Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2008

November 01, 2008


I’ve been thinking about perspective. We’ve just finished performing Niche and I’ve been comforted and confronted by other people’s perspective on the work. I think I’ve made a piece that invites a particular way of viewing, an attentiveness to what’s going on in the space (a shared space of performers and audience) rather than an attempt to decode symbols that stand in for something else. Of course as I write this it sounds like I’m offering some unmediated, raw experiences and as a good student I know that’s impossible. We can’t help but view things, experience things, feel things, through the filters of prior experiences, social codes, and prevalent ideas about ourselves and our environment that organise the sensory data we receive from the world (even this idea of us separate from the world is an organising idea that shapes our thinking).

So what am I asking when I invite an audience to be attentive, to notice what’s going on (the wobbles, the detail of touch, the instability of weight, the hum of the generator?) How does an audience know what matters and what doesn’t?

I don’t know what matters – not in the big scheme of things. But I know what matters to me and I make work that reflects that. But knowing that my perspective is not complete I build in structures that remind myself and the audience that what I’m presenting is partial, limited and personal. I invite them to pay attention to what escapes me and my control, to see more than I can and to be delighted by the new things that are revealed in the process. And maybe I remind them that their perspective is partial too.

It’s for that reason that the woman in Niche has a trajectory independent of the men. Her rhythm is not determined by me and is a surprise each evening. I have made no attempt to resolve her sharing of the space with the men, though I know how I, as audience, have created links between the men and woman. Like independent inhabitants of the city, their paths can be viewed simultanaeously from a particular perspective but the temporal connection doesn’t imply a causal relation.

I’ve also reflected on perspective because this week I took Mikel’s part in the piece for performances in Liverpool and Bray. As a result I’ve seen the work from the perspective of a participant though not quite yet forsaking the external perspective I carry in my head from previous performances.

This is what Niche looks like from my perspective on the stage:

Matthew’s solo

Stéphane waiting for Plank

Matthew’s solo

Stéphane after Hoodie duet

October 27, 2008

Niche: Audience response

I asked some people who had come to see Niche to respond to three questions: What did you see? What did you feel? What did you think?

Many thanks to Eithne Doyle for these answers:

Niche = A place of retreat or retirement

What did you see?

I did not see a place of retreat or retirement. Rather, I felt that in that dark space there was a sense of cosmic loneliness.

What did you feel?

I felt the young men were living “kidult” lives, relying on games to communicate with one another. They seemed confused, wary of human contact while, simultaneously, longing for it. They appeared not to know their place in the scheme of things and consequently were unable to find their niche. Maybe their niche was pretence. The woman, on the other hand, though she was a remote and solitary figure, was methodically carving out her space, attending to the practical things – as women do – preparing food and sorting clothing but passively, almost mechanically. Her world and that of the
young men never met.
Technically, the piece was superb. I liked the fact that there was no background music. Instead, the dancers provided their own living sounds thus adding hugely to the physicality of the work.

What do you think now?

Is “Niche” a comment on the changing landscape of Dublin’s Docklands? Are these young men reflecting the sense of loss and dislocation caused by the destruction of the old neighbourhoods? Or are they just confused by the changing role of men in our society and by their inability to find their place in that society.

“Change is not made without inconvenience even from worse to better”

Eithne Doyle

October 26, 2008

Finding his own niche dancing on the streets

Colin Murphy’s article about Niche in today’s Irish independent

Finding his own niche dancing on the streets
Saturday October 25 2008
One afternoon during the summer of last year, Fearghus Ó Conchúir put on his black overcoat, put the hood up, and walked out into the rain. He was looking for something.

He wandered through Dublin’s northside till he found himself on a corner in the docklands, on Guild Street, where the pavement was wider. He took out his mobile phone, turned on the video function, and propped it up so it was watching him. And then he started dancing.

He danced for 10 minutes, took a break, and danced again. Some people walked by, giving him a wide berth. A woman sitting outside her house called him over.

“You want to be careful of that,” she said, pointing at the phone. “It’ll get robbed.” And she asked him what he was doing. A passing car stalled, and the driver asked him what he was up to.

He was up to a few things. He was dancing. He was researching. He was rehearsing. He was recording. He had been given money by Dublin City Council and the Arts Council to develop choreography on the theme of ‘bodies and buildings’. The body of Dublin was changing, he believed — not just the physical city, of buildings and infrastructure, but also the typical, individual, human body.

Ó Conchúir wanted to explore this in dance, and so he would spend his morning developing dances in the studio, working with his ideas about different bodies, and then, in the afternoons, he would try these dances in different places in the docklands, to see how they felt, and how the environment changed them.

That work has ultimately become the show Niche, which plays tonight in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, and next Saturday in the Mermaid in Bray.

But at that early stage, Ó Conchúir wasn’t thinking of getting it into a theatre.

“The thing about performing in a theatre is that it’s people who are comfortable coming to a theatre who will come to see it,” he says. “To do it on the streets is a way to let people stop and watch as long as they want to.”

Many of those who passed him dancing simply ignored him. “It’s interesting what level of strangeness people will accept,” he observes, wryly.

Others would watch from afar: office workers smoking outside their building; or builders on construction sites. “It pleases me that there can be a place for art alongside the everyday. I like that it was okay for me to do my thing alongside people smoking, or building, or pushing the pram, or whatever.”

Having worked on his own, he decided to bring in some other dancers, and produce a show. But as he was due to put the finishing touches to an Arts Council application, he fell ill, and missed the deadline.

He was devastated. He knew the time was right for this show, and didn’t want to wait until the next funding round. So he decided to try fundraising himself.

He sent out an email: “You can help me make a new dance piece. I am looking for 500 people to donate €100 each,” it said. Once he had 10 positive replies, he knew the piece would happen — though he ultimately received just 50 donations. (The rest is being made up by in-kind donations of theatre services, and his own money.)

Paradoxically, he found it empowering to say to people, “I need help, can you help me?”

It provided a way of bringing other people into the project, and forced him to think more about communicating and sharing what he was doing. (All of this early work, including the Guild St video, is documented on his blog, bodiesandbuildings.blogspot.com.) He calls his funders ‘the Optimists’.

Despite the bleak economic prospects, he says he too is optimistic for the arts: “We made this piece on a shoestring. We found a way to use the limited resources at hand to make something that I hope is beautiful and engaging. There is something that is optimistic for me about being able to do that.”

Niche features four dancers, a motley collection of artefacts cluttered on a bare stage, and no music.

“Music often tells an audience what to feel and think and I’d prefer to let you make your own mind up,” he writes in a programme note. “And besides, there’s lots to listen to: the sound of plastic bags, of jumps, of effort, of traffic in the distance… “

He describes how the docklands environment inspired the dances: sites there can be strewn with rubbish; looking at abandoned objects, he would wonder where they had come from.

“What’s the story behind that child’s buggy in the middle of that wasteground?” he might think.

Niche, he says, is “a dance about finding your place”. It may sound eccentric, but that fits. Ó Conchúir’s method is a celebration of the eccentricity that flourishes in the city, of the ways people forge an identity amidst the turbulent cross currents of economic and social change. Ultimately, everybody needs to find their niche.


October 24, 2008

Michael Seaver’s review of Niche

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Project, Dublin

Choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir didn’t set out to create a dance about the current financial difficulties, but it is just one pretty apparent reading of his latest work, Niche . The hour-long dance sets out to examine the common search for a personal niche and a safe refuge from the perils of ordinary life, but it sheds more light on what happens when one abandons that cubbyhole and when individuality is replaced by mutuality.

As the audience finds its own personal space on Project’s benched seating, three male dancers – Mikel Aristegui, Stéphane Hisler and Matthew Morris – walk on-stage with a chair and mark out their space, emptying bags of possessions and creating individual enclaves so that a coat slung on a chair-back becomes a tent-like barrier. These spaces become refuges where the performers retire from the dancing to read a book, glug on a water bottle or lie face-down with a hood pulled over their head.

But this isn’t where they are happiest; instead, they prefer to feel integrated and attached to the other dancers. At these moments, the movement is at its most joyous, like an arms-around-shoulders chorus line of kicks and lurches that roars camaraderie and bonhomie.

Throughout the proceedings, a solitary female, Bernadette Iglich, drags black refuse sacks of clothes and cardboard boxes along the back wall of the stage, ignoring and ignored by the other performers.

The resonance with today’s uncertain financial times isn’t just through the despondent street-life surroundings, but rather through a deeper sense that social moorings have disappeared and the moral framework that binds people must be recreated. Leaving behind the selfish exuberance of the Celtic Tiger for more stringent realities, the relationship between individual goals and the means to achieve them has become disjointed.

Similarly, in Niche , the dancers are drawn out from the relative comfort of their heaps of possessions to rediscover the informal rules that bind them, and finish up by creating a slow trio that shows a reassuring co-dependency.

But Ó Conchúir’s theme is universal and his thoughtful choreography is robust enough to take any number of readings, whatever the context. Until Sat


October 22, 2008

Folk inspiration

Having previously posted that video that didn’t directly inspire Niche, I thought I should share some of the vintage footage (gleaned from youtube) that we really did use as inspiration. Attitude as much as steps were gleaned from these videos. Having learned lots of Eastern European folk dance when I was at the United World College of the Pacific in Canada, this kind of dance has a personal resonance for me. Learning it when I was 18 and 19, it was the beginning of my discovery of the how important dance could be in my life. For Niche, however, I was interested in how these folk dances permit men to dance with each other, regardless of their sexuality.

This one is a couple’s dance – an older man and woman – but it’s still a favourite, particularly the weighty bounce of the woman while her partner does his flashy steps. This section inspired a little duet for Matthew and Stéphane.

October 22, 2008

More men dancing in the city

Mikel sent me this link and it reminds me what men dancing in the city could look like, as well as outing influences that I hadn’t dared acknowledge. It’s also a colourful contrast to the restrained tones of Niche!

October 21, 2008

Extra niches from Dan Dubowitz

Reuben’s niche

From Dan: “This was the mausoleum built by Mussolini’s son-in-law, number 2 in the regime, for himself.
Mussolini killed him in the end and the unfinished mausoleum lies incomplete on the top of the hill overlooking Livorno. This is one we need to visit together some day.”

October 19, 2008

Final day in the Dancehouse studio

An excerpt from one of our final run-throughs is the studio. This is a bit of what I call Babushka (Matthew and Stéphane) and Stick duet (Matthew and Stéphane with Mikel joining in)

October 17, 2008

Matthew and Mikel go Niche crazy

Matthew and Mikel went walking near Dalkey last weekend and filled with notions of place-finding inserted Matthew into a sea-side grotto. I see the perverted Venus rising but I also remember that many religions place their special statues in secret places. Ave Maria. When I imagine niches in the city, it is instructive that I usually think of them as places for one person at a time – a special place for a special person. Maybe there can be group snugs too.

If you’re easily disturbed don’t turn your computer on its side to view this image.

October 15, 2008

Three + 1, excerpts from the film

This one is called Folk Trio

Three + 1: excerpt 2 from feenish productions on Vimeo.

This is called Hoodie

Three+1: excerpt 3 from feenish productions on Vimeo.

This one’s called Dragging/Shelter

Three+1: excerpt 1 from feenish productions on Vimeo.