It is impossible to offer a universal truth to ‘this is what depression feels or looks like’, as the experience of the illness is unique to a person’s individual circumstances. Yet Duvet Day is a piece of dance theatre which can powerfully resonate with people who have experienced depressive episodes and it offers an insight to those with little knowledge of mental ill health. 

The performance is a collaborative project between Claire Pritchard and Olga Kay who began working together in 2015 as C&O Dance. Performed in the Old Lab at Summerhall and with a stage set-up with the front row sitting on cushions, Duvet Day pulls a public audience into a private and lonely experience of depression. A cosy, relaxing image of a duvet day is shattered by an unapologetically honest and raw snapshot into how a bed can become a place of restlessness, discomfort and struggle. 

On the surface, combining dance and the theme of depression seem to be combining polar opposites: the feeling of not being able to move with an activity which requires the body to move. However, the combination validates depression as an illness which manifests physically in its power to limit movement and restrict capacity to leave a space. Through the choreography, depression is physically explored and represented as something which changes bodies and interaction with the physical environment. This challenges the idea of depression being considered an “invisible illness” and a condition which is far-removed from physical health. 

The dancers portray the stillness and heaviness of depression in their physical movement and the use of blankets and pillows as props become the markers of the space they are trapped in. In parts of the piece, they surrender to the bed through pressing into the pillows and burrowing underneath blankets. The stiff, slow movements reflecting the lethargic effects of being in bed are interspersed with the attempts to move, to turn, to escape, to reach up again and again after falling back into bed and into the clutches of depression. 

A Q&A session followed the performance and this space allowed the audience to hear from Claire and Olga on how their personal experiences inform their creative process and their intention to promote dialogue on mental health. The dancers shared their journey in creating pieces where they are fundamentally honest with themselves and the audience. This means being able to bring their moods and experiences into choreography and not censoring and stopping their bodies from moving with how they feel. 

Duvet Day is uplifting in that the performance thwarts harmful misconceptions that people can have about depression. Comments such as “But why can’t you get up?” “How can you be tired?” “Staying in bed won’t make you feel better” can only appear blatantly inappropriate and insensitive in the face of this performance. It is an open insight into the experience of constantly resisting depression and it is validation that depression can be completely debilitating. The experiences of how mental ill heath affects the physical body and artists being allowed to be honest in how their experiences shape their work both need wider recognition and support.

by Z Nugent