In case you missed Project CATALYST participants The Company at Project Arts Centre on October 7, discussing their work-in-progress Politik, here’s a brief interview with The Company member Nyree Yergainharsian. (Some of you may have caught Nyree’s solo show, Where Do I Start? during ABSOLUT Fringe.)
Read the three finalists entries below and vote for next season’s My_Project Blogger in our poll in the right hand corner. Whoever gets the most votes wins. Good luck to all the finalists!!
I’m a writer/actor/director. Having studied English Lit, History of Art and Philosophy my interests are broad to say the least. The main reason I apply to this blogger competition is my friends told me to, which is really to give them some peace from my waxings, though they won’t admit that.
I don’t get to see enough theatre, especially of the kind I prefer: experimental, collaborative, and yoghurt-like. And I love to talk about it after, to digest it verbally.
Review: The Speckled Play
And here I am, like a school boy down the back of the bus, relieved to be seated watching others undergo the ordeal of eyes at the opening night of the Gate’s The Speckled People. The world première of the author’s adaptation of his own ‘extraordinary work’ and the Gate’s offering for the theatre festival.
Now, I could go on about the conflict of cultures, identity, and other thematic elements, and I have copious notes on set design, props, staging etc which I intended to lavish lovingly on you, setting the scene and what not, but, forget it.
There was a cast of nine, and one elephant. The elephant was having a grown man, and not a particularly youthful one, play a boy. Picture it: a man, some what of a five o clock shadow, being caressed and cared for by his thirty something mother! The mind gets the narrative, the dramaturgic device, but the unconscious is reeling and recoiling from the stimuli. I’m not asking for a seven year old, but would a thirteen or fourteen year old not have been a little more convincing? Yes yes: I understand the needs from the writing perspective as the character of ‘Hanni’ is the main narrator and therefore carries the play in many ways. But surely, dramaturgically, structurally it was an error.
So aside from the elephant, they speak in English but are supposed to be speaking in German, or is it Irish? When Mrs Hamilton speaks to the shopkeeper her English takes a German accent, meant to mean she is now not speaking in German, which is English, but is speaking in English with a German accent. Clear? Good. For when young Hanni is asked by an aunt, on his father’s side, who refuses to indulge her brother’s Irish fetish, what did he get for Christmas he then answers in syntactically backward English with a strong accent, meaning he is now attempting to speak English and the English he has spoke to us all along has been German, or is it Irish? Confused? So was I.
A little more thought into extracting a ‘play’ from the novel rather than trying to dramatise the novel would have been a safer option. But then, that would have required a playwright… The fact is nothing works in it, and doesn’t because without dramatic conflict everything else is simply ‘stuff’ as the Elizabethans would say. Commendable effort by the actors, but when you’re in a sow’s ear you are, and no amount of acting will change that.
I don’t care. Make it rough, make it clumsy, make anything but please make it something dramatic.
This is a cash cow for the Gate during the festival when fans of the book will surge and cluck towards it and, lest you think it, come away satisfied. They relive the joy of reading the book. I have not read the book, but after the ‘play’ it seems to me a middle class Angela’s Ashes, and is tonally reminiscent of Barry at his worst.
Go see it, just for the elephant.
Tiebreaker: Modern art is like yoghurt – it is good for you, but tastes bad going down.
You may not like it, but in the end it’s good for you, as anything truly transformative in the arts is. It has to break the mould and mould breakers are never popular with the vast majority.
Yet I beg to differ. Who says it tastes bad? There are others who, like masochists and pain, enjoy that ‘bad’ taste so that bad comes full circle and is considered ‘good’.
And as for the digestive metaphor, I know some who love the taste but cannot stomach yoghurt. Some will always have an intolerance no matter how much they like the taste.
My name is Catherine and I would love the chance to be a blogger for the Project Arts Centre. I’ve had a long-time love affair with the arts, stretching back to when I starting treading the boards of my local theatre as a little kid. I enjoy all things art, music, comedy and theatre. I’m a journalism student and writing is a major passion of mine so being able to write about the things I enjoy most would be an amazing opportunity; to see and meet those behind the scenes, and help spread the word of the world of culture and entertainment on our doorsteps.
Review: Juno and the Paycock.
Staging a dramatic return
Juno and the Paycock is back on the Abbey stage
Abbey Theatre, September 2011
Directed by: Howard Davis
As exciting as it is to witness new work, there is something very satisfying about seeing an Irish classic, particularly when it is staged in the same settings as its very first performance. On Monday, March 3rd, 1924, Sean O’Casey’s tragedy in three parts, Juno and The Paycock, was unveiled to audiences and now, almost 90 years later it returns again to the Abbey Theatre.
The second in O’Casey’s ‘Dublin Trilogy’, the play tells the story of the Boyle family, juggling the life of the Irish working class, the influence of the Catholic Church, the ever-present reliance on alcohol, all in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising.
As soon as light filled the stage, I felt like I was dragged into the bleak living conditions and intoxicating pessimism of 1920’s Ireland. Tall ceilings, flaking wallpaper and heavy, bare furniture filled the wonderfully authentic set. Hunkering characters came alive and thick Dublin accents burst from them.
‘Captain’ Jack Boyle (Ciarán Hinds) and his wife Juno (Sinéad Cusack) live with their two children, Mary (Clare Dunne) and Johnny (Ronan Rafferty). Juno’s daily routine involves constant attempts to get Jack to work, with his unwillingness to do anything except loitering in the ‘snug’ with pal and drinking buddy, Joxer Daly (Risteárd Cooper), proving a challenge.
Luckily for Jack, it seems as though his family’s worries are over when a relative leaves a considerable inheritance to him. Caught up in the glamour of their promised riches, Juno and Jack begin to live a life of luxury before their new perfect life begins to crumble. Although dealing with some of the darker sides of life, such as violence in Ireland, alcoholism, and the harsh views of extramarital sex, humour and tragedy is married seamlessly and the audience can go from holding in tears to laughing aloud in a matter of minutes.
Ciarán Hinds steals attention in many scenes with his delightfully warm portrayal of the jovial, yet hopeless ‘Captain’ Jack. He is convincing as the happy-go-lucky joker of the piece right through to Jack’s descent into solitude. Along with Risteárd Cooper and his “darlin’” catch phrase, the pair make a charming comedy duo.
Clare Dunne’s performance as love-struck Mary and Sinead Cusack as the ever-suffering Juno are both heartfelt. The once-strong mother and daughter are broken down as the story unfolds and both actresses beautifully display the heart-breaking trials they have to endure.
An excellent ensemble cast, beautiful set and timeless dialogue, Juno and The Paycock is a stylish, emotionally charged version of a classic. Humour is weaved delicately through the dark themes. Pride, shame and violence are traits that still speak to us today. As ‘Captain’ Jack himself says: “Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o‘ chassis”
Tiebreaker: Modern Art is like yoghurt – it’s good for you but tastes bad going down
Modern Art is like that carton of natural yoghurt sitting in a shelf of your fridge. You got it because you felt like you should, that you should behave yourself and steer away from the sugary, chocolate flavored ones.
The thing with natural yoghurt is that while we might not want to glug it down on its own, we use it when making so many other things. We have a taste for it without even realising. Modern art is something we enjowithout even knowing it ourselves
. Francis Wasser
I am a practising artist based in Dublin currently studying a MFA at the National College of Art and Design. I wish to take part in this project to further develop my writing and research methodologies. I believe that the review acts as a rendering of liminal territories that form between all parties within the arts. The review is the space between the audience and the event, the artists and the venue, reception and criticism. The review is a platform to further forge the necessity of engaged critical thinking within our many cultures. If selected I will utilise the blog to help make visible the vibrancy of activities, people and events that make the Project Arts Centre everything that it is, an essential arts centre in the heart of dublin with its doors open to all.
A Review of Liam Gillick’s A Game of War Structure at Imma, running now -October 31st 2011
I asked Liam Gillick in the toilets of Imma ‘How did Guy de bord die?’ to which he replied ‘Well, that’s an interesting question you know, because he never really did die.’ It is not widely known that Guy de bord of the Situationist Internationale(SI) met his demise by his own hand. De Bord shot himself in the heart at his property in Champot, France , on November 30, 1994. Gillick continued by saying that over lunch with several theorists he had prompted De bord’s death but no interest was expressed in this troubling fact. The conversation continued from the sinks across the courtyard to the bar. The topic of conversation was Simon Critchley’s 2008 book ‘The book of dead philosophers’. Critchley’s text centres on philosophy and the fundamental problems of our society globally. Citing Seneca ‘He will live badly who does not know how to die well.’ Critchley declares that ‘to philosophise is to learn how to die’.
A Game of War Structure, a new work by Liam Gillick is a configuration of Guy de bords 1977 war game ‘the kriegspiel’ translated as a ‘game of war’. De bords inspiration for the game came from 18th century french military theory. The game is played over 500 squares of 20 by 25. The objective is to destroy the opposition by either eliminating your opponents forces or deactivating their arsenals. The first move in chess is often considered as an immediate advantage. This game differs from chess in that each of the two players begin the game by placing their pieces wherever they want to.There are three boards placed around the courtyard of Imma and the pieces and instruction manual are obtained by handing over government identification at the main reception.
Games can take time. Gillick has never produced a piece like this before however throughout the duration of the game certain formal aspects of the work become apparent. The height of the board results in leaning on it as you would lean on the counter at a bank or a fast-food restaurant. The slick finish of the board has an effect as such that it feels that the game is a negotiation of something that is actually at stake be it a mortgage or collecting the dole. Gillicks milieu is ever present, furthermore it is a functioning construct but by no means a metaphor.
De bord produced the game at the age of 46, a decade after the events of May 68 of which he and the SI played a pivotal role in.One can imagine De bord sitting down after all is said and done, in a similar manner to duchamp dedicating his later life to the playing of chess. It is in this that Gillick’s passing comments on Critchley seem to fit. Notably, Gillick is also the same age now that De bord was when he set up his game company.
A Game of War Structure is a refreshing installation counterpointing the over saturated and needlessly metaphorical narratives, objects, situations and events currently running around Dublin…specifically.
Tie Breaker: “Modern Art is like yoghurt – it’s good for you but tastes bad going down”
I am not in favour of metaphor, this one in particular I find immensely problematic. Who wrote this? That said, I’ll go along with it. So Imagine me saying all of the below in a highly sarcastic accent, not that I am a fan of sarcasm:Modern Art may have been like yogurt in so far that it came in so many different flavours, if it is not well refrigerated it goes off and curds, and every now again you prepare yourself for the taste of chocolate and have to deal with the criminal texture of hazelnut….yuk.
(Read Part 1 here.)
I pay another visit to Genesis Collective in the run-up to their new show, A Lost Opera. This time the choreographer, Deborah Hay, is in the studio, helping Cindy, Julie and Ella work through this extraordinary piece.
I sneak in and perch on a chair as they concentrate on their usual problem: how to create a dance that utterly confounds its audience, in the best way possible. As far as I can see, the process seems to be one of destruction as much as creation; they focus on breaking links, anticipating and thwarting any connections the audience might make, to the extent of trying to foil or even pre-empt emotional responses. They constantly revise their own movements, correcting certain behaviours if they think there’s a risk of being too predictable or too explicit. If, as a viewer, you think you know what’s about to happen, or if you think you’re being told what to feel, then you tend not to engage with a performance quite so fully, any more than a passenger on a car journey notices the route. The Genesis Collective want your full attention. They want you to be present in the moment.
The process of developing the piece seems to be about finding unfamiliar ways for the body to move in space. Now and again a pose or a gesture seems as though it’s about to lead somewhere specific, falling in line with patterns of movement I’ve seen in my own body or in other forms of dance, but my expectations are always defied. It’s like looking at a fractured image with the persistent belief that it will soon resolve itself, but thankfully, it never does. This is much more interesting.
Watching the dancers move with this strange, nervous energy, they seem like fox cubs emerging from a den for the first time, exhibiting something between confidence and reckless optimism – fearless only because they haven’t yet learned to be afraid. They stretch in search of ill-defined limits that they instinctively know are there but haven’t yet met. One sequence in particular is like watching someone discovering their body anew, half-remembering how to move. It’s as if the dancer’s confidence grows as she continually meets with little or no resistance. Every bizarre experiment turns out so well you begin to believe her body can do literally anything she wants it to. It wouldn’t surprise if she pushed her fist gently through a wall or detached a leg and held it aloft like an Olympic torch.
Sometimes their movements are brash and chaotic, sometimes they’re much more subtle: one woman stands near the edge of the room and her body seems to hum, like the glimmer of a distant star. Another ripples with something between a shimmy and a shudder. One staggers in from offstage, arms spilt and palms like warm bowls, a Christ-like vision of surrender. The longer she maintains this pose of exaggerated vulnerability the more unbearable it gets; I find myself curling defensively on her behalf. It’s moving and weirdly hilarious to watch.
There are many moments like this, when I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Their bodies form a strange tableau, beautiful and melancholy and absurd, with two figures upright on restless feet and one lying prone on the floor. Then the apparent absurdity flickers and they become mere shapes in space, odd and emotionless as cacti in the desert.
Twenty Ten directed by Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady (THEATREclub)
@Project Arts Centre, Sep 10th – 15th & Sep 17th 2011 (ABSOLUT Fringe)
A script compiled of people’s anonymously submitted personal thoughts and reflections during 2010, should, you’d imagine, make for pretty grim reading. Admittedly, for most people it was a bad year. The show, however, is less bleak than you’d expect.
This might partly be because even expressions of grief or bitterness read as black humour when flanked by the cheerful or trivial. Items of shining sorrow rolling by on a conveyor belt of the mundane just seem absurd; a passing focal point, like the cuddly toy in The Generation Game, and you find yourself laughing at something that was probably written in sincerity and pain. More often than not, there isn’t time for it to sink in. Occasionally, however, the cast use some deliberate technique to slow everything down – staging an intervention to alter the atmosphere, if only for a moment, to force or allow reflection. A pause, a repetition, a tense silence, or some unexpected physical gesture breaks the momentum.
There’s quite a bit of falling over and flinging pennies around. People move to the front of the stage, climb on chairs, walk off and reappear from different doors. Now and again, these things can seem slightly gimmicky, as if their function is simply to make the show more obviously a theatrical production and less like a book reading, but most of the time they’re effective and useful for breaking up the torrential flow of information.
Short stories, expressions of loss, hard-earned advice, bursts of ecstasy, neurotic confessions, private fears and glimmers of madness rush together like some biblical flood that steadily fills the building, as a bell like the ‘ding’ of a rising elevator marks each day already swallowed. Submersive viewing.
The Year of Magical Wanking directed by Phillip MacMahon (Thisispopbaby)
@ Project Arts Centre, Sep 10th – 17th 2011 (ABSOLUT Fringe)
The Year of Magical Wanking is a one-man play delivered in twelve episodes, like an AA recovery programme, separated only by brief blackouts – appropriate to this story of addiction. Alternately speaking as self-loathing queer, migraine sufferer, abuse survivor, demented leprechaun, drag-queen-of-the-harpies, and would-be Messiah, Neil Watkins spills his guts. Somehow he makes his extraordinary experiences easy to identify with, presenting in every scene a tumult of conflicting emotions and impulses so real that you cringe in recognition, even if you, personally, have never actually done anything morally questionable to the sleeping person of one of the Garda Síochána. Christ-like, you absorb his sins.
In Project Arts Centre’s Space Upstairs, a rectangle on the floor delineated by footlights and duct tape has become a safe space for Watkins to confess. You almost feel nervous for him when he treads beyond its confines. If he seems a little nervous himself at first, it’s understandable. It’s heavy going in places; parts of his tale are so raw, but when this bittersweet story finally comes full circle you leave the theatre feeling uplifted, like exiting a confession box. You can only hope he too finds absolution in the telling.
It’s open rehearsal night at a practice room in the TEAM building in Marlborough Place, tucked down an alley somewhere in that little pocket of Dublin near the Spire that seems to be teeming with theatres and studios and rehearsal spaces. Right about now, as ABSOLUT Fringe is gearing up, this jumble of old and new buildings is home to dozens of writers, actors, dancers, designers, visual artists, choreographers, producers and composers, slipping in and out, more or less unnoticed, like neurotic rabbits in a vast warren. In the middle of all this mostly invisible activity there’s a room, and in the middle of the room sits Neil Martin Watkins.
Neil has a confession to make.
The show is called The Year of Magical Wanking, which should give you an idea of what you’re in for, and it’s one of the highlights of this year’s ABSOLUT Fringe festival. It’s directed by Phillip McMahon, and produced by Jenny Jennings and Lara Hickey of Thisispopbaby (currently part of Project Catalyst). It is road movie and tell-all autobiography and social satire all nailed to the same cross and it’s starting this weekend (preview show Friday September 9th).
The things Neil reveals range from touchingly sweet to eye-wateringly raw – confessions you thought you were ready for, but you’re not. There’s a piercing self-awareness throughout, and an unnerving commitment to the truth, or what feels like truth; like a Lucien Freud painting, no one comes out of this looking good. But likewise, it’s intensely powerful. The writing is lyrical, often beautiful, elegaic and witty. It has to be. There has to be some artistic merit to this kind of merciless confession, otherwise there’d be no difference between this hideous vulnerability and any other wince-inducing self-exposure, like a weirdo in a trenchcoat flashing kids in the park. The rhyme (the whole show is written in iambic pentameter) adds another comforting degree of distance, giving the whole piece a flow and an elegance that still doesn’t disguise the content any more than lipstick disguises the existence of a mouth.
The show follows Neil as he confronts personal demons and thoughts of suicide, indulges in messianic delusions, and grapples with his various addictions – sex, drugs and variants thereof. Anecdotes, vignettes, snippets of childhood memories and vivid sexual fantasies are stitched together into a Portrait of the Artist, right down to the internal battles with his alter-ego and drag persona, Heidi Konnt. You get a sense of how incredibly difficult this kind of brutal honesty must be to sustain, as Neil switches tack to make sure the audience doesn’t get too comfortable. Despite the sordid nature of the material, despite the melancholia and the squalor, Neil is immensely likable, which is an effect that he has to puncture to heighten the impact of the show. He is not in it to win your sympathy, because that wouldn’t be truthful. Through Heidi, he presents his shocking revelations through an unsympathetic character, and you see, perhaps, how he really sees himself.
There’s only time for a few questions, so I ask Neil if he finds it difficult to return again and again to the place he needs to be in psychologically for the show to work. “Well, the writing and the performance of it are different things,” he says. In fact, the show’s been written for long enough (it was first performed at Project Arts Centre last year) that he can treat it as he would any other script, and actually enjoy, as an actor, the challenge of rediscovering the work anew every time it’s performed. “It’s been really different every time.” Watching him rehearse, seeing him deliver a section of monologue twice but in two completely different ways, he seems to be enjoying it enormously. Reading the script, you mightn’t imagine the verse left much room to manoeuver, but with inflection, body language and timing alone Neil manages to completely alter the atmosphere of any given line. “You have to leave yourself open to instinct,” he says simply. “Transcend ego and intellect and go into a place where you’re free to make a fool of yourself.”
The Year of Magical Wanking is showing in Project Art Centre’s Space Upstairs from Saturday 10th – Saturday 17th September 2011. There’s a video teaser here and you can book tickets via the ABSOLUT Fringe website.
Maurice Joseph Kelliher is working on a new show, Criminal Queers, which will be showing in Project Arts Centre as part of ABSOLUT Fringe this year. I meet Maurice for the first time in Le Bon Crubeen, on Talbot St., near DanceHouse where he has been rehearsing. He has a coffee and I order a glass of red wine and faintly regret it almost immediately because it’s only 3 in the afternoon and I’m supposed to be keeping this professional. Well, never mind. Almost instantly we fall into easy conversation about the idea of professionalism, about the business of art and the split personality a person has to cultivate in order to make interesting, considered work and then sell it successfully.
“Selling it” can involve anything from an artist’s statement to a press interview, a blurb in a programme to an application for funding. To be good at these things usually involves developing an ability to make logical, persuasive arguments supporting your artistic choices, when of course, in the studio, actually making those choices rarely involves much logic or reason. Choreographing a dance piece or painting on canvas or writing a script is not like compiling a mathematical proof. One thing doesn’t lead inexorably to the other, with no room for doubt. Most of the time you rely on your intuition and “that bit just feels right” is as good a justification as you’re ever going to get. Perhaps later, with hindsight, you might be able to see some causal relationships between your decisions, to spot the influences that fed certain processes, but in the moment of creation, as it were, it’s best to go with your instincts.
And for an audience, seeing work unfolding in front of their eyes, the same advice still stands. Especially for dance, which people often approach in the wrong way, nervously analysing every flexed heel and elbow for a trace of the logical investigation they assume underpins each motion.“We’re programmed to look for narrative,” Maurice concedes. “I’ve done it myself, sitting in the theatre, thinking: what does it mean, that meant something, she pushed her, what does that mean?” Even if you can’t turn that off, you just have to trust yourself – trust that you’re getting exactly what you’re meant to just by paying attention. “Most of our communication is non-verbal,” Maurice points out – we’re all already fluent in body language, so much so that it’s almost totally subconscious. Think about how your body behaves when you’re on the couch at home, watching Final Destination or something and snorting with laughter, and compare it to when you’re sitting at a Luas stop and there’s a creepy man scratching himself and barking at strangers. You can tell when someone is uncomfortable. You can tell when someone’s relaxed. If you’re apprehensive about dance because you think you won’t get it, you should give yourself more credit. You already know this stuff.
Of course, there are lots of different kinds of dance. Some of it does have a narrative, like traditional ballet, some of it is a physical response to music, some of it is simply meant to be beautiful. In Maurice’s case, “it’s never movement for movement’s sake,” he says. There is always content, and the challenge lies in finding the best means of expressing that content. He approaches this problem the way any artist should, questioning whether his preferred medium is the right one for this task and drawing on other disciplines for inspiration, exploring the best ways of presenting his ideas. He brings a wide variety of information into the studio to share with his dancers: images and video, photographs, paintings, film stills. Sometimes he works with them to generate their own imagery, making video diaries or shooting footage that will later inform the aesthetic or the atmosphere of a finished piece.
In this newest work, Criminal Queers, the theme is as the name implies: an investigation of the nature of queer identity and of criminality, and the overlap that has either been forced upon people by draconian laws or has emerged from some other internal or external pressures. When homosexuality is criminalised, people react in different ways. Some are open and defiant, others carry the secret of their innate guilt wordlessly, outlaws hiding in plain sight. Even when laws change, society takes a long time to catch up. The dynamics remain. In a broader way, the show also examines breaking taboos in general; how it feels to flout convention or to see norms being transgressed – social behaviours, gender stereotypes, conventions of dress – whether it’s by Oscar Wilde, sex workers or the Suffragettes. It’s an exploration of the psychology of “criminals” and how they’re created. It’s also about acknowledging the darker side of ourselves when we present ourselves for acceptance by the wider society; too often oppressed groups feel the need to offer a non-threatening, inoffensive version of their collective identity for appraisal, as if acceptance thereby gained would amount to true equality.
The range of imagery and influences that Maurice has drawn on to develop this piece is fantastically broad, from Christian iconography and images of St. Sebastian to movie soundtracks and fashion spreads. When I accompany Maurice to the rehearsal space, the dancers Isabella Oberlander and Olwen Grindley are trying on potential costumes, selected by Sinead Lawlor, the show’s costume designer. Olwen is slipping into a silvery evening gown that makes me think of Zelda Fitzgerald and Great Gatsby-style cocktail parties. Isabella is exquisitely androgynous in a crisp white shirt. What is startling, watching them practice in and out of costume, is just how much the clothing affects my reading of the dance. I feel like I should know better, like I should be able to see past the clothes. But somehow, when Isabella’s in a pinstripe suit, every “feminine” motion makes a statement. I read her movements as aggressive, domineering, or protective when moments before, they were nothing of the sort. Does she feel it, does putting on the suit affect the way her body moves or am I simply seeing my own notions of masculinity reflected back at me? When Olwen’s in that dress, her movements instantly acquire a sort of dangerous glamour – women in dresses like that don’t generally move this way, so freely, so powerfully, except maybe in the dramatic climax of the movie, where the party’s turned sour and they’ve had too much gin and they just don’t give a fuck any more.
The cinematic feel of the show – and it’s still very much a work in progress – is something Maurice has considered at length. You’re unlikely to catch direct references to particular movies, but the atmosphere or aesthetic of scenes from, say, Psycho or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? may have been channeled and sublimated into the show. He sometimes approaches direction as a film-maker might, devising strategies to replicate the effect of a close-up or a camera-pan in a live performance, concentrating the movement at a particular point in the stage or expanding the focus by filling the room with light, sound and activity.
Watching them rehearse, I’m looking to see how much of the proposed theme I can read in the work, at this very early stage in the process. As Maurice warns, it’s only day three, so right now “it’s still about finding the language, building a vocabulary” with which the dancers can tell a story. Already I can get a sense of some internal conflict. There seems to be two opposing forces pulling on any body at any moment. Sometimes the force of gravity seems to have suddenly tripled: knees buckle, vertebrae topple like Jenga blocks and they’re bent double. But a moment later and it looks they might need to be pinned down to keep them on this plane of existence, never mind the floor; arms flicker upwards like the vapour trail of a rocket, a throat arches towards the sky and you wouldn’t dare interfere if your life depended on it, you could get sliced in half by a long leg whipping in a lean arc.
Many of their motions are sweeping and fluid but it’s the little details that linger in the memory: the way a hand pulses on the end of an outflung arm, fingers uncurling in a brief contraction, or the way those fingers whisper a brief pattern on the breastbone, like a prayer or a mantra.
Many movements swing between defensive and assertive: hands curl in, arms encircle, embrace, holding bodies, holding nothing, holding air; then fly outwards, stretching into some imagined danger. What’s interesting to me is that I never read their movements as furtive. I never get the sense of someone accepting or believing in the immorality of their actions. If this is criminal behaviour, they’re not sorry. Not so far, anyway. There’s fear and defiance and a breathless kind of guilt, but nothing that reads as remorse.
I think it’s going to be really, really interesting to see how the show pulls together, and if you’re interested too, then you should visit Maurice’s blog, watch the witty, hilarious and deeply troubling teaser trailer, and book your tickets here on the ABSOLUT Fringe website. There’s a preview in the Project Arts Centre’s Space Upstairs on Wednesday Sep 21st at 6pm (tickets only e8) and the show runs Sep 22nd-24th.
Genesis Collective are in rehearsal for a new production, A Lost Opera, choreographed by Deborah Hay, directed by Jason Byrne, produced by Lara Hickey and adapted and performed by Julie Lockett, Ella Clarke and Cindy Cummings. I’m fortunate enough to be allowed to sit in and watch Ella, Cindy and Julie rehearse with Jason in a light, airy space in DanceHouse on Foley Street in Dublin.
Deborah Hay is renowned for her cutting-edge choreography, which some people can find inaccessible, so I’m here to get a feel for the show and see whether I can actually divine some kind of meaning in a dance performance that has no music and no explicit narrative, or whether it is in fact completely baffling and consists entirely of some women twitching in a room. I admit, I was a little nervous.
The thing is, it’s almost impossible to write about dance. If what these dancers were trying to convey were expressible in words, it wouldn’t really be dance. I can’t imagine what the script looks like. I’ve been promised an opportunity to glimpse the script for a different production, but the group are playing their cards close to their chest with this one, partly because it’s still evolving but mainly because my experience of the show would be irrevocably altered if I based my expectations and interpretations of their movements on my reading of the text. If there’s one thing Genesis Collective are fixed on, it’s surprising the audience. As Jason keeps saying, it’s about staying unpredictable.
So what does it look like? When I come in, all three women are ‘onstage’, facing different directions, in sporadic motion. Their bodies make apparently spasmodic movements – a torso buckles, a shoulder shrugs – similar but out of sync. They remind me of splashing raindrops. Automatically I look for some sort of causal relationship. Does one cue the other? Occasionally they make sounds, gasps. They flinch, look defensive, but in an unemotional, instinctive sort of way, like blinking at a sharp movement.
Now the movements seem more purposeful, explorative, as if mapping a dark room. It’s pointedly happening in three dimensions: they each seem to use their entire body to explore all the space they can reach. A leg extends like a tree branch, a wrist flaps somewhere near the ceiling and a kneecap is off somewhere on its own adventure. Gradually the women seem to grow in confidence, or at least in expression: their movements seem deliberately active more than reactive. Again I’m curious about their relationships in this dance; are they playing off one another? Responding to one another’s minute discoveries? The room is silent but in my head I’m hearing jazz riffs. Some movements seem to repeat, with slight but striking differences, like Bach’s Goldberg variations.
Suddenly two of the women have gone and one (Ella) is left alone. I feel oddly bereft on her behalf. Then I gradually start to feel that my sympathy is misplaced: she’s doing fine on her own, she seems totally self-absorbed, autonomous. She’s still making strange sounds that don’t resemble words and don’t even carry any particular onomatopoeic resonance but I’m still trying to decipher them. They sound reflective to me, for reasons I can’t explain – like she’s considering her position. Then Ella vanishes and Julie appears. She’s making many of the same gestures, but the effect is different. Even the sibilant sounds she makes seem more plaintive – closer to weeping. When it’s Cindy’s turn, her gutteral noises and jerking movements are bitter, decisive. Am I imagining all this? I’m struck by how infinitely more effective these odd, animal cries are than actual speech could ever be.
When they all leave the floor I suddenly feel an ineffable sadness, as if they were the only bright, living things in a dark forest. If they can have that effect in a luminous white rehearsal space I can only imagine the impact it will have in a darkened theatre.
When they all return, there’s a new busy-ness to the atmosphere; something’s changed. I don’t know what. Are they convening to share new information? Are they simply drawn together unconsciously by a shared experience? They don’t seem to interact directly so far, they never seem to catch each other’s eye. I hadn’t noticed at first, but now I realise it’s making me tense. Later Ella and Cindy re-emerge together, obviously together, conscious of one another, close but not quite making contact. I find it a relief and incredibly touching, for some reason. They seem clumsy as penguins that can’t quite embrace.
At one point they’re sprawled on the floor, like turtles, or babies that haven’t yet learned to crawl. Feet that moments ago seemed so muscular and sinewy as they twisted and ricocheted across the floor now hover like waterlilies as Julie kicks her legs softly in what looks like a gentle tantrum. Gradually her movements slow, like a toy winding down.
So what’s the point of all this?
I suppose as a viewer, you’re meant to take whatever you can. Whatever you instinctively read into what you’re seeing, it’s the right reaction. So far are the group from wanting to elicit a specific reaction with any single sequence that they even try to stop themselves getting too fixed on any particular emotion or pattern of behaviour. Examples of Jason’s direction include “be sharp about noticing predictability” and “you have to keep confounding meaning” and “even nothing happening for a really long time [pause]… is deadly.” He’s smiling but he’s not joking. The dancers seem to worry constantly about spontaneity, about the authenticity of their responses. Because if it ever becomes apparent what a dancer is about to do, then rather than actually living in the moment and witnessing that movement unfold, the audience is simply waiting for it to be over. As Jason puts it “if you’ve found it, then we’ve found it and we’re like: get on with it.”
Even the business of getting on and off the stage is fraught with peril. The dancers must disguise their intent, concealing the fact that they’re about to exit until they’re all but gone. That isn’t easy. “It’s a great game, though” says Jason. It’s an interesting point: I realise that if I can tell when one of the women is angling for the door, I lose all focus on her performance. I’m waiting for some future event and I’ve lost that connection that had me hanging on every visual ‘word’. The most effective exits are the ones when, as the dancer writhes out the door, it seems merely a happy coincidence that there was a doorway there at all, as if she might have bounced off the wall otherwise. This is not to suggest that they ever seem unconscious of their surroundings: they’re not pinballing randomly around the room. The relationships to the space and to each other are always thoughtful, the composition always considered. And in fact, the various appearances and disappearances are what makes the show, because as the performers evaporate and re-appear from nowhere, it feels as though the whole building is teeming with these madwomen, flickering in doorways, wailing in distant corridors.
It seems an incredibly difficult thing to do, to keep one’s body in motion for a sustained period, without following a pre-determined pattern of movement, without ever being predictable.
You know when you see a kid running full tilt, just a tumble of limbs, shrieking and flailing? And it’s undignified and probably a really inefficient way to get from A to B but it’s beautiful because it’s so free? Well imagine trying to get to that state of total freedom, but from completely the opposite direction. Unlike a kid, who is barely even aware of having a body, a dancer has to use incredible self-control to even approach the same effect.
The dancers in the Genesis Collective not only grew up, as we all have to, and learned to be self-conscious and afraid of seeming awkward or ridiculous, but on top of that, years of dance experience has given them an unusually acute awareness of their own bodies – all of which they have to variously suppress or channel or harness, considering not only their own intuitive feelings about what movement to make, but how that movement will be interpreted by an audience.
If I still haven’t convinced you, if you’re still worried that a dance performance like this might be dry or obtuse or alienating, then I’m sorry, I’ve failed. It is in fact a totally fascinating and hilarious and joyous experience that requires nothing more of you than your presence and your own instincts. What I’ve seen of the show is like standing in front of a painting that truly moves you: you feel about 7 different things at the same time and even if the subject matter is actually gruesome you feel that somehow you’re in the presence of transcendent beauty.
A Lost Opera is happening at Project Arts Centre from Tuesday 2oth – Saturday 24th September. For more information on tickets and booking, check the ABSOLUT Fringe website here.
I had the pleasure and the privilege of talking to the members of fledgling theatre company The Children this week about their show Does Anybody Ever, appearing at The Players Theatre from September 12-17th as part of ABSOLUT Fringe.
The Children are Sophie Meehan, Stephen Lehane, Gemma Collins and Neil Douglas, who met and developed as writers and performers at Dublin Youth Theatre. Does Anybody Ever was conceived and written by Sophie, who initally presented the show as part of DYT’s Members One Act Festival (MOAF) in September 2010. Although each individual was occupied with staging their own production for the festival, they encouraged and supported one another and cast one another in their shows and the relationships evolved so naturally that forming a theatre company seemed the logical next step. Do they remember exactly when they made the decision? “Friday 13th,” is the immediate reply. “Which is a bit weird,” admits Stephen.
Sophie had been toying with the idea of submitting the play for ABSOLUT Fringe, encouraged by the support of their peers at THEATREClub, with whom they had collaborated on earlier projects. The others readily agreed to come on board. Given the warm reception the show had already received in its earlier incarnation, and the support network of their many contacts and DYT behind them, submitting to Fringe “wasn’t a really intimidating thing to go into,” says Sophie.
The Children are so-named because, as Stephen explains, they’re one of the youngest theatre companies in the country and they might as well acknowledge it. It began as an affectionate teasing nickname given to them by THEATREClub, but it stuck because people are interested in new theatre by young, up-and-coming performers so why not use it as a selling point?
It doesn’t take long to figure out that, despite the name, the ideas that concern the group are mature and developed. If it’s possible to identify common interests that unite the group, it might be discernible in the work they were making separately before The Children was officially formed. For the aforementioned Members One Act Festival, Neil and Gemma worked together on a show called Get Off The Phone, I Need To Use The Internet, which Gemma summarises as “being mostly about fear”. Stephen’s show, 1992, involved “dealing with grief”, he says. The soft-spoken but very articulate Sophie described the basic premise of Does Anybody Ever as being an exploration of the “heightened relationships” that develop when people are thrown together in a confined space.
The play revolves around three adult-sized kids who may or may not be related by blood, but are family nonetheless. They cohabit in a bleak space that they have tried to make homely, in the way that children might try to make an impenetrable fortress out of sofa cushions. In this self-contained, claustrophobic environment with no reference frame for normal behaviour beyond the reality they invent, they play games. As anyone who grew up with siblings knows, games can be deadly serious and no one knows better how to push your buttons than the ones who love you most. The audience bring their own perceptions of what constitutes reality, fantasy or delusion to the table, so the atmosphere teeters from the comical to the sinister as one tries to figure out whether what’s unfolding is childish play or psychological warfare. There are of course, echoes of Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles but also any Enid Blyton-esque children’s story. You know, the stuff about pixies and morality that made total sense when you were a kid, with its strange combination of absurdity and gravitas, but on re-reading as an adult makes you feel like you’re on acid.
I spent a long time talking with the group about the issues that interest them (from mental health to Deaf culture) and it’s clear that while they work very well as a group, they all have unique interests, which surely bodes well for the future of the company, as it keeps things fresh. As Neil puts it, “the kind of show I’d make, for example, would be very different to the kind of show Steve would make, or that Sophie would make.” Is that ever a cause for friction? “Nah, we’ve learned to compromise,” laughs Gemma.
For more info on the show and booking, see the ABSOLUT Fringe website here.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a press event this week by the ABSOLUT Fringe team, where I got to meet with a few of the artists behind some of the shows that will be staged over this year’s festival. (Full programme here.)
Bird with Boy by Junk Ensemble @ Kilmainham Gaol, Inchicore Rd., Dublin 8 from Monday September 12th (preview) to Tuesday September 20th, excluding Sunday. All shows at 7.30pm. Tickets e14/12 (e10 preview).
Junk Ensemble is a dance company founded by Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy in 2004, with the stated aim of “creating works of unconventional and accessible dance theatre”. They have a strong interest in involving young people in the arts, as performers and as viewers; their combined experience includes teaching classes, holding workshops and directing dance companies for young people in Ireland and beyond. For this particular project, Bird With Boy, they are collaborating once more with Joanne Timmins, who directed their 2007 show Rain Party (produced in association with Project Arts Centre). Jo is based in Scotland, where she is director and producer of Lyra Theatre company in Edinburgh. She, too, has long been involved in children’s theatre. As she puts it, “I work with young people and make work for them”. I don’t know why this struck me as unusual. Of course youth theatre is tremendously important – and you couldn’t throw a brick in Temple Bar without hitting a DYT alumnus – but I feel as though I rarely hear someone articulate this.
Anyway, Bird With Boy will debut in the unusual setting of a subterranean room in Kilmainham gaol (beside IMMA). It’s dark, it’s dank, there’s very little in the way of creature comforts or even quotidian necessities like electrical sockets. “It’s basically a dungeon,” admits Tom Lane, who is composing the music for the show. It’s a site-specific work: this unlikely space is very much integral to the piece and visual designers David Fagan and Valerie Reid have been enlisted to shape the aesthetic of the show, which is a multimedia installation as much as anything else.
I asked Tom about his experience designing the music, curious as to what kind of sound would lend itself best to this unique and creepy setting. The show is intentionally and perhaps necessarily low-fi (given the limited technical resources down in the
crypt basement), and pretty much any kind of music, however sparse or textured, would in that context end up sounding a bit sinister. “Quite eerie,” Tom agrees. The show’s venue affects the music; did the music, once introduced, affect the nature of the show? “It might have changed the atmosphere a little,” Tom concedes, “but the actual content hasn’t changed.”
The content, however, remains a bit mysterious. No one’s giving anything away. Jo prefers not to be too explicit about the ideas behind the work; she doesn’t want to try and force a particular response from an audience; it’s simply important that they recognise some “feeling behind the movements.” The analogy she uses is that to narrow your view of what the work might convey is to resemble “a fire exit sign: it can only mean one thing,” whereas the story she and her young cast hope to communicate is open to broader interpretation. As it should be, really. If you only want to say one thing and say it clearly, you rent a billboard, you don’t devise a complex theatrical production.
The promotional blurb for the show describes it as “a piece about things that end before they should.” If you want to find out more, come and see for yourself at Kilmainham Gaol, Inchicore Road, September 12th – 20th 2011 (except Sun 18th). For a flavour of Junk Ensemble’s previous work, here’s an incredible promo video from their show Five Ways to Drown, from last year’s Dublin Dance Festival.
Meanwhile, Tom Lane is also involved in another, more personal project happening at Christ Church Cathedral. It’s called Corokinesis: The Second Experimental Evensong. As the name implies, this is the second time he’s conducting this experimental re-imagining of a religious service: the first outing was this time last year, also under the banner of ABSOLUT Fringe. ‘Corokinesis’ (choir + movement) is a term coined by Tom, and refers to the fact that this year, besides the vocals by Christ Church Choir (of which Tom is a member) there will also be a dance element to the performance. Choreography is by Laura Murphy and Ailish Claffey of Folded Productions, with whom Tom has worked before.
If you don’t know what you’re in for, it might help to think of Evensong as basically a mass where almost everything is sung, and this show as being like a live cover version. Tom very patiently tried to explain the nature of the ceremony itself to me (a seriously lapsed, practically prolapsed Catholic). Evensong is an Anglican tradition, but its roots are in certain Roman Catholic services (vespers and compline) that were originally sung daily by monks in monasteries. These were later stitched together into a one “Evening Prayer” service, which is meant as a general celebration of the miracle of Christ’s incarnation on Earth. It was a good move, is the theme.
Further research tells me that two particular songs are always sung during Evensong, and I’ll share them here because I think they’re interesting. One is the Magnificat, the words the Virgin Mary supposedly sang when she was informed of her ground-breaking pregnancy. Now, I’ve always imagined that would have been a really awkward moment. One of my favourite pieces of Christian art is this Renaissance painting by Simone Martini, called The Angel and the Annunciation, just for Mary’s body language and facial expression.
But according to the Magnificat, she was in fact totally on board and delighted by the honour, referring to herself modestly as a lowly handmaiden and declaring that her “spirit hath rejoiced” in the whole idea.
The second recurring Evensong fixture is a hymn from the perspective of an elderly Jew called Simeon who had been promised by the Holy Ghost that he would live long enough to lay eyes on the Christchild. This promise was fulfilled when Simeon found himself present at the temple where Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to be blessed, whereupon Simeon gave a short speech to God declaring his willingness to die now that everything seemed in order. This hymn is called the Nunc Dimittis (essentially, Can I Go Now.)
Having said all that, I don’t know if these old staples will still make the cut in Tom Lane’s latest re-interpretation of the service, or what form they’ll take if they do, but I think the essence of these stories – the poignancy of one ordinary human being’s experience of being a tiny part of this vast, unimaginable tapestry of events – will still resonate with anyone attending the performance. If you’ve ever seen or been part of a choir, you’ll appreciate how any single voice is quickly engulfed in a tide of sound that somehow seems much bigger than you would have thought possible – greater than the sum of its parts, as it were. If you missed last year’s event, as I did, there’s a short video here on Tom’s website of the Magnificat as it appeared in that first grand experiment. The sound of so many human voices swelling like a storm surge to fill that cavernous space is exhilarating and also, frankly, chilling. Almost enough to make one find religion.
Corokinesis: The 2nd Experimental Evensong is happening one night only, at 5pm on September 24th in Christ Church. Admission is free and it is again open to all, regardless of religious persuasion.