May 11 & 12, 2018
A brief touch down at Dublin Dance Festival begins with the always exquisite, always considered Christos Papadopoulos/Leon & the Wolf and his new work, ION. This being my third time seeing Papadopoulos’ work, I find myself reflecting on what an odd viewing experience his work is. On the one hand, ION’s intense hypnotism and brutal interrogation of the minuscule forces the viewer, as in his other works, into an uncompromisingly contemplative state, verging on tedium. And yet, when changes occur (whether in the group’s direction or its configuration), they are immensely rewarding and methodically earned, and I marvel at both Papadopoulos’ nuanced understanding of rhythm, and the dancers’ incredibly fine execution.
I am told ION was devised for a larger space, and this knowledge does sometimes mean the dancers appear clustered together rather than imperceptibly bound. It is hard not to (and indeed, possibly unfair to) compare ION to previous works but the symbology of ION feels grander, with the lighting in particular a constantly shifting landscape the dancers flit in and out of when caught in near darkness, or an oppressing presence from above that casts shadows around the contours of the dancers’ bare torsos. This, and the cast’s frequent repositioning on the stage, are sometimes caught at odds with the movement’s need for time and space to slowly, incrementally unfold. But there is nonetheless something both wonderfully mechanical and alien, yet always undeniably human and inevitable about ION that confirms Papadopoulos’ exceptional talent.
First Looks was an enjoyable hour of three in-progress works, that are all mature in their premise yet still happily working things out. Works in development are often a joy to see, the idea still raw and full of potential. Jessie Keenan’s Fragments is calm and delicate, as three women meander through the audience that box them in. While the performativity differs between dancers (some stare blankly ahead, while others seem caught in an inner dialogue), the unexpected moments of group synchronicity have the most affect in an otherwise introspective piece.
In Archipelagic Thinking, artist Ruairí Ó’Donnabháin has to gradually cajole his audience into the wild landscape that is scattered across the studio, a mixture of rocks, dirt, musicians, naked bodies and photographs of the remote island off the west coast of County Cork he has been working on. Ó’Donnabháin is friendly and inviting, yet he speaks always in Irish, prompting a pertinent moment where he (presumably) asks the audience to stand and only half rise. Archipelagic Thinking is an intriguing installation/performance that sits in the space between familiarity and exclusion, allowing, in particular for non-Irish speakers, a unique experience of being welcomed yet removed.
In Merlin from Iseli-Chiodi Dance Company, four creatures galivant across their bare landscape, some painted in white, others in animal furs and some with wigs of tumbling, curled hair. There is something wonderfully raw and wild, evocative of older, more pagan traditions, in the freedom of these individuals and their erratic, unbound movements. In the second half, the two women are dragged and folded into awkward positions by the two men, unknown creatures bound by their captors, who don’t know what to do with them. And yet, while Merlin toys with the unruly, it is the piece in the mixed bill with the most technique and it is a joy to see choreographed movement used to evoke characters, places and histories.
Junk Ensemble’s Dolores takes the uncomfortable world of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and throws its locations into several rooms in an old factory, and splits the character of Dolores (nicknamed Lolita by the narrator of the novel, Humbert Humbert) into three women, representing different points in her life. The audience are divided into two groups and led through the spaces either by the characters or a young girl who remains predominantly in an observer position. The work thus has an episodic and associative structure, which, while undoubtedly rigorously researched, can sometimes inhibit a continuous, emotional thread.
Nonetheless, there is some impressive acting from Mikel Murfi, who snaps between the oppressive, slimey Humbert and his interlocutors in a dazzling display of rapid re-characterisation. While the movements between him and the younger women seem sometimes superficially rather than convincingly dominating and destructive, it is the moments between the women that hold the most power. As one Dolores wipes the lipstick off the young guide, there is an honesty in the different experiences, the child becoming an adult and the older performer, who knows that once that lipstick is on, there is a whole world that cannot be held back. Dolores acquires a particular poignancy at this festival in the context of the divisive ‘Repeal the 8th’ referendum at the forefront of current Irish politics, with graphic placards from opposing groups plastered around the city, greeting the audience as they leave the venue.
The final performance of the weekend is Lea Moro’s (b)reaching stillness, which asks a question no one wanted an answer to: how can stillness be a starting point for movement? While the set design and colours of the piece richly evoke the decadence of baroque painting, Moro’s starting point in researching immobility, the dancers’ incredibly slow movements fail to hook the audience. Indeed, it is not even this stillness that deadens the piece but its structure and attitude. (b)reaching stillness is disconnected, moving between lazy renditions of Swan Lake (to imply what? The restriction of classical art?), to twitches on the floor, to nonchalantly drinking from a water fountain. And while the dancers may happily experience the comic disjoint between their faux grand moves and the stirring music, this feeling is not transferred to the audience, who instead struggle to gain anything from the performance.