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Preview 1: Meet ‘Douglas’, Robbie Synge’s solitary tinkerer

Sat 9 May 2015

Preview 1: Meet ‘Douglas’, Robbie Synge’s solitary tinkerer

Opening night of DDF fast approaches and performers from countries near and far are preparing to descend on our little green isle for that annual two weeks in May when dance engulfs Dublin city. Before the cacophony of shows strikes up on the 19th of May, I took the chance to speak to several of the artists about their work and what it means to them.

This is the first in a series of preview posts on the blog where you'll get a glimpse at the answer to the perennial question: where does a piece of dance come from?

Preview 1: Robbie Synge - 'Douglas'

‘Douglas is… very eccentric – he’s a bit of an oddball’

You spent two weeks on a residency in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands and you’ve said that the origins of your one-man show ‘Douglas’ have a connection to that time. What were you doing up there?
I was outdoors quite a lot and I suppose I had a bit of an existential thing going on where I was in a period of questioning what’s involved in being an artist, the luxury and the hardship and the responsibility that goes with it. So there were a lot of opposing ideas about what I was doing and its worth.

I was there investigating a few things - effectively sort of banging sticks off trees and then having a sit down and having a little word with myself, thinking: ‘What the hell am I doing?’ I pursued it anyway, and around that time I’d already started to make a few little videos of me performing actions on my own, where the camera was fixed in position on a tripod. It was an attempt to find some way of placing myself within a choreographic structure or movement scene, a sort of kinetic or action-sculpture scene, where objects or architectural elements could have some kind of agency over me.

So I wasn’t manipulating objects per se, it’s more that their weight when falling would cause other objects to knock into me. It’s about creating connections… I wasn’t really thinking too much about art when I was doing that. But then I realised, when watching the videos back, that there might be something in this. It seemed like an interesting choreographic investigation to pursue and it seemed like there was this lone person or character emerging. And I called him Douglas. So that’s what got me started.


What is Douglas into?
Douglas is into finding connections in a tactile sense with the surrounding world – that could be something that’s very close and in contact with him, but also thinking about this contact extending much further outwards.


Is he fascinated by inanimate objects?
I think he’s not really curious or interested in the objects themselves, he’s more interested in the ways he can feel he has a place in a wider physical world through his interactions with the objects. This wider physical world was initially an outdoors one, filled with the accidental scenarios that occur outdoors – I call it a garden shed approach to messing with objects. But then the piece itself took on a theatre environment, so I realised I needed to make the most of theatrical elements, lights, the architecture of theatre spaces, and generally used objects you might find in a theatre.


How much of ‘Douglas’ is improvised?
It’s quite tightly defined in its structure and the actions I have in mind – so I’m kind of following a pathway that doesn’t change too much. However, working with objects and the nature of how I work with them through balance and weight means that if an object decides it’s going to do something and does it, that can make it very unpredictable and that unpredictability is not just for me – I think the audience also have a strong sense of a lack of control. There’s a vulnerability implied in that which can lead to all sorts of surprises.


I’m getting the impression that the objects are symbolic of the laws of physics or, the piece is trying to say something about the scientific principles that we and objects in the world are subject to and which are inescapable…
Absolutely. It’s about harvesting these physical forces, these Newtonian principles.


Is solitude also a strong theme?
I think solitude is definitely there, in lots of ways. The staging is quite sparse and very exposed. Secondly, although the work maybe makes the most of quite dry, scientific principles of weight and balance and the material nature of objects, the purpose of what Douglas is doing is very eccentric – he’s a bit of an oddball, which might spark the idea of a solitary figure in some people’s minds. The idea of connection is very important - I think we’re all longing to feel some sense of responsibility or place, even if it’s not physical… Douglas tries to achieve this through physical means, and I think that’s enriching.

 

Words: Rachel Donnelly - @racklette