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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.

Author: rachel | Add your Comment »

Sunday, 26th May 2013

The Australian Contribution: ‘Dual’, ‘Skeleton’, and ‘Untrained’

The final days of DDF2013 have been dominated by work from the world of Antipodean dance. Hot on the heels of Ros Warby’s astonishing ‘Monumental’, three works by three different Australian choreographers have brought their own colour to the festival programme.

Stephanie Lake’s ‘Dual’ and Larissa McGowan’s ‘Skeleton’ opened in Project Arts Centre’s Space Upstairs on Friday night, both characterised by impressive physicality and split-second timing.

‘Dual’ is based on the premise of combining two solos into a duet, playing with the idea of compromise and the process of accommodating ‘the other’. The piece opens with a rapidly-paced solo performed by Alisdair Macindoe to a pulsating electronic soundtrack.

Macindoe displays formidable control, his movement by turns fluid and robotic but always, despite the quickfire pace, balanced on a dime. What Macindoe presents is a body at the whim of a capricious gravitational force, a compelling illusion that requires a significant degree of physical facility to create.

In contrast, Sara Black’s solo in the same piece more explicitly communicates intention and focus, following the lines of composer Robin Fox’s score. The sound of rasping wires pulled taut soundtracks movements that attack the space, while a white noise soundscape recalling the seashore backgrounds a series of gentle undulations across the floor.

Not being aware of the premise of the piece beforehand is interesting, as a gradual mirroring process in both solos is remarked at first only unconsciously, before the two dancers come together to repeat their first performances, this time in tandem and with intriguing adaptations.

In this sense, ‘Dual’ is both a showcase of physically demanding movement and an illuminating  investigation into how memory processes visual patterns.

The second half of the evening’s double bill and a no less physically demanding piece, Larissa McGowan’s ‘Skeleton’ is a playful cacophony of film references for seven performers, underpinned by rapid, precise movement and sharp choreographic timing.

‘Skeleton’ examines the relationship between bodies and objects from their past. Pieces of cuboid scenery in the style of a sci-fi flick set glide back and forth across the stage, disclosing props or dancers in surprising poses. Ben Bosco Shaw’s score, a hodge-podge of snippets from iconic films such as ‘Alien’ and ‘Scream’, is set against these props (a skateboard, a bike, a high-heel), a reference to the shared and personalised set of touchstones housed in our memories.

But what is really astonishing in this work is the ruthless physicality and endurance of the dancers, who display absolute commitment to what is consistently demanding, furiously-paced movement.

On a more contemplative, investigative note, Lucy Guerin’s ‘Untrained’ is a piece for four performers that foregrounds the issue of physical aptitudes and how they are shaped by professional dance training.

Consistently witty and endearing, the work sees four men (two trained dancers, two with no performance training whatsoever) engaging in a range of activities, from isolated dance steps (pirouettes and leaps), to improvisations, personal monologues, and cat impersonations.

‘Untrained’ is interesting for its examination of the way that the information programmed into a dancer’s body during their training allows them to approach movement in a manner that is quite distinct from an untrained individual. However, the work also throws up some other, surprising issues.

One of these is voiced by dancer Ross McCormack during one of the show’s monologues, where he explains how he feels the improvised movements of the ‘untrained’ dancers are perhaps more truly improvised than his own – they are thinking less about what they’re doing.

This comment is a double-edged sword as McCormack, wry throughout the performance, is of course poking fun at the untrained dancers’ more limited physical capacity. But it is also clear that he sees an element of truth in this: these ‘untrained’ men have not been programmed into any standardised usage of their bodies and so are, in a sense, more free to explore completely original movement.

It is surprising insights such as this, along with the wit and charm of its performers, that make Guerin’s piece both a valuable investigation into what makes a dancer a dancer, and a delight to watch.

Author: rachel | Add your Comment »

Sunday, 26th May 2013

A Fast Track to Dance Review of CoisCéim’s ‘Missing’

Many thanks to Tatjana Lobza, one of the participants in our Fast Track to Dance programme with Project Brand New, for the following review of CoisCéim Dance Theatre’s performance of ‘Missing’ at Dublin Dance Festival 2013.

Relatively small closed spaces, with place for only some of the audience, have always created a special, somewhat intimate atmosphere. Smock Alley Theater has a perfect setting for it. Whether a choreographer will be able to use this opportunity and in tandem with dancers create a connection to each audience member, giving canvas for imagination to paint a personal story on – is a question that in my opinion will determine the success of the performance. David Bolger has given Emma O’Kane and Tom Pritchard a rather ambitious task to take viewers on a journey of pain, worry, impatience and perhaps joy in some cases.

Missing is based on a very sensitive concept of people going missing every year in Ireland. It gives an insight into only some of the stories, explores various reasons and circumstances in addition to feelings involved of those who go missing as well as their families. Hope, pressure, despair, fear, depression – the list can go on and on, just like the list of names of missing people. Each one of us can relate to the concept either directly or indirectly. It is danced beautifully, ensuring none of the audience members is left unmoved. The dancers were able to use a small space and yet create a feeling of widely spread dark emptiness around. Eamon Fox did an amazing job with lighting, as it helped to portray emotions with stronger shades.

Overall the performance is well worth seeing, be sure it will not leave anyone indifferent. Even if the subject does not relate to the viewer directly, it awakes emotions we don’t usually think about unless certain events take place in our own life.

Author: ellie | Add your Comment »

Sunday, 26th May 2013

Photos from the DDF Reception of 24 May

It’s not every year that there’s a whole range of Australian contemporary dance performances to choose from in Dublin! So, to celebrate, DDF held a reception at the Project Arts Centre on Friday. The Australian Ambassador to Ireland was in attendance, as were many of the Australian artists and guests who flew to Ireland especially for Dublin Dance Festival.

If you missed it, don’t forget that there’s still a chance to see Australian dance today!

Images by Eddie Wong.