Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2008

October 14, 2008

Mitch’s photos from Niche rehearsal

Mitch (Jonathan Mitchell) took these pictures for me in rehearsals. Press needed clearer images than the beautifully grimy ones he’s already taken for me outdoors and which I’ve used in the posters. I’m glad of the opportunity to get him in the studio with us, since as a former dancer, he can read the movement and capture its idiosyncrasies.

This is a picture of a moment I called Scheherazade. In the middle of the section we call Mudra, when the men are in a tangled connection of hand holds, Matthew finds his arms crossing his face and does flirty eyes as if above a veil. Scheherazade colours some of Matthew’s other material too but this one is seen only by the other dancers – a private recognition.

October 11, 2008

Three+1 Barnardo Square: Niamh’s photos

Still more, high quality pictures of the Barnardo Square screening from Niamh O’ Donnell’s camera. It’s great to see the film taking it’s place amid the light’s and bustle of a Dublin Friday evening.

October 07, 2008


I’ve asked people to send me pictures of their favourite niches in the city

Here’s Rachel’s:

And Matthew’s Angel

And some people in London, making a seat where there wasn’t one

This is from Dominic, an image by photographer SARAH JONES called The Park (II), 2002. (Courtesy Maureen Paley, London)

October 07, 2008

In the Studio

We (Bernadette, Stéphane, Mikel and Matthew) are in the studio together for the last rehearsal period in the run-up to the opening of Niche. Mikel is joining us at this stage, not having been part of the process to date, and he’s asked us all what the piece is about. I was interested that people didn’t reply by saying what they thought the piece meant. Instead they talked about what they had been through in the development of the piece and how the experience of Dublin city was an intrinsic part of what they’d been through. Our job now is to maintain that openness to the life of the city as we take the work into the theatre.

While we were talking in the studio, two of the trees from the park ajoining Dancehouse were felled by the council. We couldn’t help but have those changes influence us in the studio.

So now we have some sawdust piles to play with. Bernadette told the council worker that we were making a dance and he offered her more sawdust if we needed it.

October 03, 2008

Three+1 Barnardo Square More photos

These are James Kelly’s photos of the Culture Night screening of Three+1. Seeing the work happen as the city’s night life goes on is an important for me. The two can exist side by side. It’s also important as I take this work into Project in the shape of NICHE that I can maintain the sense of the city’s life going on outside as we make a particular place for the dance within the walls of the theatre.

October 03, 2008

Architect Will Alsop on the Public Realm

Today the situation is more open and the opportunity exists for the artist to redefine the space itself rather than simply produce work to be sited by others. The role of the artist in determining our external experience is essential. Without
the artist, the role falls to the landscape architects and/or the urban designers. Current art practice goes way beyond the idea
of the object placed in space. Appropriately, the content of our “public realm” must reflect the people who use it by going way
beyond a town councillor’s view on what ART is.

The idea of public space as something other than a surface to connect two front doors is radical. The work of PUBLIC ART
through its rich and diverse activities sets out to question the nature of this space — that every town & city has in abundance —- and programme it as opposed to designing it. The distinction between these two activities is vital. One is about
beautification, which often degenerates into style or heritage. The other is about reclaiming the space for genuine public use.

If the street could be the city art gallery, then why not a school? No shops but markets? No theatre but a continuous
performance? The public realm has the ability to liberate many of our treasured institutions in such a way that they could be
redefined. This is the work of the artist and architect, alongside the rest of the community.

This extract from Will Alsop’s contribution to ‘People Making Places: Imagination in the Public Realm’ raises a distinction between programming the public space rather than designing it. This distinction is useful for a performance based artist like me but it also suggests that the engagement with the public realm needs to be dynamic and evolving rather than monumental and immutable. Of course that dynamism may not be only expressed in human bodies. I’m thinking of Sarah Browne’s wooden rainbow near Lurganboy as part of the New Sites, New Fields project for Leitrim sculpture Centre. The structure was erected in a field, an expression of the collective energy that created and assembled it. Having survived the Irish weather for a few weeks, it has collapsed. It’s rise and fall has an expressive dynamic that participates in the public realm rather than attempt to determine that space.

See Sarah’s account of the building and collapse of the rainbow at:

More of Will Alsop’s piece at

October 02, 2008

Don Sheehan’s exhibition Urbis Modo

Broadstone Studios sent me an invitation to see Don Sheehan’s photographic exhibition Urbis Modo. It’s a collection of photos taken at night in Dublin between 1998 and 2008. Many of the images of people in various states of intoxication but they struck a chord with me because they also depict people nestling into the inhospitable surfaces of the urban space. In stupor and dereliction, people find a niche and make the city adapt to their overwhelming need to switch off and pass out.

There’s a link to the online gallery below.


September 29, 2008

Three+1 Barnardo Square

For Culture Night, we screened Three+1 on the side of the Dublin City Council Building on Barnardo Square, off Dame Street, near the City Hall (the tortuous description of the location is testimony to the fact that Barnardo Square is a new place that is still struggling to be recognised, though I know that DCC are keen to use events such as the screening to help make the place.)

I wasn’t there for the screening but Niamh and James looked after the film and other friends and family took pictures to give me an idea if what happened. If you saw it, do fill me in too…

September 12, 2008

Great Art for Everyone

I was invited to speak today at conference held by the Yorkshire Regional Office of Arts Council of England. So I left Cork last night, having seen the dancers do their dress rehearsal and wishing them well with the opening tonight. Always moving on.

The Arts Council conference was organised to discuss the new ACE priorities, encapsulated in the strapline Great Art for Everyone. I was asked to talk about Great Art, one of a panel of four expected to provoke discussion. It was a daunting gig, particularly given that my delayed flight meant I got to Leeds at 2:30am – what a waste of a lovely hotel room. But I guess it was easier for me to speak freely than an artist who might be a client of the organisations present.

You can read what I’d prepared to say below. It isn’t exactly what I said but I like to prepare so that I am free to improvise. And the chair gave Niche a plug too!

I’m sure you’ve all read Alan Davey’s introduction to the Arts Council England 2008 review. It concludes with the rousing exhortation that nothing less than excellence will do. It’s a daunting benchmark to consider as I stand in front of you today, an artist invited to offer my perspective on what great art might. The chief executive’s report is entitled artistic ambition and while I can own up to being ambitious, it is a particular kind of ambition which I’ll explain later, but I’m not sure it’s the world-class ambition for which Alan Davey says the Arts Council must create the conditions. World-class ambition sounds to me quite a spectacular, splashy thing with not a little of the Olympic about it. I come from a triple bronze winning country and not multiple gold winning GB so you’ll understand if I make a claim for possibility of greatness in art that is quieter and less grand in scale.

But first of all a confession: when I go into a studio to make a new piece of choreography, I do not think about making excellent work or creating great art.

Part of the reason I don’t focus my energies on earning that recognition is that it is a function of the judgement of others and external to the work. We know that the criteria of that judgement changes from one historical period to the next, from one culture to another, from one ideology to another. Solzhenitsen’s achievements were not something Stalin’s Russia could acknowledge. Van Gogh was ignored in his time. Had Maya Angelou written her books a century earlier, would they have been published let alone acclaimed. Given that the judgement of greatness is so changeable, it doesn’t seem that it should be the focus of an artist’s work.

So what do I think about when I step into that studio? What I try to do is make the piece that’s necessary at that moment in time. When I say necessary, what I mean is that I am looking for the truth of the particular circumstances of that creation. I was taught that the artist’s work is less to create than to discover the work that is already there to be intuited, Like the water Diviner in Seamus Heaney’s poem who circles the terrain until ‘spring water suddenly broadcasting it secret stations’, his hazel rod twitches into recognition, I am trying to be attentive to what needs to be expressed.

Partly it’s what I want to express:
I bring my own concerns, my own personal history, my place in society, my gender, my sexuality, all of those things and when I work with others I take in to account what they bring in to the studio also. But I but also be aware of the studio itself. I know for instance that the wonderful new Dancehouse in Dublin, where I often rehearse, was built as part of a regeneration plan for a socio-economically deprived area of the city. It was built in a Public Private partnership agreement, which tells us something of the prevailing politics and it was possible because of then booming Irish economy. I’m also aware of Dublin when I work in a studio there, aware of the changed complexion and body of the city thanks to the foreign migrants who have relocated to find work there. I am aware of Dublin in relation to the rest of the world, to China for example where I have worked in recent years, knowing that Irish construction companies are involved in building projects there and that the Irish government like many others is keen to business with the growing superpower. I hold all these things when I start to make a movement, a twist, a fall. And I wait to see what shape of all these interconnected ideas will reveal itself, what truth will emerge from their interplay.

I was taught by Kim Brandstrup, a choreographer from whom I learned a great deal, that the choreographer’s job was to see what was going on. Not to see what I want to see or what I’d like to be there but to honestly observe what’s going on in front of me. As a result, I often find amused in ballet performances when the floaty costumes of the ballerinas tell me that I should think them weightless and ethereal but the hard thump of forty pointe shoes running around the stage makes it impossible for me to maintain the artifice. Of course I’m not a classical choreographer but how much more interesting for me to explore the hardness of that sound in relation to the potential for lightness it also allows. But that says more about me.

From Kim, I learned this attentiveness as a aesthetic strategy but I own it more now as an ethical strategy since the attention to what’s really going on is often allows a recognition of moments of friction, of resistance or impediments to the flow of movement. Noticing these places allows me to recognise what is ordinarily edited out, passed over. These are the truths I need to see included. Given the celebratory tone of much of the language around the new Great Art for Everyone strapline, I want to make sure that we realise that art needs to attend to the uncomfortable as well and that people can gather in that discomfort as much as in the balm of celebration.

So maybe

Greatness or excellence is like love – It’s very difficult to describe but you recognise it when you feel it.

Love can’t be commanded and I don’t think excellence can be either.
In fact, as in love, those that look too hard for it are often least successful in it.

So what do you do? Love comes to those who are available to it. It is a reward for a life well lived and excellence is a reward for an artistic process conducted with integrity.

To conclude then I have some questions that test my analogy:

It seems to me that a constant search for novelty doesn’t necessarily help one find love. Loyalty to the familiar can be rewarded by deeper connections. Should those who seek to support the processes that might produce great art indulge in serial one night stands or commit to already established relationships. Perhaps an open relationship is required with central loyalties and bits on the side? Perhaps just as routine can kill love, novelty can rekindle it? When do you stick to the old process and when so you let it go?

And finally if love can exist between two people, or a family, or a community, who will judge which love is of better quality? Is quantity the source of reckoning? And if work is judged by small numbers to be great, does that mean it is of less value than work judged excellent by many? Remember Van Gogh.

August 30, 2008

Match and the Olympics

EdfesttTV made this short promo for our performances of Match at Dancebase.

While Matthew and I made Match fit in to another space in Edinburgh, the Olympics opened in Beijing. I wondered about what manicured lawns or gracious walkways now covered the rubble where I’d danced last year in front of the Bird’s Nest Stadium

I was interested to read that Rem Koolhaas has defended the new stadium as a building with many niches for people to meet in, though of course, what the world saw in the opening and closing ceremonies was the beguiling but rather terrifying beauty of mass choreography in the stadium’s main space. It remains to be seen what other choreographies those niches allow.

My friend Tadeo who works in Beijing has written a couple of insightful post on the experience of the building. You might be interested: