The Unlimited Festival review

The Unlimited Festival at The Queen Elizabeth Hall – Extraordinary new work by deaf and disabled artists (August 30th – September 9th)

As part of my South Bank Super Prize bundle I won a pair of tickets to three different shows at The Unlimited Festival that was hosted at Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.

The Unlimited Festival consisted of 29 commissions all of which celebrated art and culture by deaf and disabled artists, from dance to theatre and music to art.

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Marc Brew Company & Evelyn Glennie / The British Paraorchestra

The first of the three shows was Marc Brew Company & Evelyn Glennie and the British Paraorchestra on the 31st August. First in the double bill was Fusional Fragments. a piece featuring five dancers created by director and choreographer Marc Brew with composer Philip Sheppard and Dame Evelyn Glennie. An exquisite blend of contemporary, almost tribal, dance and ballet, Fusional Fragments wasn’t short of liberating to watch. The Grammy Award-winning Glenne appeared on the stage under a fiercely bright spotlight, and slowly she began to beat on a drum. A male dancer joined her on stage, surrounded by walls created cleverly with lights. With momentum building more dancers joined Glennie on stage and she began to weave amongst them, using a range of different instruments. It was the first time I had seen Dame Glennie on stage, other than at the Olympic opening ceremony, and I was completely blown away. Her music was incredibly powerful and it was intriguing to see the way the dancers would dance and change direction to her every beat. A truly inspiring and thought-provoking experience.

The second half of the evening was the premiere performance of the British Paraorchestra, founded in 2011 by conductor Charles Hazlewood. Made up of eighteen musicians under the direction of Hazlehood and some using some incredible technology created by Rolf Gehlhaar, the orchestra performed their own version of ‘Bolero’ and ‘Greensleeves’. The use of different sounds and instruments was interesting, with everything from clarinets to a sitar. ‘Bolero’ began much the same as Ravel’s original, but soon took shape as something quite different once the orchestra’s improvisation set in. Likewise ‘Greensleeves’ started off slowly and in quite a sad manner, before erupting into something much quicker, more upbeat and almost exotic.

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Candoco Unlimited

Next up was Candoco Unlimited on the 6th September. The Candoco Dance Company presented an evening of striking dance that featured 12 disabled and non-disabled performers from China, the UK and Brazil. Similarly to before the evening was split into two parts, the first if which being Parallel Lines also by choreographer Marc Brew. With an evocative string score by Michael Galasso, Parallel Lines is potentially the hardest piece of dance I have ever watched; the dramatic score perfectly suiting the dancers’ desperate and at times tense explorations of their own physical limitations. The stage was set up with a cat’s cradle made out of rope built across it; no doubt meant to be a tangible representation of the dancer’s limitations due to their disabilities.

Claire Cunningham’s offering 12 was much more theatrical than Brew’s. Whilst she doesn’t have as much dance experience as Mark Brew, and at points the dancing doesn’t resemble much more than people making circuits around the stage, each step really hammers home the oppression of a lifetime reliant on crutches. The use of war metaphors and dictatorship references act as a perfect background for the shocking dance routine, which at points had dancers dragging their partners around on the floor and at times impaling them with their crutches, even using the arm supports as dog collars. Aside from the strong images of war, the theme of sex is most apparent, which Cunningham commenting on how sex and disability is often seen as quite taboo. A particular highlight in the show was the beautiful ballet duet performed by two female dancers, both with only one leg. A real eye-opening evening.

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Ménage à Trois

Rounding off my experience at the Unlimited Festival was Ménage à Trois on the 8th September, which was, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite out of the three shows. It was the only ‘single bill’, a whilst it only lasted just over an hour, it almost brought me to tears several times.

A stunning piece of dance theatre from Claire Cunningham and choreographer Gail Sneddon, Cunningham begins the piece once again by utilising imagery of war to tell a haunting story of a woman and her twenty-year-long relationship with her crutches. A crushing and truly beautiful look at loneliness and love. The plot centres on a woman who creates her perfect man (someone who she can ‘click’ with) using her crutches. Whilst at times it is darkly humorous, at others it is simply devastating as she delves to discover if it is indeed possible to find love when there are already three of you in your relationship. Definitely one to look out for if this should return to the stage.


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