Monday, 25th May 2009

You’re still here? It’s over! Go home…

Yep. You missed it. The last chance saloon has stopped serving.


We gave the festival quite a send off. Aretha Franklin featured, James Brown did a turn and we got to experience some of the best soul-rending music I’ve ever heard….even if it was recorded. But what really raised the temperature in Smock Alley were David Zambrano’s Soul Project performers who – inspired by and driven to emulate in their own idiom the powerful example of the vocalists – expressed in movement an extraordinary depth of passion, revealing an almost spiritual intensity. Moving around the space and getting as close as possible to watch each dancer move, it was impossible to avoid sensing both their abandon in performance and the effect of this on one’s fellow spectators.

Mmmaybe it was a little too long…but really, what I felt it needed were a few more audience members. And the last two weeks deserved a show that reminded us a little of how much fun dance is, and how enlivening. Afterwards, Caroline ‘Rummy’ Williams led the march over to Project for the big send-off, the ample flow of liquor given a twist by being served by trained fire-eating monkeys; about midnight, Laurie started cutting her favourite deck and….but hey, you know what? You missed it. Better luck next year.

What now? Well, if you like, you can revisit past glories by just scrolling down the page.

But me? To be honest, so distraught am I at the ruthless cutbacks in dance provision in the Irish Republic, I’m heading to Romania for a theatre festival. So, if you’re in Sibiu over the next two weeks…heh…well, let’s just say, les jeux sont faits…

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Saturday, 23rd May 2009

Soul Training

One more night.

One more show to see…and I can’t really believe it. It’s been quite an experience.

And the fact that my last show will be David Zambrano’s Soul Project sort of feels…right. Fitting. Apt. Because the chance to witness so many performances, to enjoy so many productions into which people have poured body, inspiration and heart…it brings home to you how the arts aren’t just another industry. Sure, artists and companies may talk about developing a marketable product or how best to brand ourselves and market our events. Some days we even find ourselves unconsciously parroting the squawks of some captain of industry we overheard on radio. But I bet most of us can’t put any real feeling into those lines.

Because in our hearts, we know that what we do…it’s not really the stuff of indices. Or earnings reports. Or economic summaries. Because we know – from experience – that the measure of a work’s worth is not the aggregate mean take from some notional demographic. No.

It’s the jagged silence that falls in a theatre house on the edge. It’s a movement phrase that catches you off guard and steals your breath away. It’s the scene that leaves you feeling both damned and redeemed. And it’s the instant between blackout and lights-up, when you have to come back just to get to your feet.

See, that’s what this festival has been. A series of soul projects.

That soulful quality was palpable with José Navas’ Miniatures, a work that drew the spectator’s gaze past the apparent, privileging us with a glimpse of the desires, compulsion, abandon and nostalgia that make up his past. It was a beautiful intimate presentation – one that could so easily have veered into the mawkish, camp or sentimental at various junctures, yet didn’t thanks to Navas’ choreographic integrity and intense commitment to his craft as performer. Perfectly judged and a festival highlight for me.

Similarly – though an utterly different kind of work in derivation and delivery – Ioanna Mona Popovici’s Work in Regress reflected the artist’s intensity in its conception and realisation. Even if I don’t tend to agree with her starting definition of authority, the piece that resulted from that definition perfectly captured the absurd lengths to which a power centre, stripped of its habitual (or any) periphery, might go in seeking to re-establish its purpose for being. All that…and it made me laugh too.

And then there’s Lucy Guerin’s Structure and Sadness, a work that artfully led us to grasp the reality that, in Melbourne in 1970, a dreadful thing happened. Guerin’s composition raised its structures and paced its momentum with such sensitivity to pendle and weight, balance and link that it made the suddenness of the radio report a truly breaking kind of news. And yet, as art has a unique power to do, it inevitably swayed us to an understanding that all this…passes. However sad it may be. That though all may falter and fail, all may yet rise again – indeed will rise, inexorably, no matter how terrible and great the tragedy.

And that’s why work like this, work like this festival has made it possible for us to see, well…you can’t denominate the worth of such a thing; can’t price it, tag it, stack it or stock it. Because, recession or boomtime, numbers can’t count its true worth.

But we can.

Final soul project tonight. One last time.

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Friday, 22nd May 2009

All tapped out…

Earlier this morning, I got an email from a friend asking for a little help. (Yes, this does happen occasionally.) And, just to show she wasn’t being completely self-centred, she kindly asked if I was – to quote – ‘all danced out yet’. I know! The sheer temerity of the gel; the brazen, bare-faced British cheek of it all…

…but I have to be honest.

When I opened her email, I kind of felt like I was. Terrible thing to admit, I know. But how many more ways can I describe a body moving? Or rather, how many more ways can I describe the response that a moving body (or bodies) can elicit from me? I felt tapped out. And the prospect of tapping out another blog on another piece of dance…well, let’s put it this way: I wasn’t exactly enthused.

That was, until I dragged myself over to DanceHouse for the second Mixed Bill of this year’s Re-Presenting Ireland. I’d caught the first Bill last Friday but, as I’d had to leave early, I’d held back from putting digits to board. I’m glad I did.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of great work over the past week or so. Fantastic work, mostly by choreographers and companies visiting these shores for the festival. And it’s a privilege, truly. But to have a chance to see a selection of work by some of the finest emerging and established choreographers in the Irish scene is one of the best things about this element of the festival programme. For despite the limited time available to them, those chosen do indeed represent much of what is excellent about the art form in Ireland.

Kicking off the first bill, Dylan Quinn’s Fallout initially had me worried. Through the persona of a brash media professional, Quinn strove to direct our attention to the way violence can be objectified, neutralised – even glamourised – depending on how it’s treated by the media machine we rely on. Now, the fear I had was whether he’d be able to both sustain the integrity of his initial choice of persona whilst successfully shifting to a more subtle, complex interrogation effected by movement. Happily, my concern was quickly dispelled. And Bonus Tracks revealed the robust quality of movement that is a unique strength.

As for Getting Lost, Liz Roche’s exploration of what happens when both dancer and spectator are asked to process a large amount of fast-paced physical data…well, to begin with, Chen and O’Malley are two of my favourite performers to watch. As far as I’m concerned, you could just have the two of them skipping rope and they’d find a way to make it interesting. Which, of course, is not at all to denigrate the quality of Roche’s composition. The relentlessness with which the piece was imbued by her never felt stochastic, frenzied or chaotic; instead, possibly thanks to the pattern interrupts of easy to apprehend gestures, it seemed to infuse the viewer with a strangely energised ease, a surrender to the overwhelming flow and interaction of two bodies, one where tension wound would unwind again. to begin again; a step back to move on again.

Junk Ensemble’s Drinking Dust was spectacular. Touching adeptly on the theme of memory, Jessica and Megan Kennedy’s work has strange shadows attending it. Its gothic nature evokes an odd terrain where memory and fantasy have equal purchase, one where light is not guaranteed a place in the scheme of things. The repetitive yet striking images of this piece seem to play with everything from themes of ageing, absence and loss to those of power-reversal, domination and the illicit eroticism of precocious sexuality…but as I happen to know the said choreographers in a social sense, I think it best I leave it there…

Today’s pieces were of similar power – Ingrid Nachstern’s Watch…Es’ treadmill of motion adequately conveyed the pressures under which men (in certain sectors of modern life) find themselves living. The four male performers were driven to their limit in the repetitive, industrial, clockwork calling of the work. Intriguingly though, I couldn’t help noticing how my response to the piece had changed from when I saw it last year, in light of the collapse of the global economy and the thought of how the lives of the men that inspired this must have fallen asunder. An interesting lesson in context for any work.

Jean Butler’s thicker than this was infused with that gentle releasing into a void of freedom I’ve noticed before in other work by her. In an introspective, tentative manner, Butler dissects and attends to all that comes naturally to her – those forms and techniques that have been so fully made a part of how she moves, that she barely notices them anymore. It’s almost as if there’s a suspicion in her mind of her own corporeal impulses, that somehow they’re not quite her own yet. And in her consequent isolation on stage, we get a glimpse of a beautiful, personal unfolding of a dancer into a new space and onto a new path.

Finally, Phrases from a Lost Year, Ríonach Ní Néill’s latest work-in-progress confirms for me Ní Néill’s status as one of the most engaging choreographers currently at work in Ireland. Situating some of the audience within the field of play, the three performers (joined at the very end by Ní Néill herself) play, manipulate, explore with, advance upon and oversee each other with an at once innocent yet sardonic quality. The peculiarly humane, intimate quality of physical movement is thus tempered by a sharper atmosphere, resulting in a work that I can only describe as…well, dammit, sanguine – in the best, most generous sense of that word.

So that’s it for today – I did want to compare and contrast José Navas’ wonderful Miniatures and Ioana Mona Popovici’s entertaining Work in Regress but hey, I have to give you some reason to come back here tomorrow…for the last day of the festival….now shoo.

I’m busy.

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Thursday, 21st May 2009

Far…behind on just about all counts

Okay, ultra brief now as I have decided, in between the summer showers, to embrace my status as worst festival blogger. Ever.

Forgive me, you most honoured hordes who – in your fives and tens – descend upon this site daily…

Loin…(Far…), Rachid Ouramdane’s beautiful multimedia performance meditated – through audio and video testament, interwoven with poetry and movement – on the far-reaching and subtly corrosive effects of violence. The psychic fissures, the intergenerational silences, the disorientation of displacement and the vertiginous state of being neither this nor that – all were handled deftly and intelligently.

It was a work that was – as Helen Meany put it in the post-show discussion – complex, layered and beautiful. Many of the themes touched on could not help but resonate with an Irish audience – war, colonisation and how conflict and suffering on a collective scale impacts uniquely on each family and individual. Not to mention how one’s identity is found, indeed largely created, at the point where two people meet. Now, as Rachid himself said, it is stating the obvious to say this – to say that identity is shaped by context. But it interests him and, to his credit, the work that resulted from his interest held mine. Perhaps that’s because, as he put it, he prefers to get specific to the individuals from whom he draws his material, attempting to revisit the facts of ‘History’ through familial accounts and recollections of those same events. And, what’s just as interesting, how these memories and stories are often never passed on from the elder generation to the younger; how, sometimes, it’s easier to tell them to a stranger. To one who does not know you as the kind, respectable person you appear now. One who you do not care might look differently at you and think worse of you, upon hearing of all you did or all that was done to you…because sometimes, amnesia is the wisest way to remember your past for the future. And there was a quiet poignancy and dark truth here. Anyone whose family has been caught up in anything like this, knows this aspect of war’s aftermath.

Any concerns? Well, I worried at times if it was overall a little too light in touch. I wondered if the emotional distance that can attend the use of image projection might derail things. And I questioned whether Rachid himself, beautiful a performer as he is, was almost a little too cool in his presence. But, to be honest, I’ve easily pushed these aside. Even if it was not a piece that offered any shocking revelations or demanded of me a profound reconsideration of reality, it was aesthetically striking, quietly intelligent and emotionally engaging.

Okay, off to see a few more tonight: Miniatures and Work in Regress.

And, oh, if you’re there and know me…please, don’t let me drink anything.

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Wednesday, 20th May 2009

Good. God.

Damn. That was a busy evening. But a fruitful one, seeing as I had the pleasure of catching two shows in one great venue – Daghdha Dance Company’s Standing in Ink, followed by Rachid Ouramdane’s Loin…(Far…)(which I’ll do a post on later) in what’s practically the festival’s second home, Project Arts Centre. And I love it. Stepping into Project’s foyer just before a show is like stumbling into some kind of arts DMZ. Whatever it is about the place – and I don’t know if it’s the building, the programme, the clientele or some combination of all three – it makes any discussion or debate feel all the more intense. Suddenly, it feels like the stakes have been raised. And while this can play havoc with interpersonal relations…let’s face it – there’s nothing like it to get you psyched up for a show or exhibition.

Take the Daghdha piece. Choreographed by Michael Klien, Standing in Ink presents itself as ‘a dialogue between two dancers and a choreographer’, the two dancers in question being the talented and accomplished Mark Carberry and Laura Dannequin. Ostensibly, this work results from a year’s worth of conversation amongst all three, the performers becoming ‘movement-ink’, their actions tracking each shift in relationship and perspective, allowing them both to learn about each other as well as disclosing a new world in dance.

Now, in watching the piece, I’ve no doubts about the commitment of all to the task at hand – that of ‘continuously questioning the very concept of dance and each other,’ with each show ‘presenting various markers of this ongoing process.’ Supplementary to the happenings on-stage was a short text by Alexis Clancy, a mathematician invited to collaborate with the artistic team (and involved for quite some time now in Daghdha’s investigations of process, system and the nature of choreography). Certainly, from the outset, Carberry and Dannequin demonstrate an attitude of acute sensitivity to, yet remoteness from each other’s presence. Unfortunately, their spasmodic, struggling, disjointed actions, episodically interspersed with a clinging, promiscuous intimacy, suggest little in the way of a dialogue. Little in the way of questioning. Little in the way of interrogation or investigation or elucidation. Simply, it felt in its earnest formlessness as contrived as any work of empty convention.

Strangely enough, this sensation was further strengthened by the presence of a rather large fly in the theatre. As it tumbled and dived and smacked against lights, dancers and spectators, it’s quite intelligible – yet unpredictable and so strangely engaging – motion contrasted with the performance proper. And I felt compelled to wonder: what, really, is being learned here?

Now, don’t get me wrong – I happen to think Klien’s (and Daghdha’s) attention to ‘the aesthetics of change’ worthwhile. And the inspiration, parallels and analogies that can be drawn from a range of academic and scientific fields of enquiry are valid and appropriate, with certain reservations. But, ultimately, I suspect ‘liberating’ choreography as a word to describe (as suggested here) the shaping of those interactions, relationships, constellations and proportionalities that make up reality…well, it risks ‘liberating’ dance from its own nature . Sure, patterns, cycles, repetitions, resonances can be found everywhere. This has always been known and taken advantage of in all the arts. And dance uses these things too. But choreography is its own thing; dance exists in its own right, on its own level, in its own domain, with concerns and powers proper to itself. Such a broad definition at best risks delivering us an art form denatured and deracinated rather than primal and vital. At worst, it risks making dance irrelevant and choreography defunct.

But even if they haven’t found an answer to please me, at least the guys in Limerick are in dialogue with something. Which makes their presence in Project unsurprising and very welcome.

Unlike the fly.

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Tuesday, 19th May 2009

I think I might be happy if I wasn’t out with them…

You know what? This really is the festival that keeps on giving. Certainly when it comes to providing starting points for conversation, drink-fuelled or otherwise.

Take, for instance, last night’s show: Happy Hour. Now, I’m going to get to the piece itself in a matter of moments, so bear with me. But just to say that the one thing, at least, it has the power to reminds us of is that, when it comes to drink culture, precious little stands to distinguish we Irish from any of the ‘home nations’ across the water. I mean, we might as well rebrand ourselves John Bull’s Other Local.

Now, sure, I could carry on from there. I could really let this rip. I could roar and rant about identity politics, the failure to decolonise and the inherent contradiction in fostering notions of shared nationhood around a substance that actually corrodes a sense of selfhood.

But I’m not. Because neither you nor I would find that enjoyable. And that’s kind of the point, see? Because if there’s one thing Happy Hour is, it’s enjoyable.

Performed and written by Wendy Houstoun (with additional material by Tim Etchells), this is one of the finest and funniest amalgams of text and movement I’ve seen in some time. Houstoun – as a barmaid on the bender of a lifetime, in a life lived in a world on the batter, in some country on the lash, in some town on a perpetual razz – displays superb comic timing, delivering lines and movement with equal skill.

The work’s deeper power, to my mind, lies in the tension between the clichéd, involuntary phrases that flood from her mouth and the involuntary, repetitive movements that flow from her body. As if some unconscious instinct for a life or a purpose keeps pushing up, desperate to break free of the intoxication of the habitual, yet never succeeding. Cumulatively, Houstoun’s exaggerated and directionless action in both word and gesture conveys acutely the sense of a life lived floundering, and of a society foundering. It’s also notable that this sense is right there, right from the start. It’s present in the habitual utterances we all know, the questions we’ve asked and answered for ourselves, the ones with which the performance begins – So. What can I give you? The usual? You need something to raise your spirits….

Certainly, as the piece unfolds and she becomes increasingly inebriated, incoherent and unrestrained, the sense of the individual comes more to the fore, yet that wider, cultural significance never quite departs the stage. She comes to embody every person. Everyman and everywoman. Certainly anyone who’s ever ended up at the wrong end of a liquor bottle.

And perhaps that’s what made it both comforting and uncanny a piece – the knowing laughter as, standing or sitting, we watched our least noble, most pathetic selves here, in this space. It made me think of those drunken, furious arguments over nothing…admit it, you know the ones. Especially the ones other people happen to have when for once you’re sober and in the vicinity. Now, yeah, sure – hilarious…and yet…you can’t let yourself laugh too hard.

Christ, no. Because, Jesus, didn’t the same thing happen me, or near enough? And mightn’t I be tempting fate for the next time I’m out with the lads or herself? And Christ, you should see me when I try to dance. Or stand even, sometimes. But we were happy. And it was good craic, wasn’t it? And we had a good laugh, didn’t we?

Didn’t we?

Final word? Go see it. Last orders here.

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Saturday, 16th May 2009

Arc Lights

I guess I should consider it a positive sign it’s taken me so long to find words for Irish Modern Dance Theatre’s FALL AND RECOVER. I’ve spent the past twenty-four hours returning again and again to programme notes and memory, desperate to find something to grab hold of, to push off from…some kind of hook on which to hang some words.

In fact, it wasn’t until about an hour ago I noticed the quotation by the work’s creator John Scott, of Doris Humphrey, originator of the technique that lent the piece its name: ‘Dance occurs in the frightening moment between falling and recovering by the arc swept by a body moving between equilibrium and uncontrol.’ For Scott, this is analogous to the experience of those who have survived torture.

It’s a moving parallel, and an apt one.

Performed with unassuming poise and intent, the piece begins with words in flood…in conversation, in remembrance. That these are the words of another place, another tongue means nothing. Somehow, at this instant, it’s as if Babel never fell. I just…get it. I recognise that face, infused by story; I’m at ease with this voice as it segueways into song, before falling back again into the easy rhythm of daily life. And in the space of a few moments – and I still don’t quite know how it happened – I found my own voice in the shared idiom of a shared humanity.

With the rest of the company joining, they fell to marking out a past upon the papered floor, sketching windows, doors as they recreated homes…or perhaps more fell demesnes….all soon ripped asunder, a whirlwind of action tearing the very ground out from under the feet of those on-stage. Then began, it seemed, the movement work proper. The press of body to wall, hand to hand, as emanations of life after life described in motion a fragmented and fragmenting world. Bodies separated from, yet reaching out to each other – in breath; in glance; in the gestures and steps of homes far from this one. Images shocked and transfixed the mind – of lined up bodies, backed up then falling slumped…bar one, a seeming lone remembrancer. Or a thousand hands reaching up for some kind of rescue or resolution. But beyond all else, and perhaps this is the most wonderful and surprising of things about this work, was the thundering pulse of life joyously lived. It flashed upon the stage. It blazed out in the sway and stomp and reach of one dancer to another. And it was a good passion, beautiful because not some counterfeit. In the dancers’ performances I glimpsed instances of a genuine – a glorious – exhilaration.

Even when moving as one body – in a gyring line, say – Scott ensures that the distinctiveness of each performer is present. There is no excessive concern for synchronous motion, or the pretence of gestural sameness. A profound shared awareness, yes, yet one that never subsumes in full each individual. Scott’s choreography is, in a way, a geometry, one that describes precisely rather than dogmatically the intricately interwoven forms our humanity assumes.

But that’s how it is in Scott’s work, it seems. The same principle might be observed in how Eamon Fox’s beautiful lighting scheme or Rossa Ó Snodaigh superb musical accompaniment are integrated into the entire production. Similarly, as a spectator, you never feel the slightest hint of prescriptivity concerning what conclusions ought be drawn from what you witness. And yet it’s a testament to the strength of Scott’s choreography that, despite this, you leave the theatre imbued with a sense that this is not ‘victim art’. No. It is art that directs us to something that transcends identities…while yet affirming the dignity of one’s identity.

So what about that quote? Well, it wasn’t so much the quote itself as that one word: ‘arc’. See, I was looking for some image to express the effect of FALL AND RECOVER on me…and that handed it to me.

Arc lights.

Now, the principle behind them is quite simple – the ‘arc’ is the result of the electrical breakdown of a gas between two electrodes, through which a current is flowing. An arc is a source of prodigious heat and light, capable of vaporising most things. Quite destructive things, really. Yet I couldn’t help feeling how it somehow fitted.

Because in the final minutes of FALL AND RECOVER each performer traces, in salt, the outline of their bodies, prone upon a dark floor, as if offering some small testament to their having been here. Then…they leave. And leave only traces – of the mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters who just seconds before had been. Now it was as if all that they were – their songs, their words, their expressions – lay reduced to a faint outline of salt, as if some fire had rendered them down to some bitter residue. As if they’d been burned clean away in the savage, unforgiving wrath of a life’s holocaust.

It was perhaps the darkest point in the entire work.

But my God…the light. The light.

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Thursday, 14th May 2009

Making Lemonade

I’ll keep this one short and sweet because (as you may have noticed) I’m late. Again. In fact this entire day has been one long, dry spell of lateness.

But I want to clear the table before tonight’s IMDT show in Project. So here’s the long and the short of it…I really, really wanted to like this one – ‘this’ being One-Shot: Rhapsody in Black and White Dance Sessions. Surely, I thought, if any production could embody the festival’s underlying theme of cultural and spiritual identity, it was this one.

Not quite. Or at least, not quite as well as I might have hoped.

Inspired by the work of Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris (nicknamed One-Shot, hence the title) and focused on ‘the seamless fusion of traditional African dance with contemporary choreography and spoken word’, One-Shot is a fine production. The performers embodied strength, equanimity and elegance as they wheeled and lunged, the syncopation and swing of their fluid yet earthy motions drawing your gaze and attention. And suffusing the entire work, as I experienced it, was what I can only describe as a remarkable…warmth. The dancers, in executing the rhythmic swirl of Brown’s choreography, seemed magnanimous and dignified, the bond between them causing to emanate from the stage a tangible sense of humanity at its most giving. At its best.

And yet…

I couldn’t help feeling a little underwhelmed. This harmony, this comforting presence was something that didn’t quite feel real. It was as if we had been gifted the sense of renewal that comes with catharsis – but without the emotional crisis that delivers it. And as we (or at least, I) hadn’t really earned it, I couldn’t quite surrender to it. And I found it difficult to give myself over to the experience of community as it seemed to be presented here. But then, what makes a sense of identity? Is it just the good we stake our just claim to? Or is it the bittersweet commingling of virtues and vice, triumph and failure? The facing of our treacheries as much as the overcoming of our adversaries?

I don’t know…I’m asking.

There were moments right at the start of the night when a path would open – and then shut again, a path which, if followed, might have led us into that grey zone between black and white, where the ascerbic and saccharine meet. Still, in light of Evidence, A Dance Company’s emphasis on reinforcing community in African American culture, and given that many of the diverse communities of which this culture is collectively an expression continue to suffer from social fragmentation and discrimination, perhaps this is just what’s needed…

Anyway, that’s it. More tomorrow. So be sure to come back.

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Tuesday, 12th May 2009

Stark?…Yes. Raving?…No.

So for me, last night was passed in the company of Daniel Léveillé Danse, as they performed Amour, acide et noix in the Space Upstairs in Project. Setting itself the challenge of presenting nudity as the only true alternative to the reading of the body, and asking whether the skin is not the one true body costume, the performers (three men and one woman) selected to express Léveille’s vision, took to the stage naked.

Yet however freed they were from the constraints of clothing, this work seemed encumbered by a tense, weighty quality. Duets and solos were burdened by stomp, thud and thump; all motion staccatoed by the eruptive, interruptive standing, marching and gesturing that appeared throughout. None of which need necessarily be bad, if the impulse, vision or concept that led Léveillé to create Amour, acide et noix was something I could engage with. Sadly, I failed to apprehend the ‘outlook on life [taking] refuge behind the strange white skin’ that this show purports to reveal.

A post-show discussion, moderated by Finola Cronin, held out some hope. But talk of nudity accentuating muscular action to the point of conveying an illusion of effort; of jumping as analogous with life; of a stripped body’s workings of organ, sinew and joint as interesting; of the need for a piece’s text to be simple, functional and clean…did nothing to dispel the sense of a concern solely with the exterior. This is not to say the dancers and choreographer are not sincere and daring in their own fashion. Nor is it to suggest there’s no underlying structure or a certain complexity – Léveillé mentioned in passing a quaternary aspect to the work, with four dancers, four sections, four solos, four duets, squares. (Hmmm…maybe I just needed some kinda quintessence to win me over…)

Ultimately, however, there’s the simple fact that I can’t get on board with the starting premise of the skin as ‘the one true body costume’ or of nudity as automatically ‘frank and free of false modesty.’ And I’d also argue any fair consideration of clothing would have to admit that it is something that both veils…and reveals. It’s not all about sparing our blushes.

What we wear, and how, tells of us, tells on us and is one way we stake our claim to this world and to being who we are – or are we to believe these expressions are necessarily untrue or deceitful at all times?

In contrast, the power of the naked form lies in intimating what lies beyond the everyday world and self. It’s a threshold. A threshold between being and non-being, one most of us only approach by either a lover’s bed or a deathbed. Perhaps that’s what last night’s show, in its emotionless rigidity and expressionless heaviness, for me most lacked – an apocalyptic intimacy, and a fragility only born of intimating truths no spoken word can say, but that dance – and dance alone – can hope to express.

But hey. C’mon. Far be it for me to keep you from making your own mind up. Don’t take my word for it. Go, get a ticket, see it.

And feel free to come back here and let me know what you thought…

Author: duncan | 4 Comments »

Monday, 11th May 2009

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is Angry

Okay, so my title is a little misleading.

But during Chrissie Poulter’s great post-show talk with him last night, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui did describe Apocrifu as a show where he is angry…with books. And, as Chrissie drew out Sidi’s ideas on oral and literary traditions, the relativity of perspectives and the multicultural terrain that every individual must negotiate, there was little with which to disagree.

A whole range of other topics were also touched on – the issue of manipulation (whether of oneself or others); the evasion of responsibility; the projection and rejection of roles; the shifting archetypal energies embodied in performance. Any of these would easily exceed the time allowed for last night’s talk – so kudos to Chrissie for covering so much ground. Not bad questions either…particularly Rough Magic’s Tom Creed who, I’m sorry, is the human equivalent of a precision guided missile when it comes to uncovering the creative process behind any production.

But in the end, what Apocrifu (and last night’s post-show with Sidi) most got me thinking of was Plato, who suggests letters don’t give the truth…but only the semblance of truth. People dependent on the written word, he says, though appearing to know it all, generally know nothing. Oh, and they’ll be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Admit it. We’ve all met one.

Of course, I suppose if I really wanted to set a cat amongst the pigeons I might ask if you’ve ever met anyone in the Irish dance scene who fits that description? And if you have…do feel free to bare your soul to me at Amour Acide et Noix, tonight in Project.

And hey, trust me. It’ll be held in the strictest confidence.

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Sunday, 10th May 2009


Okay. I admit it. I’ve been a little tardy when it comes to this year’s festival.

To begin with…I missed the beginning: the festival’s opening night celebration and the perfect opportunity to hang out with Laurie, Ellie, Caroline and the rest of the DDF army and get a feel for what lies ahead.

Okay. My loss. No big deal.

But then…I totally blew it with Bumper 2 Bumper, the festival’s disco with a difference. Possibly the one time I could bust a move without getting arrested by the dance police…and I missed it. And while I’m sure the event was all the better for my absence, I was starting to worry that I’d stumbled into an…uhm…unhelpful pattern of behaviour. I swore I’d try to break it.

Last night, as I found myself racing down O’Connell St to make the inaugural festival performance, it occurred to me that I wasn’t trying hard enough. (This time, I swore harder. Believe me.)

Still, I made it. And what a show. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Apocrifu is a remarkable challenge to the supremacy of the dead letter over the living spirit. The title of the work refers to the apocryphal, that is, something of doubtful authenticity, most often used with reference to those regarded as beyond canonical scripture. Of course, that raises then the question of deciding what is canonical, and what apocryphal…and once decided, what happens next? The extraordinary physicality of the three performers, and the resonating polyphonic singing of Corsican group A Filetta together gave striking testimony to how the moving body and the singing voice both suffer under, yet retain the power to break, the tyranny of text and the burden of the fixed dogma.

Sure, there were a few criticisms after the show (one being a suspicion that it was perhaps a little longer than necessary) but on the whole, those I spoke to were effusive in their praise for the work. Particularly two luminaries of the Irish ballet scene who spoke with delectation of what they felt was as fine an example of a male torso as has ever graced the Abbey’s stage.

One final thought. I suppose the challenge to sacred scripture offered by Apocrifu is as good a place to start as any. But I couldn’t help feeling it a little too obvious. I mean, in the West, we’ve largely broken the back of religious dogmatism – but we can no more stop falling for our own illusions than we can stop breathing. Or do we imagine we don’t have our dogmas? That democracy isn’t a faith? That the scientific method is truth?

So. Get a ticket, if you can. See Apocrifu, if you can. And when you’re done, have a drink, have a think and ask yourself…what are the apocrypha you take as scripture these days?

If you can.

Author: duncan | Add your Comment »