Tuesday, 8th June 2010

Postcard from home

On her way back to London, Mary Kate Connolly jots down some notes on her snapshot of DDF 2010…

I’m on the bus from Dublin airport, not fifty yards away from the terminal when it starts. A kaleidoscope of images that are ever familiar, but now animated unsettlingly as signifiers; symbols and evaluations of my home where at the moment, I don’t live. And so the airport roundabout is not a roundabout, but the setting for a sculpture which my uncle designed some years ago. Street corners offer up not a blurry landscape of dear old dirty Dublin, but epic spaces which have hosted a first drink, a missed opportunity, a chance meeting. There is an inherent valuation system at work as I watch this cartoon: has the city changed? Is it better or worse? Does it comply with my now heavily romanticised notion of what Home is? There is ever-present, the capacity for disappointment in this reunion…like a lover whose late arrival and scruffy attire fails to measure up to the heart-fluttering and anticipation of the girl who has waited expectantly for him.

Progress and change it must be said, I view with certain discomfort; it points to a kind of slippage, a sense of time passing – am I not allowed just to preserve it all? Seal it tight in a jar, static and frozen until I come home. Returning this time however for a short sojourn at the Dublin Dance festival, change, shifts, and vibrancy were the order of the day…and all in a good way. The dynamism of the festival was palpable, with the city playing host to an eclectic selection of Irish and international artists, all showcasing varied works, and chatting over Sheridan’s cheese platters.

The festival’s themes were ones which engaged me from the outset. Originally heralding from a largely balletic background, I find myself increasingly drawn to performances like that of Raimund Hoghe’s or Carlotta Sagna’s in which the charisma, texture and depth of the work stems not from flashy dance technique or youthful physical perfection per se, but from the richness of witnessing somebody inhabit a performance space, and infuse it with their presence. For me, Dublin Dance festival didn’t emblazon in lights that there are older/different bodies on stage. In fact it achieved something more subtle, in that I never actually noted the age or physicality of a performer as being particularly remarkable or different within the festival context. It seemed perfectly natural to watch the gentle poise of Madge Bolger performing in Swimming with my Mother, and giggle at the ironic bodily journey of Silvia Gribaudi in A CORPO LIBERO. Likewise works like GIMP by Heidi Latsky redefine the parameters of dance, simply by existing, and doing. To me this is not a case of people overcoming something to perform, or adapting dance to their physicality or age – rather they just expand and innovate the form in new directions, and offer new possibilities.

David Bolger | Swimming with my Mother | Clive Welsh

In addition to the quiet rupture of sometimes prevalent bodily norms in performance, I found the works in the festival provided some thought-provoking material in terms of considering signification in dance, and the inherently evocative nature of the artform. ‘Signification in dance’, according to choreographer Tere O’ Connor ‘is a tower that’s constantly falling down’ (1).  In his quest for abstraction, his choreography seeks out an a-symbolic journey, in which associations are formed, but only fleetingly. Sentiments echoed in codified whispers and suggestions. Personally, I find the potential for evocation which operates on an abstract level, a particularly eloquent capability of dance. In performances where abstraction and blurring are at work, there is a generosity afforded for the viewer to associate and disassociate as they choose. The heady strains of Peggy Lee swirling around a minimalist tableau in Young People, Old Voices communicate an emotion that is piercing due precisely to a sense of remove. Similarly the disjointed and unsettling score of DAY, composed by James Baker, pursued a largely oblique journey save for a few nuggets of faintly recognisable sounds or harmonious passages which all of a sudden tinged the choreography in a momentarily different hue – fresh and arresting due to their scarcity.

Experiencing the festival as I was, with ‘visitor goggles’ on, I was struck by the thought-provoking flavour of the 2010 programming, and testament to this were the good natured arguments and opposing viewpoints which the selection of works inspired. After all, isn’t that dance at its best? Provoking, inciting and seducing, not with didactic or ostentatious display, but through the multiple, intriguing possibilities of the human body.

Mary Kate is a freelance movement practitioner and writer on dance and performance, currently based in London. She holds a lecturing and research post at the Laban conservatoire of Contemporary Dance.

1. O’Connor speaking at the Many Bodies Of Contemporary Dance Symposium.

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