Review – Fable

Dublin Fringe

Project Arts Centre

09/09/18

Originally published on The Reviews Hub.

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Billed as “a sinister dance theatre production for young adults” in its programme, Fable is a show that more than lives up to its description. In this collection of five short dance stories, which blend elements of both street dance and contemporary dance, Human Collective trust and challenge their audience. Each of the stories in Fable explores different facets of present and near future life, presenting chilling possibilities for the continuation of humankind. In some stories, the ideas presented seem like the preserve of dystopian fiction, but others seem all too familiar, making the more dystopian ones seem plausible too. This is an interrogation of modern life that draws bleak conclusions while leaving a doorway open for hope and change.

The ensemble, made up of Matt Szczerek, Tobi Balogun, Leon Dwyer and Cristian Dirocie, is a strong blend of different, but complementary, performance styles and energies. This is particularly evident in the relatively simple but remarkably striking choreography in the third story, entitled “The Changelings of Smolensk.” Dancing with suitcases, and using them as malleable props to denote different stages of their journey, the ensemble resembles a poetic Newton’s cradle, the synchronicity of their movements suggesting a perpetual collective motion. Alongside this strong ensemble work, certain dancers stand out in solo passages, with each dancer’s individual style shining through in their performance of Szczerek’s choreography. Particularly notable was Dirocie, who has surely made a pact with gravity, or perhaps replaced his joints with springs. The flowing, electrical intensity of his performance provided an individual (but not overpowering) spark in ensemble sequences, and turned that spark into a flame in his arresting solo pieces.

The design in the piece was relatively simple, with an empty stage and pared back (but effective) lighting design by Eoin Lennon. In tandem with Lennon’s lighting design, Grzegorz Szczerek’s score created the setting within the empty space. There was also considerable use of projection, designed by Cathy Coughlan, throughout the piece. Though there were interesting elements to the video design, it often distracted from the work of the dancers on stage. This was particularly noticeable in Matt Szczerek’s solo story, where the videos of him dancing on screen drew focus from his impressive live performance on stage. There were points at which one felt the need to choose between following the story on stage or on screen; the two elements were competing rather than complimenting each other.  The live performances were strong enough to carry the thread of the piece through this, perhaps suggesting that they could have carried the meaning of the piece throughout, without on-screen additions.

Fable is a striking, accomplished piece of dance theatre that confidently trusts its young audience to understand and interrogate the world around them, and to recognise the need to change and shape the future.

Runs until 16 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Review – Assisted Solo

Dublin Fringe

Project Arts Centre

09/09/18

Originally published on The Reviews Hub.

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What does it mean to be solo? (Don’t say anything about the Millennium Falcon) Does it mean acting independently, or acting completely alone, or perhaps something else entirely? Philip Connaughton’s Assisted Solo examines our relationships with independence and ageing through carefully chosen anecdotes and insightful and revealing choreography that moves between the balletic and bizarre, catching the searingly human in between.

As the show opens, Philip Connaughton, Lucia Kickham and Magali Caillet dance a repeated sequence of steps, swapping patterns with each repeat. Each dancer appears to try movements on for size, to test their range of movement and expression. This sequence lays the foundation for the work that is to follow, as the dancers break away from their regimented pattern and begin to explore solo work, sometimes dancing alone, sometimes assisted by or assisting each other. Even when only one artist is dancing on stage, however, the others are still present, changing lighting states, moving around the periphery, or even simply affecting the performance with their gaze. Even the passages that are seemingly entirely ‘solo’ are influenced by the presence of others in the space, whether those others are the audience or fellow performers.

As the choreography prompts us to consider ideas of independence, and relationships between people in common spaces and situations, Connaughton’s anecdotes and the footage he includes of his mother, who suffers from dementia, bring these considerations from the theoretical to the personal. From a story about a Popeye toy to one about dealing with his mother’s problems with constipation, the stories Connaughton tells explore the same subjects as the choreography, and draw together the pain and comedy of the situations he finds himself in as he copes with his mother’s declining health.

While this is, for the most point a moving examination of Connaughton’s experience, and broader questions of independence and interdependence, there are points at which the elements don’t entirely hold together. Though the footage of his mother demonstrates great care, and the way in which it is presented on stage does the same, there are points at which it seems somewhat detached from the movement on stage – a later addition rather than an intrinsic element woven into the fabric of the performance. This detracts a little from the insights on stage, as the video footage seems more of a prop rather than the input of a fourth performer. In a way it adds an interesting new element to the questions of independence in the piece, but perhaps not in an intentional, constructive way.

In its consideration of our interactions with each other, especially in times of need, Assisted Solo raises interesting questions, most of which appear intentional, but some of which seem incidental.

Runs until 15 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Butterflies and Bones – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Butterflies and Bones

Project Arts Centre, Dublin

20/10/16

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In recent months, Irish stages have been awash with productions exploring 1916 and where we stand on the events of that year now, in 2016, a hundred years later. There have been productions about the Easter Rising, productions about the creation of the state we live in now, and productions about Roger Casement. As one might imagine, after nine months of this, the theme is getting worn and fewer avenues are left to be discovered. However, Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project, created by Fearghus Ó Conchúir as part of Project Arts Centre’s 50th anniversary programme, puts paid to any such ideas of staleness. An electric and insightful work, Butterflies and Bones conveys the human behind the history with skill and passion.

Roger Casement (formerly Sir Roger Casement; he was stripped of his title before his execution for his involvement in Irish revolutionary activity, including the 1916 Rising) was a British peer, and Irish nationalist figure and all-round enigmatic historical figure. However, alongside his political life, there is his personal life. As a gay man in early 20th century Ireland, Casement had a carefully hidden portion of himself that was only later discovered in a number of diaries. Butterflies and Bones effectively reminds the audience of this; that Casement was not just a political or revolutionary figure, but a person too.

Ó Conchúir’s choreography (created in conjunction with the performers) is evocative and intense, conveying the formal public Roger Casement, and the raw, open private Casement. Introducing strong elements of each performer’s personal dance style into the performance, and then creating segments in which they adopt each others’ movements, the choreography creates a strong ensemble that portrays Roger Casement as a multi-faceted character. One of the most powerful elements of this, when combined with Alma Kelliher’s expressive sound design, comes through in the undercurrent of fear and threat portrayed almost throughout the performance. Even in moments of heady ecstasy, there is a threat lingering in the atmosphere, whether of being discovered in his republican activities or in his personal life.

Working with dance styles reminiscent of those such as Lucinda Childs’ 1970s/1980s postmodern choreography, The Casement Project takes the theme of 1916/2016 far from any danger of nostalgia or stasis and injects it with a revolutionary quality of its own. As it breaks down, reforms and plays with a tower of speakers and two large metallic cloths (the only props), this production breaks down and represents a well known historical figure in a new and insightful light. Complimenting this performance and direction style, Ciaran O’Melia’s skilful design, both in terms of lighting and set, takes the piece far from the reach of realism and into an exciting, open and productive space.

Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project takes a well-worn topic and re-invigorates it in innovative and engaging ways. With a wealth of dramatic, political and social history to absorb and re-invent with ingenuity and fervour, this production takes a truly new approach to the story of Roger Casement and 1916.

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