Dublin Dance Festival

What The Body Does Not Remember, Image Credit: Danny Willems

So, I’ve just returned from yet another whirlwind trip to Ireland, this time, to experience the first week of the Dublin Dance festival. I took in eight performances, four post show talks and two movement workshops. The program was hectic, I mean eclectic. There was just about everything on offer, from the refined decorative to the highly conceptual, representative, narrative, abstract, collaborative and deconstructed.  I am knackered.

Choreographer Tero Saarinen of Finland was the featured opener playing over two nights with yet another homage to Stravinsky, this being the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Rite of Spring in Paris . A highlight was his choice of live accompaniment. Two accordions played Petrushka in the first half of a double bill, lending an ambience of the perfect carnival spectacular, helping the audience to accept the farcical delivery played out in bright Russian Cassock style costumes, complete with shadow-play on the walls from clever foot lighting and a snow drift from the rafters symbolic of a collectible dome. The second piece was danced by Saarinen himself to Rite of Spring. Both works were highly physical, the first quite balletic and the second unrelenting with extreme upper torso articulation, the back rippling with arms as wings as Tero played both the hunter and the hunted simultaneously. For all the strobe lighting and body projected visuals I was left wanting more integrated performance from the two men who captivated us with their lively musical and performative prowess. I had taken the workshop with Tero the next morning and he was one of the most charming and encouraging movement facilitators, not overly possessive of his process, with a keen ability to help us find our own sensitivity and wonder, focussing on the awareness of our extremities with the tactile sense of animals. I just wish I had’ve been able to take the workshop first as my appreciation of his intent was magnified in hindsight.

Ultima Vez was a drawcard and did not disappoint. What the Body Does Not Remember is a 25 year old work that premiered in 1987. In the post-show talk it was revealed that the work was not considered dance when initially made but that it was labelled dance theatre when procuring funding. The movement vocabulary still had the vibrancy and urgency that demanded notice all those years ago and which had me on the edge of my seat, butt clenched, ready to take flight or action as near misses from flying bricks hurled and caught in a maelstrom of erratic fast paced multi directional double dummy runs and tackles. The dancers spoke of working on instinct with just a little live unrehearsed dodge play included in every show. Again I took part in the movement workshop after seeing the performance and for this I was glad because it meant I had an idea about what I was in for. As one of the oldest participants I was paired up to partner with a young lad who had only had three dance classes- in total (potential comedy of errors). He lamented his sore muscles and friction burn, I told him to get used to it and then ran and jumped into his arms shoulder height.

A surprising stand out performance by choreographer Daniel Linehan also presenting a double bill; Montage For Three and Not About Everything. The second of which involved him circling the audience twice before spinning full pelt in a clockwise direction for 30 minutes in a circle, within a circle of books, enclosed by a horseshoe of chairs placed on stage for audience members to feel/witness his highly visceral offering more intimately. During this time he spoke in choral unison to a recording of his voice which at first declared what the piece was not. It was not about spinning, it was not about world peace, not about anything, not about everything. He then began to ponder what the work was about in a letter he read to us, written to himself. In an effort to make the work more meaningful he signed a petition and enclosed it in an envelope, handing it to an audience member to mail, he drank and disrobed (not fully) all while spinning with subtle shifts in rhythm and speed throughout. It wasn’t the spinning so much, or the layered party tricks, but the attachment of the urgency and futility to do something meaningful that made the work compelling, clever and cleverly arrogant.

Fearghus O Conchuir invited six performer collaborators of his to create a solo on him in response to cure and recovery, aptly titled Cure. While describing physically a cure of/from something, many of the choreographies within the work, had to site the ailment that first existed. For some reason the work had the feeling of ground hog day, with each choreographer returning to the same place- ground zero. No, not literally, maybe either drug dependent rehab or compulsive psychotic group therapy. There was beautiful integrated usage of props, blankets to comfort and provide security in the continual need for folding and assemblage, the careful avoidance, dispersion of and tempting play around a ring of salt, evoking the physical hold a substance can have on the body, a tight circle of chairs nudged outward with a mixture of barely contained rage and sexual devious. Sadly even the sheer physical beauty and virtuosity of the dancer couldn’t overcome the dramaturgical redundancy. I couldn’t help but feel the work still has places to grow and develop, which was reinforced at the post show talk when he confirmed that he had too little time to play or contemplate the order in which the separate pieces were presented.

Jean Butler’s Hurry was a clinical expose in movement. Set on a bare wooden floor with two adjacent walls strung laterally, joined by a series of taught strings, evocative of an Irish harp slightly upturned. Her vocabulary was filled with idiosyncratic nuance indicative of the Irish stepping of her formative training. I assumed, incorrectly it seems, that Irish punters drawn to this work by the advertising could identify with and relate to it. But by the look on some faces and the overheard exclamations of small disappointment, this was not so. This is something I can relate to intimately. The contemporary contextualisation of ‘folkloric’ movement tied to specific cultural rituals is an alien pill to swallow. Not bitter, not understood.

Shaun Parker’s outdoor creation Spill was geared toward families, and even on a bloody wet and freezing afternoon, the reception was strong, a real crowd pleaser. You could almost see the young gun’s clocking up several risky manoeuvres in the memory bank for trialling later, as the performers interacted with swing sets and slippery-dips, bouncing off benches and bodies alike. Thank god Shaun won’t be around when the potential outpatient medical emergencies line up.

Two of the scheduled performances consisted of in-progress showings and re-staged works. A stand out amongst the remounts was Liz Roche’s An outside Understanding, duet with ‘one able bodied dancer and one without’. Once I got over feelings of sentimentality what struck me was my underestimation of ability, my almost dismissive initial perception. These dancers were interesting to watch when the physically challenged partner was free standing, but when she took to the floor in her wheelchair, she was awesome. She spun and wheeled nail bitingly close to the peripheries of the stage and partnered with sophisticated timing, able to lock her wheels and interact with her partner almost simultaneously.

Taking part in the workshops I thought something was amiss.  A large proportion of the participants were from overseas. I half expected there to be dozens of local eager ambitious uni students crowding the corridors if not in with us. The showings, which I relish, because an unfinished work begs the audience to watch with imaginative eyes, to see the possibilities and furnish what we see with what could be, were crafted by artists with a huge variance in experience. Still the offerings were rich, from the transcontinental Mexican farce in Fit/Misfit to the beaten chokehold of the caring menace in Fulcrum by Dylan Quinn Dance and the clever site specific use of roller shutters as both light source and rhythmic sound track in Liv O’ Donoghue’s With Raised Arms. It wasn’t until I was talking to a rep from Dancehouse that I realised it was not a tertiary institution. Ireland doesn’t have a tertiary dance course! Ireland doesn’t have a secondary educational dance component! How can a country so proud of its literary prowess, the country that brought us James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, be so complacent about dance?

So double kudos to Dublin for a substantially diverse first half. Too bad I’m not there as we Aussies dominate this week- Lucy Guerin, Stephanie Lake, Larissa MacGowen and Roz Warby. I just know our unrelenting physical presence, mixed with anarchic irreverent humour and genius borne from isolation will win over. I will not chant. (Aussie!)