Monday, 24th May 2010

Sorry endings

Caroline ‘Complimentary’ Williams – Hell has a special place set aside for the likes of you.

It really isn’t fair. You can’t just wander around dispensing one-way tickets to crapulency when you know – you know – that some of us lack the self-control to say no. And it’s the height of recklessness to do so after we’d gotten all hyped up by the extraordinary Noche Flamenca. I mean, how’s a person so induced to inebriety not supposed to offer his very own tipsy pastiche of the bracing heel work, severe poses and percussive drama just enjoyed?

To understand exactly what I mean, please watch that youtube clip of Soledad Barrio et al here.

Done? Good. Now imagine all that performed by a distinctly rhythmless Irish person. In a pair of soft-soled shoes. On the quays. And no matter how vivid your imagination, I guarantee the reality was ten times as tragic. Seriously, I had to call the guards on him, it was that bad.

Yes, Ms Williams, by your willful malfeasance you have earned yourself a sorry end. A sorry end indeed.

I only wish we could do it all over again. Oh well. Here’s to next year.


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Sunday, 23rd May 2010


Sometimes a night just ends on a weird note.

And no, I’m not talking about the ‘weird’ that was that night in college when friendship blurred into something..uhm…else. Or the ‘weird’ where an amazing date becomes – for no apparent reason whatsoever – the greatest bail-out since 2008.

No, when I say weird, I mean weird. Uncanny. Preternatural. Spooksville. I mean nights like last night, which ended with myself, Deirdre Mulrooney and Una Kavanagh (actor, artist and nominee for the Fishamble New Writing Award for Fringe 09′s Black Bessie) swapping stories of psychic hotlines, seers on South William Street, lupine noms de plume and a monied New Ager’s demented character assassination plot against Marian Finucane. I know. Weird, right?

In our defence, we had just watched Double Track which – with bodies phasing in and out of sight, and sounds not quite arriving aright – tends to conjure with the eerie. As you watch, notions of limbo, suspension, and deferment easily play across your consciousness. The movements, gestures and stances of the performers are large, assured, circling; their sweeping quality even at times hinting at social or Asian dance form. This grounded deftness is comforting, balancing as it does the ethereal nature each vanishing lends the piece. And Louis Andriessen’s composition complements and magnifies the aura of tantalization and disquiet that runs throughout.

A few quibbles: Beckett’s writings can be fiendishly difficult to do justice to in performance; I’m afraid Double Track confirms this. Indeed, I almost feel it’s not a little unfair to ask dance artists to master Beckett alongside whatever choreography there is. And much as I admire Crash Ensemble, having them play Andriessen’s score before the show was a mistake; it stymied the natural flow of the evening and, for me, blunted the aural potency of this work.

But it’s worth seeing, particularly for the technical inventiveness that gives this production the unique quality of being both contemplative and spectacular. Sounds right? Then get your ticket here.

Okay, that’s pretty much it. Last night, people. Let’s make it a…well, perhaps not a weird but an extraordinary one…

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Saturday, 22nd May 2010

Disjunction Junction

Sometimes it’s all a little too much. The world overwhelms your efforts to make sense of it.

And the kicker is, you never see it coming. Take last night. I’d pulled into the Garage Bar to fill the tank before spinning over to Project to catch Ad Vitam. And I’d only just parked myself when I totally got roached. Now, I’d never reproach anyone for a difference of opinion – especially this particular individual. I mean, I respect her approach. Deeply respect, in fact. But, dammit, that’s part of the problem, because apparently we define ‘deep’ completely differently. And as I’m trying to puzzle out how the, er, lingo she advises could get us down this road in a revolutionary manner – whilst ignoring a volunteered scurrilous jest of coppers with feelings – I turn to find I’m adjoined by two men, one of ACTION, the other an enfant terrible with a year-old creed of fifty scantily clad men in blonde wigs, clambering athwart an audience.

And then the house lights went down.

Truth is, of course, whatever curveball life throws our way, most of us are up to it. Sure, we might strike out – but at least we know the rules, and get to play the odds as we wish. But what about those who don’t?

Carlotta Sagna’s Ad Vitam,  probing as it does the borders of normality and pathology, is a work that brings into stark relief the isolation and disjunction suffered by those for whom life is not easy. Those who don’t fit; who will never find the right pitch.

A monologue of heart-rending honesty complements a restricted, repetitive movement language that reflects the compulsiveness, stereotypy and self-directed violence that can afflict those with impaired social interaction and communication skills. If you know, love and care for anyone so afflicted, there are moments of great authenticity here, handled with respect and sensitivity. If you don’t, then I can only commend this work to you in the strongest terms possible. You can still get a ticket here.

Tonight – the penultimate night of the festival – I’m off to see  Double Track. God, it’s hard to believe we’re almost done. Let’s make the most of it…

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Thursday, 20th May 2010

Off on a Tangent…

But back on track.

The Many Bodies of Contemporary Dance symposium kicked my day off a little earlier than usual, as panel members Raimund Hoghe, Tere O’Connor, and Caroline Bowditch, along with John Scott and Cindy Cummings (a last minute stand-in for fellow Aosdana member David Bolger), undertook to stimulate new debate and offer fresh perspectives on the many bodies and people involved in dance.

Enthusiastically stewarded by Deirdre Mulrooney, the afternoon saw a shift from panel-led discussion towards more of a round table format, with contributions from Mary Kate Connolly, Jenny Roche, Tara Brandel, Megan Kennedy, and Jeffrey Gormly. The shared commitment to, and passionate belief in dance and its future was as apparent as it was encouraging. And yet, as the afternoon progressed, I couldn’t help feeling that many of the comments made were in essence tangential to one another. As if the point of a remark was ignored, except insofar as it might serve as a point from which to launch another – at times quite divergent – trajectory of thought.

Sure, all this made for a delightfully convivial atmosphere, where harmony and consensus reigned supreme. But I did wonder what might have transpired had we dared appoint the verbally dextrous and incisive Tere O’Connor to play free-wheeling devil’s advocate. Perhaps it would have been a schismatic calamity. But who knows? Perhaps not. Perhaps the resultant exchange would have been as fresh and immediate as DAY, performed by Jean Butler.

Now, I’m aware my response is strongly coloured by other performances of Butler’s I’ve seen over the last few years. She’s struck me as an individual willing to confront head-on the challenge her celebrated status presented her as an artist. She has not shirked this task; and the resultant work has impressed. But it always seemed that some strange inflection of uncertainty was there; a pernicious doubt within that – almost imperceptibly – would check, query or impede every impulse.

Watching Butler’s performance last night though, I felt none of that. Instead, I found that Tere O’Connor has not only choreographed a work that instantiates the vivid immediacy of the ever living now. He – or rather, his work process – has somehow exorcised a spectre and helped a dancer find her way back to herself.

(Of course, seeing as the programme notes say this work ‘questions how much we can really know someone and if our projections constitute our knowing more than the actual truth’, you really should up and find your own projections. Begin your quest by booking here.)

Finding your way back to yourself could also apply to two other works: Swimming with my Mother and  A CORPO LIBERO (FREE STYLE). Bolger’s work-in-progress (featuring both the choreographer and his mother, Madge) is sweet-natured, seeming almost a hybrid of biography, memoir and social history.

As for Silvia Gribaudi’s A CORPO LIBERO…? Well, what can I write that could possibly do it justice? It’s a manifesto for emancipation. It’s beautifully, minutely-observed. It’s uplifting, charming, intoxicating and elevating. And it unabashedly celebrates humanity. And to be completely honest, I don’t think in the entire festival I’ve seen a more beautiful human being on-stage.

What more’s left to say? Get your tickets here.

Wait..what’s that? Got more left to say? Well then, hit the Many Bodies forum here.

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Wednesday, 19th May 2010

Perfectly Serious

“Yeah…I really like that it’s boring.”

It was the interval of Young People, Old Voices and I had just asked a friend what she thought. Now, at times she can be a little deadpan in her delivery, so I turned to look directly at her, to gauge just how serious she was.

Oh. She was serious. Perfectly serious. Huh.

Okay, I admit – when she said it, I was utterly incredulous. I mean, who on earth likes anything boring? But the more I think about it, the more I feel her response expresses a perennial truth about audiences. And that truth is, almost every single person who has bought a ticket, has bought into ‘it’ – the journey, the concept, the conceit: the why of the work. On some level, and to some extent, whether conscious or no, everyone in that auditorium wants it to succeed. We want to get it. We want the performer – or the choreographer, or playwright, or director, or artist – to  triumph, magnificently. We want the win-win. And as a result, we will surrender ourselves to almost any demand an artist makes of us.

Well, for a time at least. For as we all know, our surrender is only ever conditional.

Sometimes its revocation is abrupt, with people tramping out mid-performance, as happened last night. And disruptive too, like the one lady who offered a mocking curtsy to the performers as she left. (I know…real classy, right?)

Naturally, I’d prefer if a little self-control had been exercised and they’d all slipped away quietly during the interval. But their decision to leave is one I understand and sympathise with, to a certain extent. Because this show was boring.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware of how useful boredom can be. Just like any other intense psychic state – such as desire, confusion, or fear – boredom can be elicited and utilised to make individuals highly suggestible and receptive to direction and communication. That is, if it’s used effectively and knowingly. And I’m not at all sure its elicitation in Young People, Old Voices qualifies in either respect.

In what the programme notes describe as an ‘increasingly poignant’ contrast between Raimund Hoghe and 12 young cast members, an ‘accumulation’ of ‘ritualized movement sequences’,  juxtaposed with the voices of singers like Etta James and Billie Holiday, is punctuated by Hoghe’s interventions. Indeed, were there a ritualized quality to detect, you might even characterize his role as that of psychopomp.

However, though intended to convey the boisterousness and playfulness of youth, the movement tasks entrusted to these young men and women at best seem static and banal, at worst, condescending and tedious. The progression from sequence to sequence is – particularly at the beginning – ponderous to an extreme. Furthermore, impassivity of expression does not suffice – quite simply, the execution of these tasks lacks the precision and presence that might impart to them a truly ritualistic nature.

In contrast to this are the duets Hoghe and Lorenzo De Brabandere share. At those moments, the theatre is filled with an almost tangible force of presence. Between them there exists…well, to call it a love affair is perhaps to go too far. But their locked gaze possesses a quality of fascination and enthrallment that simply captivates. It’s then, in those all too rare instances, that this work comes anywhere close to drawing a ‘poignant contrast’ between youth and age.

Clearly, I was disappointed…all the more so, I suspect, for having enjoyed last year’s screening of Carte Postales as much as I did. But of course, your impression might contrast starkly, so please – feel free to book here.

Author: duncan | 2 Comments »

Tuesday, 18th May 2010

Damned Persistence

You work hard. You go to every last show they can possibly send you to. You diligently read all the programme notes. You spend time, lots of time – hours, in fact – working on your blog posts. And in between, you even harass your agent to line up more auditions. So yeah, you work hard. In fact, you know you work hard.

Or that’s what you think you know.

And then a damned wunderkind like Tom Creed crosses your path. And despite having a bazillion shows to direct, rehearsals to lead, and meetings to attend, he’s here for the show. That’s right. And not only that, but he’s sociable and approachable too. Goddamn it. I should just quit now. Maybe hang with Dante and Randal.

But I hang on. And I learn that, even for a slacker, persistence brings its own rewards.

Because in Basso Ostinato Italian choreographer Caterina Sagna has delivered an audacious, gratifying and incisive work, one unafraid to grub around in the grimy settlings of human existence.

Its title is a musical term, ostinato being a succession of equal sounds; the basso ostinato, a bassline repeated over and over again, while other parts proceed with variation. And the form and progression of the piece certainly makes this an accurate descriptor.

Two men sit at a table. Behind them, on a television set, a ballet plays. The meal is over; and what remains of the evening is fated to a long unwinding in booze, cigarettes and reminiscences. The half-remembered quotes and anecdotes that score an unraveling life will be punctuated by the accidental mishaps of inebriation, both physical and verbal. A dropped cigarette. An unwise confession.

With a bassline established – repeat, with variation. The television set is wheeled off, its place taken by a third man and movement displaces – yet never fully replaces – the spoken word. Instead, sentences are whittled away by gesture, words dropped with each fall, and the essential basso continuo that physicality imparts to all communication becomes increasingly audible. In their interactions, they compete, compel and reject; enforce and exclude; dominate and fall victim. Scripted responses become vague and confused; bodies lose balance, become frantically avaricious, or are struck with sudden mortality; bone dissolves, flesh crawls itself towards a sea of oblivion and man is reduced to worm or worm-food. And over and over, again and again, all return – or fight to return – to a bottle-laden table, where one might have a sip or a drag of something…anything, even the blackest most noxious of things, just to find distraction. Life seems a sinking into a morass, a mire, a terrible solvent. And each starting over, however forceful, is only ever the continuation of a lingering – sometimes explosive – process of decay. This is one damned existence.

And the title also plays with the ambiguities of language (depending on context basso can mean low, shallow, short, inferior, base and mean, and ostinato, persistent, determined and stubborn) as this is precisely what it all descends to: a stubbornly noisome interest in coarse drunkenness, in scatological humour, in the abasing of beauty and the mockery of meaning…until death – that basso ostinato of bodily life – is finally succumbed to.

It all sounds very grim and grimy. And it is. But don’t let this put you off for a second. This is work that leaves you feeling exhilarated. The three dancers are superb and their talents are deftly taken advantage of by Sagna to ensure her vision is as hilarious as it is harrowing.

So go – get your ticket now. Get it here.

Author: duncan | 1 Comment »

Sunday, 16th May 2010

Sunday Best

I’m under no particular obligation to take it easy today.

I don’t have Yahweh glaring in my kitchen window, warning me to back away from the Mac. And I’m pretty certain St Paul isn’t going to fire off a blistering epistle of condemnation. That said, I’m going to take a day of rest anyway. Maybe do a little sun worshipping.

But before all that…the shows.

Last night was special. First, because it marked the midpoint in the trajectory of events scheduled for this year’s festival. And second because, to celebrate this, my DDF minders had lined me up three consecutive productions, in two different locations, lasting some four hours. And I loved it.

The evening kicked off in Project with two works by Laïla Diallo, The Wayside and Between the Shingle and the Dune. The latter, a duet performed by both Diallo and Theo Clinkard, was an absorbing examination of relationship. Capturing well the ease and unease that proximity invites, this work evoked both the heedless will to risk, and the unwitting power to harm that makes and breaks all bonds. Diallo’s opening solo, The Wayside, was even more impressive, seeming to trace forth the inner complications, blocks and exhaustions that, however minor, cumulatively make any act of departure, or any attempt to walk away, so difficult.

GIMP started strongly with an aerial performance by Jennifer Bricker and Nate Crawford that was not simply spectacular, but elegant and considered. Alas, that initial exhilaration was not (perhaps could not be) sustained. Indeed, as the show drew to a close, I couldn’t help feeling it had lost a certain coherence – even ambition – and found myself wishing that both audience and performers had been challenged a little more. Nonetheless, the stamina and calibre of performers ensured this was a production that led its audience firmly past awareness of the apparent towards an appreciation of the substantial. Lezlie Frye impressed, as did Lawrence Carter-Long, whose arch yet humorous monologue was something of a highlight.

Finally, Smock Alley was the venue for Secondary Sources, a piece that explores the (often unconscious) influences we glean and garner from others, whether people, places or events. Though at first seeming measured and unobtrusive in its progression, a satisfyingly complex dynamic reveals itself, one possessing an almost mathematical elegance. The strange hemispheric spiraling of chairs in a space, as motion echoes from body to body, and gesture assimilates to limb: all hint at how, out of the constantly reiterated movements of life, a kaleidoscopic or fractal image of resonance and reflection might be conceptualised. The live accompaniment by Ed Rosenberg and Justin Carroll was well-judged and deserving of note.

Personally speaking, this work attests to Liz Roche’s talent as a choreographer: her ability to engage with and distill the conceptual into the corporeal, and use her chosen idiom of dance in a manner that enriches both domains of inquiry.

That’s it guys. We’re half-way there. If you’ve missed anything, you’ve already missed too much….so go catch up here.

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Saturday, 15th May 2010


Going back to an old workplace is like visiting your hometown on a bank holiday. I mean, it takes a special occasion to get you back in the first place, which means it’s not quite an ordinary day in the life. And yet…just being present is somehow enough. Enough to let the once ordinary shine through: Everything you liked about the place. All you disliked. Everything new there. And everything now gone. It’s amazing how old haunts haunt us.

What that means to someone like me, someone lucky enough to have worked in DanceHouse, is that every performance (or sharing, or presentation) becomes a weird kind of homecoming dance. Which I guess makes yesterday’s Re-Presenting Ireland a monster parade, tailgate and pep-rally all rolled into one…

Over the course of Friday afternoon, in the environs of the Joanna Banks Studio, a selection of work by dance artists in Ireland was presented, some more complete than others. Curiously, to this viewer, the works of these mixed bills seemed – when considered together – to form an unusual symmetry.

Though differing in tone and ultimate effect, Elena Giannotti (The Crow) and Angie Smalis (The Lightly Fragranced Solo) both proffered compositions of appressed phrasing, where a compact alternation of motion, tempo and direction suggested the natural, the autonomic, and any number of complex processes not subject to volition.

Arguably, a kinship in language and theme could be traced between Iseli-Chiodi Dance Company’s >Me Seeing You< and Dance Theatre of Ireland’s Handle With Care, one that goes deeper than the use of duet. Still in the initial stages of development, DTI’s piece concerning love, proximity to another, and transformation, guilelessly conformed to the notes accompanying it. By contrast, though displaying the strengths of its performers, >Me Seeing You< didn’t quite succeed in its stated creative ambitions, at least by my estimation. It did, however, underline the difficulties of effectively incorporating multimedia elements into live performance.

Finally, we have Liv O’Donoghue’s This Woman I Met and Irish Modern Dance Theatre’s ACTIONS, both of which impressed greatly.

With just a chair, a pair of gold shoes, a score  consisting largely of Steven Wright’s deadpan delivery of surreal one-liners and  choreography as adroit as it was fluid and intelligent, O’Donoghue leveraged my attention, sympathy and self-consciousness in an understated yet genuinely touching manner.

And ACTIONS? Well, yesterday I wrote that John Scott can’t speak Spanish. I still think that’s so…but by God, he’s fluent in dance, as evidenced by this work of assiduousness, boldness and dexterity. The interaction of dancers Michael Snipe Jr and Marc Mann, both with each other and the audience, was boisterous, friendly, rivalrous…and utterly entertaining. Yet beneath all that there existed a sober, serious intent. A sense of the purposeful, of work, and of getting work done. Their brusqueness in delivery – whether of quip or gesture – fascinated. And how, even at points of the greatest physical exertion and tension, the notion abided that these were rehearsing performers, running practiced routines, for roles (and lives?) so all-consuming that truly noticing the other becomes unimaginable.

Re-Presenting Ireland runs again today as well as next weekend at DanceHouse. And you can book your tickets right here.

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Friday, 14th May 2010

Repair…repair in haste…

I feel a clarification is in order.

A few days ago, on this very blog, I confessed (not altogether seriously) that I’d love to see an audience that cared enough to storm a stage. Well, at last night’s performance of Repair, two doughty spectators cared enough to get up, give voice to their disgruntlement and trundle themselves loudly out of the auditorium. And my goodness, the indignation was palpable. Goaded they were, by God, to take this stand. Scammed they were, by God, for the king’s ransom of twenty euro.

So, to clarify: ladies, whilst I appreciate the gesture, I’m afraid that’s not at all what I’d requested. By storm, I’d meant invasion on principle,  not evasion of the recondite. I wanted dash and daring – not dull and indolent. No, it simply won’t do. Nothing less than a melée of frenzied mavens will meet my needs.

Frankly, I felt a little embarrassed for you. After all, nothing could be worse than picking the wrong battle.

Because Repair really is such a fine, eminently accomplished dance piece. Visual artist Barbara Kilpatrick, composer Elise Kermani and choreographer Vicky Shick have created a work greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not too much to suggest that both Kermani’s score and Kilpatrick’s set and costume design almost constitute characters. Yet the true alembic of the work, it must be acknowledged, is Shick and Jodi Melnick’s duet. In action precise and succinct, both women bring an airy – yet strangely, never unsubstantial – quality into presence. Again and again, the relationship of these women to each other presents itself to us for interrogation. At times, they seem to dance together. Just as often, Shick appears a hidden guide, or the disguised helper in some little known folktale. Mostly, though, you sense that these two reside in different worlds, so that even when face to face, they see each other only through a glass darkly – if at all.

And personally speaking, I find Melnick a wonder. With angular grace, she has the power to infuse motion with a turbulent intensity. And yet, it’s an intensity not at all fraught with emotion. Remarkable.

Alas, my revolutionary guards seemed to have missed all this. What a pity. They will be relieved to learn, however, that their outburst was not the most shocking thing I heard in the auditorium last night. That particular distinction goes to the estimable John Scott and the appalling disservice done by him to the Spanish language.

Lo siento, señor Scott, pero no puedes hablar Español…so for the love of God, cease and desist….

Author: duncan | 1 Comment »

Thursday, 13th May 2010


If memory serves, it’s been a good two months since Ellie Creighton bought me coffee in Dunne & Crescenzi. Damn good coffee, too. To anyone who knows her, Creighton is the little marketing machine that could. She’s a workaholic with a heart of gold, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and nobody pulls off Jazz Age chic quite like the girl in marketing.

All that makes her likeable. But what makes her interesting is this look she gets sometimes. It’s the kind of look you imagine her getting at a house party, the second she decides she’s going to liven things up. By, y’know, jumping a fence, hotwiring a cement truck and going drag racing on the M50 at four in the morning.

Now, our coffee time was meant to sketch out how this blog should work. And sure, we sketched. But mostly we talked. Actually, mostly Ellie talked – about all the shows lined up, about how everything was falling into place, about how excited she was…

And then she stopped. And got a look in her eye. Correction…she got that look in her eye. ‘There’s this show and it’s got a guy and a girl. And there are these socks, and she’s feeding things into a hoover and…’ She paused. ‘I loved it. I won’t say anymore, but I can’t wait to see what you think.’

She was talking about Alessandro Sciarroni’s Your Girl, a work that, based as it is on Madame Bovary, implicity evokes the incongruity of romantic ideal and unmitigated reality. And yet its ultimate impact is quite contrary to what might be expected of such a provenance.

Under stark lighting, Chiara Bersani and Matteo Ramponi (downstage right, in a wheelchair, and upstage left respectively) meet, challenge but above all engage the audience’s attention. Moving to centre, where an industrial hoover is situated, Bersani first divests herself of her wheelchair’s support. Then, she proceeds to carefully pluck cloth ‘roses’ from her top, each bloom vanishing into the vacuum with a ‘he loves me’, or ‘he loves me not’. Then the top itself and finally her shorts. Each time she switches on the vacuum, her hair is caught, snatched at and whirled around by the expelled air, as if each statement coincides with and expresses an instant of intense emotion.

In the meantime, Ramponi – sitting on a mound of discarded socks and attaching his own socks to three ‘sock ropes’ dangling behind – maintains throughout a self-conscious yet passive demeanour. Joining her, he too strips, Bersani feeding his clothes into the machine (almost without interruption).

As the now naked pair gingerly find each other’s hand, an Italian pop ballad swells triumphantly, bringing this meditation on desire and yearning, self-consciousness and fragility to a quietly affecting and successful conclusion. I only wish we’d had a clearly demarcated ending so that I could have properly expressed my appreciation.

Although it could be asked whether Your Girl veers more towards the installation end of the performance art spectrum, the same could not be asked of the show that preceded it: Se nn ricordo male (If I remember correctly). With a muscular choreography soundly embodied, Eleonora Gennari and Valeria Fiorini establish a vigorous and varied tempo that dispels any hint of the cumbersome or ponderous. In this ‘monologue recited by two voices’, both dancers quite remarkably lend corporeal form to the trace and flash of memory. In motion that though territorially expansive seems ever under restraint, the act of (finally) slipping hands out of pockets is a relief, and pulling feet from shoes, a liberation. The climactic ending underscores it all: the raking violence of emotional memory, how the hook and haul of recall and remembrance can – at one and the same time – drive us towards and deter us from, ransoming the present from the past.

Which reminds me….kudos Creighton. I owe you a coffee.

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Wednesday, 12th May 2010

Yes? Yes!

Following on from yesterday evening’s adventures, let me offer a little advice, in reverse order of importance:

1. Eat something if you’re going to drink anything.

2. See if there are any tickets left for Yvonne Rainer’s RoS Indexical/Spiraling Down. Do it now. Right here.

Now let me explain why.

With RoS Indexical, Rainer uses one of the pivotal moments of recent dance history to fashion an often exhilarating work, capable of provoking both thought and laughter. How she manages this is perhaps most succinctly expressed in the title -  an indexical being an expression whose content varies from context to context. In this case, that expression is an event that has passed into dance lore – the 1913 Paris premiere of Rite of Spring.

RoS opens with four dancers seating themselves at a card table, putting on headphones and, in attempting to sing Stravinsky’s overture, replicating somewhat the effect the dissonance of Stravinsky’s music had almost a century ago. Yet what was (reputedly) for that audience an annoyance, was for those watching last night, a source of interest and even amusement.

Right from the outset, then, mutability of meaning (and thus, reception) is embraced. Throughout, the dancers’ ebullient performance is accompanied – and counterpointed – by the sound score of the BBC’s Riot at the Rite. At one point, the dancers ‘step off-stage’ and behind a large sofa, drinking water, talking and resting. At another, the stage is invaded by spectators planted in the audience, outraged at this ‘travesty’ of a now revered classic. And I’ve gotta say, I loved the touch of two indignant protestors dressed in Roerich’s original costume design…

Rainer’s second work, Spiraling Down, I found to have quite a different tone: Ravel’s Bolero, and a story about running (or a runner) spoken from a lectern by the dancers, or in Rainer’s own recorded voice, constituting the score. The movement of the performers reflected this athletic theme, but it’s movement infused with a giddy, frivolous energy that complements the intricate patterns of motion…and towards the end, it assumes an almost hypnagogic character with arm-whirling hunters in pursuit of prey, spiraling off stage and back again.

Now, before I go any further, I have to go right back to the start of the evening and the show Sunstruck. In a darkened Smock Alley, with nothing more than a circle of chairs, a single light source and two male dancers (Trevor Patrick and Nick Sommerville) dressed in black, Sunstruck created an amazing sense of utterly abstract space, and of cyclical motion within that space. And as the revolution of their bodies conjured with the relativity of distance – now infinitely far, now intimately close – the unhurried rise and fall of light, body and voice wore away the substance of all of it, of all existence. All emptied out, picked clean, worn bare and evoking in this spectator what he imagines is the sensation of happening upon the sun-bleached scattered purity of bones in a desert.

That emptying out of substance sort of brings me in a roundabout way back to RoS Indexical. As one of the founders of  Judson Dance Theater and Grand Union, Rainer was a part of a generation which, in its rejection of the constraints of modern dance and ballet, seems almost a recursion of the avant-garde of the early 20th century. That still earlier generation didn’t just test limits. They tore them down, overleapt them, inverted and subverted them. And because people (as a society, or as a class within a society) held a firm, at times absolutist conviction about the inviolability of an art form’s canon, code, standard or form…well, to see it violated couldn’t help but incite a firestorm of reaction.

What’s peculiar to me is how each iteration of this impulse seems fated to be weaker and less impactful than that which preceded it. I suppose it’s simply a testament to the success of all such movements (like the Dada movement) that it’s hard to imagine any audience being thrown into convulsions of outrage by anything.

And I guess that’s a good thing.

That said, I have to admit that sometimes – not often, but sometimes – I’d love just once to see an audience that cared enough to storm a stage. Unrehearsed.

Which in turn brings me back to my first bit of advice – why you need to eat something if you plan to drink anything

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Sunday, 9th May 2010

Let’s Count It Down…

We’re back!

That’s right. Yesterday evening’s proceedings kicked off with a wine reception in the Clarence and carried on well into overtime with a headphone disco in Meeting House Square. In between, I raved with actor and fitness guru Pall Gale about the most revolting film ever, discussed how childbirth can level the intellectual playing field in men’s favour with a step-dancing PR consultant, and drank at least one glass too many. Ah, the hazards of festival blogging…

Now, any given year presents festival organisers with their own hazards and crises. But 2010 promises to test the limits of even the most agile team. Already the trollish Eyjafjallajökull has made its mark in the Irish festival calendar, most notably Galway’s Cúirt literary festival. The concern must now be that travel restrictions will similarly affect  DDF 2010.  Indeed Philip Connaughton  – performing in Rex’s Secondary Sources – was telling me how, right after his flight landed yesterday, Irish airspace was shut down.

That said, the way Maureen Kennelly and her team – and the Irish literary sector as a whole – reacted to April’s madness was revelatory. The generosity of spirit, time and forbearance shown by all was truly inspiring. And if Laurie Uprichard’s words last night were any indication, that same sanguine character and settled determination will shape the dance world’s response to any upheaval.

Of course, the centre-piece of the evening was junk ensemble’s Five Ways to Drown. A world premiere and the festival’s inaugural performance, Megan and Jessica Kennedy’s latest work continues an engagement with memory – and the ambiguities inherent to any act of remembrance – to be found in their earlier works, Rain Party and Drinking Dust.  A quality of vivid fragmentation is present throughout, one where apparent discontinuities of action still somehow manage to resonate together to create meaning. Along with a reoriented seating arrangement and the contributions of Aedín Cosgrove and Denis Clohessy, the overall effect is akin to that of a dream.

As always, the choreography is polished and engaging. The cleverness and physicality of movement – where bodies spiral, cling and clamber, where dancers may fling themselves or be flung -  all this appeals and intrigues. And yet last night, something else caught my attention. And that was the abiding quality of each performer. The Kennedy sisters easily capture a spectator’s attention…but sometimes, I’m sure intentionally, in a way that is distant, or a little removed. As if giving form to an impersonal archetypal principle.

By contrast, Lee Clayden seems to embody the humanity, fragility and heart necessary to give the finale its poignant impact. It’s a poignancy that reminds us how, in watching this, we watch a soul caught, dancing, between Scylla and Charybdis.

And that’s why this show works, I think.

It’s not the undoubted technical ingenuity and craft of all involved. It’s how it reminds us that we’re all drowning, right from our first breath. And that each breath we take means something.

Okay, so that’s Five Ways to Drown. If you can, get a ticket. But even if you can’t, we have 23 artists/companies still to catch, from 9 countries, in eight venues.. And only one game in town.

So let’s go. Let’s count it down…

Author: duncan | Add your Comment »