Dance binge


Dot writes: how much dance can you watch before your brain melts? On Saturday I came pretty close to finding out, but fortunately came away feeling thrilled and inspired instead (phew). I took part in the Fast Track Express programme of Dublin Dance Festival: a group of twelve people were treated to four different shows (three of them double bills, so that was seven different dance pieces), interspersed with meetings with some of the dancers and festival staff, plus group discussions. I went because…well, I love dance, I love talking intensely about things, and I couldn’t make up my mind what to see otherwise. I was one of only two members of the group who didn’t work in the arts or theatre world him/herself. It was a lovely group of people, ably shepherded by Lynette Moran and Niamh McCann (of Live Collision).

This is what we saw:

12pm FIRST LOOKS at the Dance House: Maria Nilsson Waller, merry.go.round (piece for four dancers) and Oona Doherty, Lazarus and the Birds of Paradise (solo piece)

3pm at The Complex: Katherine O’Malley, bias (solo performance with mixed media), and Liz Roche Company, Time Over Distance Over Time (six dancers)

7pm at The Cube, Project Arts Centre: Justine Cooper, Folds of the Crane (solo), and Liadain Herriott, Liminal (solo)

8pm Space Upstairs, The Project: Christiana Morganti, Jessica and Me (solo)

(N.B. A couple of the double bills are listed in the other order in the programme, but this is the order we saw the pieces in.)

It’s very hard to write about this because there was just so much of it. I’ll try to pick out some highlights and themes.

I enjoyed all the works we saw and everything had something valuable to offer me, but for me and, I think, most of us the outstanding piece was Justine Cooper’s Folds of the Crane. This was her first self-choreographed solo work. We’d met her earlier in the day and she spoke of the need in making the piece to ‘get out of [its] way’, of becoming a channel; in performance she was like a woman possessed – the word one of our group used was ‘shamanistic’. She had made a Japanese-style white mask that she wore on the top or the back of her head, so that she looked at first, moving on the ground, like some strange blank-featured creature, and then later, dancing with her back to us, like a double-jointed ghost. A crucial part of the incredible power of this piece was the astonishing use of lighting. In slantwise clefts of light on a dark stage she flickered bewilderingly in and out, cast a giant shadow on the back wall, and even seemed to float backwards and forwards and leave trails with her rapidly waving arms. It was hard to believe some of these effects could be produced other than with film trickery. At the end I think we all felt we hadn’t seen a dance piece so much as had a supernatural encounter. One of our group commented ‘I will remember this for the rest of my life’.

The piece to which I had the strongest emotional reaction was Time Over Distance Over Time. Unlike Folds of the Crane, with its weird suggestiveness, this was a very explicit piece. Liz Roche and her sister Jenny live on opposite sides of the planet, since Jenny married an Australian and now works in Brisbane. The piece addresses separation and digital connection and uses snippets of recorded and live speech, including the sounds of skype calls breaking up. There were some obviously (and effectively) metaphorical devices, such as the beginning when all six dancers groped with their eyes closed to take hands in a circle and then tangled, parted, pulled, tussled; another was a projected image that showed different members appearing in and fading out of a group shot. At other times I was more shut out or puzzled by what was happening, for example in a section when they assembled a figure of mirrors off to one side of the main stage space – I found it hard to see what was happening then (though one could say it was appropriate to the theme to have to strain to connect with something going on in a really awkward spatial relationship to me). But there was a point about halfway through when Liz began to speak on stage, in a stylized way, about remembering her sister as a child, and at that point I started to cry, and I cried through much of the rest of the piece. The theme of family separated over long distances, and something about how they put it on stage, really got to me. We had a session afterwards meeting Liz and Katherine O’Malley, the other half of the double bill, and I didn’t trust myself to say a word.

Some other themes and thoughts:

– the gulf that sometimes arises between what artists say about the meaning of a work or how it was developed and what we as audience get out of it. bias was a particularly strong example of this. The idea of bias and narrowing of viewpoints, which Katherine O’Malley had clearly thought about hard, didn’t come across to me. On the other hand, three of the four places filmed for the video component were ones I know very well (the sands by the Bull Wall, Dalkey Quarry, the flood ponds on Bull Island; the other scene I think was the South Wall, which I’ve never walked along). I was struck by the tension between the familiar scenes and the odd, slightly formal suggestiveness of the moves Katherine was doing in each them. I felt acutely the different implications of the same movements in different places – for example, lying down, a fairly normal thing on the grass of the quarry, a very wet uncomfortable thing on the tidal sands. So for me it became a piece about how we relate to the physicality of place and how gestures take on meanings in context, with Katherine’s live performance in front of us tying the parts together.

– the relationship between movement and language. Several people in the group had come from the world of plays looking to explore the possibilities of movement as opposed to speech, or abstraction rather than narrative, but our sessions with the artists – notably Justine Cooper, whose work was so visceral and theatrical in performance – showed us a surprisingly strong role for research, reading and writing in the creative process. Indeed several pieces incorporated speech: the final show we saw, Morganti’s, was as much a hilarious spoken-word performance as a dance piece.

– I see dance and I want to dance. This bodily art calls out to the bodies of the watchers and one wants to echo what one sees. But, in my case, I can’t, or only feebly, though I did ballet as a child. There’s an ache in that gap. I often find a similar ache in good music, because it makes me feel there is something beautiful I can’t quite reach – and this is about the emotional power of music as well as the limitations of my own abilities, it’s a sweet kind of pain – but it’s not quite so stark as with dance. I looked in the mirror on Sunday morning and saw a soggy fat woman. But it won’t stop me wanting to watch dance.

Image: Justine Cooper in Folds of the Crane, screen grab of YouTube clip embedded in the Dublin Dance Festival website.



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