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Young Creatives Blog

Ariane Beyer on I Know You're There and Give Me a Reason to Live

Wednesday 9 March 2016

  • Review

I was really looking forward to seeing I Know You’re There by James Berlyn, yet I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed once I saw the show. I thought the show had all the elements to be great, I loved the intimacy of sitting around the table, I loved the way that Berlyn moved around the table and interacted with the audience, the environmentalist in me loved the sustainability of the entire show, but it felt disjointed and the non-linear structure (I know I am a dancer so I should theoretically be good at interpreting abstract structures) meant that I struggled to connect and empathise with the story being told. The stories that Berlyn told were all relevant to my life, some scarily so and it wasn’t as if I was sitting there thinking I can’t empathise with any of this because this doesn’t relate to my life. The space the show was performed in was very dark, to the extent that I couldn’t see the people sitting opposite me; there was very little humour and no real characters that I felt like I knew. Depression and suicide are very dark themes and when it became clear that there weren’t going to be any moments of light in the show, I think it became easier for me to shut down, not connect to the stories that were so familiar to me and save myself from another Festival breakdown.

Despite the fact that I didn’t connect to the show, I’m so incredibly happy that a show about mental illness is able to sell out at an international arts festival. We’re slowly starting to de-stigmatise mental illness. At the end of the show we were served tea and biscuits, and as we sat around the table conversations started to naturally unfold. To have a meaningful conversation possibly a slightly larger tea cup would have been more appropriate. However no matter the length of a conversation, any conversation is good, and I’m glad that the show was set up to start conversations that I’m sure continued well beyond our round environmentally sustainable table. I may not have loved the show but I loved what the show stood for.

Give Me a Reason to Live by Claire Cunningham was the complete opposite, I walked out completely inspired. I walked in thinking how much can someone possibly do if they’re confined to crutches. I was expecting Cunningham to awkwardly move around the stage, but I was very wrong. The crutches allowed her to access a whole other movement vocabulary that just wouldn’t have been possible without the crutches. She found her own way of moving that was simply beautiful and completely inspiring.

Cunningham’s work is painfully intimate and I felt really uncomfortable at times. Cunningham is definitely not your typical dancer, and when she walked out on stage my first thought was wow she has flat feet and she admitted herself that she doesn’t have a daily routine to stay in tune with her body. In the first half of the work the audience barely see Claire’s face, and there is one point where she is holding herself off the ground and I felt so helpless watching her. It looks like she is in so much pain and I just wanted to jump up and help her but I felt confined to my chair. In the second half of the work, Cunningham is very open about her body and she doesn’t try and hide her osteoporosis. Even though she was showing the audience what was ‘wrong’ with her, and at the start of the show my high arches were judging real hard, I forgot her disability by the end. I wasn’t watching someone with a disability, I was watching someone of immense talent show me through her body, a story of struggle. As I watched the work I forgot Cunningham and her individual story and the work became more broadly about anyone and everyone who has something that is considered ‘wrong’ about them and all that comes along with that.

I’m the sort of person who lets fear dictate the way I live my life, and I very rarely try new things out of a fear that I will fail dismally. Cunningham has osteoporosis and has to use crutches to get around and she has been able to make a career as a dancer. I can very easily see that failing, but it didn’t, and Cunningham had the opportunity to make work that touched the hearts of those who watched it because she wasn’t afraid to try something new. I doubt that watching Cunningham dance will cure my fear but maybe next time I think I’m not good enough to try something new, I can think of that lady from Glasgow who had two shows at an international arts festival where she danced with crutches, and she didn’t fail.

Young Creative: Dance

Written By Ariane Beyer