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.