A character in one of the international shows in Dublin Dance Festival remarks to another, “I like the way you move.” The comment, ironic in the particular context, had reverberations throughout the festival: the manner and mode of gesture, steps and phrases were connected to an interlocking jigsaw of themes. The subtexts relating to the many bodies of contemporary dance, alongside the interrogation of performance and underlying narratives seemed to suit the skills of the participating Irish artists, echoing their international counterparts’ meditative and coherent exploration of the essence of movement.
Liz Roche explored the essence of dance-making in her new work, Secondary Sources, for Rex Levitates dance company, which played with questions of audience and performance. What are they all looking at? In fact, as an audience we seemed to be facing a version of ourselves across the open space, even if they only numbered six. As a reflective choreographer, Roche is working from the inside, searching for the sources, influences and instincts that create movement. With four main dancers, Katherine O’Malley, Jodi Melnick, Matthew Morris and Roche herself, she added an exciting layer, an embodied unconscious of those six watcher dancers. Unlike us, they moved their chairs around, shifting perspective, and in one sequence Roche borrowed one of them, Taryn Griggs, forming a classical pas de quatre for our times, shimmering and shrugging shoulders off one another, arms crossing and uncrossing as if all were preordained. As the alternate audience/performers leaned forward or began to participate and integrate, the dancers seemed to try to lean their bodies and faces closer, as if listening intently for a clue. Composer Ed Rosenberg and musician Justin Carroll added a perfect syncopation of blues notes and rhythm to this expansive work, in which Roche is quietly but effervescently in charge.
The spirited woman in the blue dress slowly drifted into our consciousness and engaged our attention. This was Jean Butler, in Tere O’Connor’s Day, a solo commissioned by the Abbey Theatre. She is in foraging mood, excavating cupboards of memory as she embarks at full tilt on the journey to reinvent her movement vocabulary. Irish audiences, familiar with the discipline and vertical body language of Irish traditional dance in which Butler had exhibited mastery, were all the more in awe of her complete envelopment in a brave new world of contemporary idiom. German choreographer Raimond Hoghe made a remark during a seminar about dancing bodies sometimes being imprisoned by technique, and here choreographer Tere O’Connor plays with a different body, devoid of the usual referential gestures. He creates for this forceful performer a relentless series of urgent moves, to a noisy, interruptive soundscape, where every limb and muscle seems to be in perpetual motion, as though Butler is steeling herself to exorcise the past and to finish this challenge. She arrives calmly at the end of this metaphoric Day, less vulnerable but still determined. The ghosts of other lives and moves become silent companions and not rivals for a performer who has clearly found a platform for exciting new departures.
The companionship of mother and son seeped onto the stage in David Bolger’s wonderfully gentle, perfectly formed duet, Swimming With My Mother at Project Cube. The tone was nostalgic but not sentimental and created a perfectly managed exchange of roles. Is she teaching the choreographer to swim or is he teaching his mother to dance? The bonding and the different physical capacities were adroitly harnessed and it was good to see Bolger in performance again, always engaging, never too self-aware. Madge Bolger was consummately at ease, as the duo tripped through some clever intimations of synchronized swimming strokes. These moves were then counter-pointed by some waltz and cha-cha moves, evoking the swaying ballroom dances of old. A sequence of distressed moves, of arching back, grappling arms and flailing limbs, as nightmares raged and then were calmed, also bore the mark of interdependence. In this light and humane dance work you could almost smell the sea and feel the grainy sand between your toes as mother and son sat companionably on the bare bench, swinging legs.
Camera and dancers seem to open up all the nerves in the four RTÉ Dance on the Box films, the latest series of six-minute collaborations between Irish-based choreographers and filmmakers, commissioned by RTÉ and the Arts Council. In Mo Mhórchoir Féin, subtitled A Prayer, the camera draws suffocatingly close to the sinews and tufts of hair of a male torso, then draws back and we become aware that this almost naked man (Feargus Ó Conchúir) is dancing on the altar area of a church. The first agonised upward and downward moves are of a body in retreat and in abject lament, underscored by the haunting voice of singer Iarla Ó Lionaird. The breast-beating physical incantations of this prayer (“my most grievous fault…”) are contrasted with shots of sunlit stained glass windows, the alter boy clearing away the ciborium and missal, and an older woman sitting in the front pew. The contemporary implications are gentle, questioning received truths, and as with Ó Conchúir and director Dearbhla Walsh’s previous collaboration, bringing dance into a public space, a place of communal worship.
More narrative subtexts abound in Her Mother’s Daughters, in images and incident generated from a mother’s memory, re-enacting moments in a family life now changed. With choreography by Cindy Cummings and direction by Oonagh Kearney, the space again is a partner to the dance. In the high-ceilinged Georgian drawing room, all plasterwork and varnished floors, moving figures are introduced, generated like splinters of a remembered past. The shadow and light is artfully used to define characters and coinciding action, danced with energy and dramatic nuance by the cast around the mahogany tables, piano, and oversized chairs. They revealed secret moments of sibling rivalry, mischievousness and cruelty, all trapped in the gaze of Joanna Banks, looking out and beyond the tall casemented windows.
It is the light that attracts us in the mellifluous film Deep End Dance, captured in the camera eye of director Conor Horgan. The incongruous becomes surprisingly normal as a suited but goggled dance-maker/swimmer/dancer David Bolger dives into the pool. The dappled turquoise and pale green surface riven only by the gravitational pull of his dance, he turns and nonchalantly rests his elbow on his chin as he floats. When he is joined by his mother, Madge Bolger, their ensuing duet of somersaults and pirouettes, plunging and soaring by turn, create a joyful mood. It’s a reflection on beauty too, the difference of their bodies leveled by this aquamarine universe. Michael Fleming’s playful score for clarinet and piano at times invokes a merry-go-round, perfect for these magical, life-affirming six minutes.
Choreographer John Scott is a past master of bringing dance to unconventional spaces, both live and on screen. His previous work with filmmaker Steve Wood married dance with a glass office block, and in Admit One he audaciously brings the camera into its home, the cinema. The camera and the performer (an expressive Ashley Chen) perform with attitude and imagination, while the setting and the accessories prove animated company. There are many visual tricks and even a brief narrative, for the performer has danced his way in but is now caught with a neon No Exit sign visible. He is trapped in what looks like a white cube, but is in fact the white screen where his black-and-white figure, scrambling this way and that is projected to an audience furnished with 3-D glasses – a shot of black humour in this entertaining work.
Seona Mac Réamoinn is a dance writer, contributing to publications including the Irish Times, Sunday Times and Metro.
Duncan Keegan’s festival blog covers the final days of the Dublin Dance Festival 2010.
RTÉ Dance on the Box short films will be screened at Kinsale Arts Week in July.