Main content

Elvis - A Tribute in Dance

Claire Cunningham is a dancer and choreographer who performs with crutches. We join her as she devises a new work about Elvis tribute acts with an ensemble of disabled artists.

Claire Cunningham is a Scottish choreographer and contemporary dancer who performs with crutches. We join her in the studio during the research period for a new work, Thank You Very Much, which draws on Claire’s current fascination with Elvis Tribute Artists.

Claire is intrigued by the difference between impersonation and tribute, what it means to train to become someone else - or an ideal of someone else - and relating this to the lived experience of disability. She asks, “Is this also a life of being pressured to be someone you are not?”

The programme is a fun, exuberant and occasionally poignant mix of dance, music, singing, text and, of course, fabulous costumes.

Claire is a hugely respected artist who tours all over the world in both disabled and non-disabled arts festivals. For this new work, she has brought together an ensemble of professional performers who all identify as disabled - Dan Daw, Marissa Perel, Tanja Erhart and Victoria Malin - and they are all involved in the creation of the piece, which has been commissioned by Manchester International Festival and National Theatre of Scotland for 2019.

Through one-on-one masterclasses with Elvis Tribute Artists, practising harmonies, and offering up their own personal experiences of physiotherapy and speech therapy, the group not only learn to sing and dance like Elvis Presley, but also explore how paying tribute involves bringing something of themselves into the act. These tasks become part of improvisations in the studio, from which the final show will be devised.

As a choreographer, Claire is interested not so much in traditional dance techniques but in individual languages of bodies, particularly disabled bodies. For her, the lived experience of disability is inherently creative due to the ways it requires you to rethink how to move through the world.

Produced by Victoria Ferran
A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4

Available now

28 minutes