. See 43 Percent on Thursday 15 and Friday 16 September at Tramway at 7pm. Tickets can be booked online or at the Tramway box office.

Unlimited Festival runs at Glasgow Tramway 15-25 September, view the full programme for the festival and read our guest blog from Unlimited Senior Producer Jo Verrent.

This article was published on 15 Sep 2016