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Review: Dance

Guide Gods

TEA AND EMPATHY: Claire Cunningham makes tea-drinking an inspired pivotal image as she picks her way through upturned china. Picture: Colin Mearns
TEA AND EMPATHY: Claire Cunningham makes tea-drinking an inspired pivotal image as she picks her way through upturned china. Picture: Colin Mearns

Guide Gods

Memorial Chapel, Glasgow University

Mary Brennan

The programme cover spells it out succinctly: "Claire is disabled. Is it God's will? Karma? Genetics? What do you believe?" It's a provocative resume of issues that has led Claire Cunningham into unfamiliar territory - not just in terms of research, and her recorded interviews with people from different religions, but in terms of her own creative process. Unlike her previous award-winning shows, Guide Gods is not a dancey piece where her crutches support innovative choreography. Nor is it performed on a formal, proscenium arch stage. Instead Cunningham has opted to seat her audience in the round and to meld occasional movement sequences and songs with a dryly humourous, conversational, spoken text. There is live music (Derek Nisbet on harmonium and violin), and an unseen voice delivering pithy asides and audio-description but it's Cunningham herself who holds our attention at the centre of Karen Tennent's subtle but striking set.

Tennent's suggestion of an apse, entered through an archway of crutches with a cabinet displaying religious objects and china tea-sets where an altar would be, is especially piquant in this context. But wherever this piece plays, it's Cunningham's words and actions that burrow into your thoughts, unnerve your preconceptions. She makes tea-drinking the inspired pivotal image, physically and symbolically. Her randomly scattered teacups take on individual voices, creating a minefield of potentially explosive opinions - is faith the same as religion? Is it superstition that promotes guilt? Shame? As she picks her way across that minefield - balancing on the upturned china - Cunningham tests her own limits of balance and control even as she highlights the delicacy needed to test deeply-entrenched beliefs across different cultures.

l Tour details at www.clairecunningham.co.uk

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