ON January 24, 2018 (the eve of Burns Night), choreographer and dancer Suzi Cunningham was in Edinburgh, where she was due to perform in a show in honour of Burns. A guest of the artists’ collective Neu Reekie, she was set to present a piece inspired by our national bard’s great poem Tam o’ Shanter.

However, as aficionados of the post-punk avant-garde will tell you, the day of the show turned out to be the fateful day on which Mark E Smith – influential singer-songwriter, irascible genius and self-destructive frontman of path-breaking Mancunian rock group The Fall – died, aged 60. Smith’s demise was of no little significance to the assembled artists and arts lovers at the Neu Reekie event.

It hit Cunningham (a long time devotee of The Fall and all things Mark E Smith) and her host, the poet and Neu Reekie co-founder Kevin Williamson (a fellow Fall obsessive) particularly hard. Williamson was, the dancer remembers, “visibly quite upset” by the news of Smith’s death.

The poet had intended to show an excerpt from a video of the post-punk ballet I Am Kurious Oranj, in which the great Scottish dancer Michael Clark performed live with The Fall. When Cunningham told him that The Fall were a major influence on her work as a dancer, Williamson asked her if she would improvise a dance to accompany the video clip of Clark dancing to the song Big New Prinz.

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This was, Cunningham remembers, “an hour before the show was due to start”. Very much on the spot, Cunningham’s reply was: “Yes, but I’ll need some crutches and a wig.”

The crutches and wig were a reference to the props and costumes in Clark’s performance in Kurious Oranj. “I got the punkiest outfit I could find,” the dancer remembers.

Cunningham then joined her punk aesthetic to her deep engagement with the Japanese dance form known as butoh. The practice requires the performer “to really empty out the body of yourself”, she explains.

In fact, she continues, the butoh dancer must empty her body of, “being human, you’re going back down to the elements of material. You’re able to transform into other forms of life, or death as well. It can be quite a dark dance”.

Before the evening was out, Cunningham was performing a “spontaneous requiem dance” for Mark E Smith. That impromptu performance would, over the coming months and years, be developed into the contemporary dance work Rules To Live By.

Working on the piece, “made me think about the loss of somebody who’d had such a huge influence on my life”, the dancer says. “It made me think about the idols I grew up with.”

Being influenced by one’s idols isn’t always a good thing, Cunningham observes. In the case of a character who was as self-destructive as Smith (whose life was often absorbed in his alcoholism), that is especially true.

The dancer remembers going through a somewhat chaotic “punk period” in her life that was far from being universally positive. There is, she explains, an auto-biographical element in her piece, which she calls, “an exploration into hedonism”.

Cunningham was in attendance when The Fall played their last ever live show, in Glasgow, in November 2017. Driven by an extraordinary work ethic, Smith performed sitting in a wheelchair.

“He was giving it some, which was wonderful to see,” Cunningham recalls. “He was like, ‘I’m not going to hide the fact that my body’s ravaged’.”

That experience only deepened the dancer’s respect for The Fall’s frontman. “When someone like Mark E Smith dies,” the dancer continues, “it’s like a part of your teenage self dies too.

“The reason I dance is because of watching Fall videos and seeing Michael Clark dance to their music. “I wanted to be a dancer,” she continues.

Dabbling, as young dancers do, in the likes of ballet and tap dancing, she saw videos of I Am Kurious Oranj and thought, “oh my God! This is the way I want to dance!”.

“These people are dancing to the music I love… I’d never seen people dance to alternative music in that kind of way.”

HAVING developed Rules To Live By as a tribute to one of her heroes, Cunningham then felt compelled to make a companion piece dedicated to another, very different – but at least equally influential – figure in her life.

Titled EIDOS (after the Ancient Greek word for “form” or “essence”), the work is inspired by the life of the dancer’s late paternal grandmother, who died shortly before Mark E Smith.

Cunningham describes her grandmother as, “a radical hero, artist, stalwart and my very own Vivienne Westwood”. The origins of the piece lie, she explains, in a visit to a second-hand clothes shop.

“I saw this dress that just drew me in. It was like something my grandmother would have worn or would have bought for me. She was incredibly stylish. She was a costume maker. She went to the Glasgow School of Art.

“She lived until she was 100. She wore a corset until she was 96, and earrings every day until she died.

“She was just glamorous and amazing.”

Cunningham bought the dress and took it with her on an artistic residency. Wearing the dress evoked “profound feelings” about her grandmother.

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“Here’s a woman who had such an influence on me, internally and in her nature. She was a bit of an Isadora Duncan figure.

“In the 1920s she used to dance in her bare feet to Greek poetry. She was incredibly forward thinking.”

Putting on the dress, Cunningham knew that she had to “honour this feminine part of me”, as well as “the screaming, male part of me”. So it was that her Mark E Smith tribute piece was joined by a dance work inspired by her fabulous grandmother.

Suzi Cunningham will perform Rules to Live By and EIDOS as part of the Dance International Glasgow spring programme at Tramway, March 1 & 2, then touring Scotland until March 11: suzicunninghamartist.weebly.com