Claire Cunningham is one of nearly 200 artists taking part in the Unlimited Festival at London’s Southbank Centre during the Paralympic Games.
The 11-day festival – part of the wider London 2012 Festival – will bring together all 29 pieces of work commissioned from Deaf and disabled artists through the Unlimited programme, including dance and performance, visual arts, comedy, circus, music and theatre.
Among other disabled artists taking part will be Dame Evelyn Glennie, Marc Brew, Bobby Baker, David Toole, Ruby Wax, Mat Fraser and Rachel Gadsden.
Cunningham’s Menage A Trois – a “hauntingly beautiful study of love, obsession, loneliness and manipulation” – was inspired by her changing 20-year relationship with her crutches, from “hating them as a teenager, to now loving them”.
The idea first came to her in 2007 when she put a jacket on a pair of crutches and saw that it looked like “a scarecrow, certainly a person, probably a man”.
Cunningham will also be choreographing 12, her first piece for other dancers, in which she works with Candoco Dance Company on a new dance theatre work featuring 12 disabled and non-disabled performers from the previous, current and future Paralympic host nations – China, the UK and Brazil.
She described the collaboration as “the most enjoyable of my artistic career”, and said she hoped the festival would provide new opportunities for her to collaborate with other artists.
She told Disability News Service that she saw similarities between her work and the efforts of Britain’s Paralympians. “We are both in a similar place. We are all striving to be at the top of our game. We have found what we are good at and we are working to be the best at it that we possibly can.”
But she said that although she could relate to the competitiveness of Paralympians, she was curious about “how it feels to be categorised by impairment, which I think disability artists are working very hard to get away from”.
She said she would love to meet some Paralympians to discuss this medical model focus that the games force on athletes.
She also raised fears, as other disabled artists have, that some elements of the media will continue to write stories of “inspiration porn” when writing about disabled athletes and artists during London 2012.
There has been much talk of the London 2012 Paralympics being a prime opportunity to “raise awareness”. But awareness of what?
Cunningham said: “It’s about increasing awareness of disability as normal… that it is a natural state of being. It is partly about pushing people towards realising that it is not remarkable simply to be disabled.
“These are disabled people who just happen to be really good at this thing. That’s what we are striving for: a place where people realise that it is not abnormal to be disabled.
“It’s a normal state of the human condition, a valid state of living, a way of living that can contribute to society as much as anything else.”