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Spanish Flu pandemic commemorated

Published: 3 October 2018

Contagion, a dance piece by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance which commemorates the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, is coming to Sunderland later this month. It will be performed in what was used as a temporary hospital during the First World War, the hall of St Gabriel’s Church in Kayll Road (door in St Gabriel’s Avenue).

The pandemic affected a third of the world’s population and killed more than 50 million people, more than the estimated 40 million who died as a result of the war itself. In Sunderland alone, 100 people a week died of pneumonia or heart failure as a result of the virus. The most deadly week saw 167 die.

Inspired by the nature and spread of the flu virus and set to an atmospheric soundscape, this dance installation with digital visuals echoes the scientific features of a virus: rapid, random and constantly shape-shifting. Eight female dancers contort and mutate as they explore both the resilience and the vulnerability of the human body.

It was commissioned by 14-18 Now, the UK’s arts programme commemorating World War I, whose director, Jenny Walden, said, “we are proud to commission Contagion as a highlight of our final 14-18 NOW season, in which we continue to engage people in the centenary of the First World War through the lens of art.”

“The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, whose centenary is marked this year,” said Shobana Jeyasingh, “is beginning to assert itself in our collective memory as one of the most dramatic episodes of global proportions. I very much hope that Contagion will serve as an act of commemoration and remembering.”

A Sunderland Stages event, Contagion plays at St Gabriel’s Church Hall at 2:00 and 6:00 on 18 and 19 October. It is a standing performance and tickets, which are Pay What You Decide at the end of the performance, must be obtained in advance from the Sunderland Stages web site. It is suitable for ages 12+.

A workshop inspired by Contagion and hosted by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance will reveal how the work’s choreography was inspired by the tragedy. The free event, organized by the Cultural Spring, will be in St Luke’s Church Hall, Merle Terrace, Sunderland on Wednesday 17 October (6:00 to 8:00). For more details, go to the Cultural Spring web site.

Peter Lathan