Wednesday, 29th May 2013

Closing DDF2013: Philip Connaughton’s ‘Mortuus est Philippus’ @ Axis Ballymun

After a run of shows in the second week of this year’s festival characterised by exuberant physicality and punishing exactitude, the quiet sensitivity and emotional richness of Philip Connaughton’s ‘Mortuus est Philippus’ is even more marked.

Developed partly in response to composer Michael Gallen’s original score, inspired by the choral music written to mark the passing of King Philip II, ‘Mortuus est Philippus’ splices the lofty together with the mundane.

Connaughton took a beach setting as his starting point, having in mind a day at the sea as a humdrum, everyman type of experience. The dancer wears swimming shorts and the lighting suggests glaring sunshine, two simple elements that conjure a whole environment.

Connaughton is a lovely mover and there are plenty of gracefully-executed steps in the work, but what sets the piece apart is the depth of emotion the performer imbues this movement with.

This comes through most clearly in the sharply-defined images that punctuate ‘Mortuus’. At the opening, Connaughton stands silhouetted to the side of the stage, arms extended. It’s a serene image suggesting dawn and beginnings.

This serenity is later undermined by the repeated image of the dancer standing uncertain, with arms close to his sides, nervously clicking the fingers of his right hand against his thigh with a sense of urgency. Dancer Rebecca Reilly comes to his aid at these moments, taking the suddenly dependent and collapsing Connaughton in her arms to guide him around the space.

This sequence continues to recur until there comes a moment when Reilly doesn’t appear. Connaughton looks abandoned and fearful, repeating the tic-like finger clicking with increasing panic. Total vulnerability is starkly communicated in this moment with an honesty that is unnerving.

A study of self-awareness and the development of the self, ‘Mortuus’ transitions through many stages including fear, loneliness, vulnerability, and dependency. Throughout, Gallen’s majestic score raises the internal struggles of the anonymous individual on stage into something beyond the mundane.

Contemporary dance can be many things, as this year’s programme has again attested to. Cerebral, contemplative, gracious, slapstick, subversive, experimental, hilarious, physically challenging, poignant…

‘Mortuus’ comes at the end of a diverse programme of shows that included all of these things. To draw comparisons would be misguided, but there was something about this baldly emotional performance, staged on the outskirts of the city in none of the usual DDF city-centre venues, that felt appropriate to close the festival with.

It was movement beyond the merely gestural that managed to access that elusive thing: truth.

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