Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2010

February 23, 2010

Mo mhórchoir féin: London Buddhist Arts Centre

I’ve started rehearsing a solo for Mo mhórchoir féin, the film I’m making with Dearbhla Walsh for the Dance on the Box commission. The title is from the Confiteor, the part of the Catholic mass where the congregation confesses ‘to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I’ve done and what I’ve failed to do.’ In Irish we say not only ‘through my own fault’ but ‘through my grievous fault’.

I proposed to make a film about the role of religion in the creation of the Irish body and I guess, in particular, in my body. There have been many words written about the bodies of young children traumatised and abused by the Catholic Church. I wanted to understand the wider impact of the Church but not through words. Dance seems a more appropriate language for that physical investigation.

It will still be a bodies and buildings piece, sited within the architecture of a church and situating itself in relation to the church’s institutional architecture.

But while I thought of that architecture as I rehearsed this week, I was also aware of the ghosts within the architecture of the London Buddhist Arts Centre where I rehearsed and where I’ve rehearsed in my own and other people’s work.

In this corner, I remember dancing with Cathy Marston and Jonathan Poole as the trio of Players in Kim Brandstrup’s Hamlet.

(The photo by John Robinson is taken in the Jerwood space and with Jenny Tattersall instead of Cathy – and me with a blond mohican – 2003!)

I see Trish Okenwa there and Fred Persson in a piece called An dá thráth. I’ve rehearsed Cosán Dearg with Bernadette Iglich there and new material with Matthew Morris. All of this work and all of these people join me in the space as I dance ostensibly on my own.

February 19, 2010

Talking Heads – thoughts on screens

Talking Heads is a an exhibition of work at the Irish Museum of Contemporary Art The information that they sent out to publicise the event connected to the thoughts that my residency with Roberta Lima prompted. It is also relevant as I begin preparations for making a new film with Dearbhla Walsh for the RTÉ/The Arts Council Dance on the Box series.

Taking its title from the filmic convention common to docu-journalism and webcam exhibitionism, Talking Heads is an exhibition of contemporary artworks that explore the people and faces that populate the mediascape. The eye-witness testimonial, the confessional, the report, the expert discussion; each of these techniques lends authority and credence to the speaking subject. And yet, film is not simply an objective witness to an interviewee, but a creative framework open to directorial manipulation and interpretive control. In this way, the artists brought together in Talking Heads explore the multiple positions of the subject under the gaze of the camera.

Peter Weibel has commented that today’s media savvy generation share a library of visual experiences fed by the mass media from blockbuster films to advertising billboards. This media competency is expressed through an appreciation for editing techniques, camera work, narrative structures and production values. It would appear that the mechanics of media are so familiar to a generation that grew up with VCR’s and digital cameras that film has become a sort of visual Esperanto that an increasing number of people can ‘speak’. For Jorg Heiser, the pleasure of watching a film is now derived precisely from a recognition of its finer structure, from identifying not just with its characters but also with its directors. Today, almost everyone can speak critically about the way a TV programme or film is put together and, furthermore, the reach of these films defines the meaning of community in the television age.

February 14, 2010

Open Niche: MA students and DMPs

I’ve spent the past week in the studios at the University of Limerick working with the MA students on a piece of material, some of which will be included in the Limerick performance of Open Niche. The MA students are Karen, Katrin, Kasia , Patric, Lisa and Erika, a diverse group that is notably bonded. They dance together, eat together, travel around campus together. That cohesion was something I that shaped the development of the choreography.

I asked the group about Limerick.
One of the first things that came up was the need to defend it against the negative perceptions of the place have predominated. They mentioned sport (and it’s true that around the university everyone is in sports kit and actually running, jogging or playing sports), red brick buildings, roundabouts, the river, friendliness. Drugs and violence got a mention too but mostly in relation to the efforts of local groups to counter their negative impact.

But I’m also aware of the threat to local regeneration by reduced government funding.

That reduced funding has also been manifested in a drastically reduced grant for Daghdha Dance Company and a new direction stipulated for the company as a condition of that funding. When I spent a little time with some of the choreographers on Daghdha’s Mentoring Programme who will also participate in Open Niche, it was this immediate destabilised context that we spoke about rather than their experiences of the city that I expected to funnel into the performance. However, the micro and macro experiences are related.

While I have made work for the MA students, with the DMPs I have invited them to contribute choreography of their own that I can place in the context of Open Niche. MAs and DMPs have been generous to the process. In the DMPs, I’ve mey Lucy Suggate’s Latin Beach – a broken diva to match Matthew’s Scherezade; a potential trio; and Edd Schouten‘s score for a day in Limerick. (Pictures below of Edd and Ista)

February 11, 2010

Open Niche

Until the end of April, my time and creative energy will mostly (though not exclusively, thanks to a successful Dance on the Box application of which more quite soon) be consumed by Open Niche.

After I made Niche in 2008, I knew I wanted to continue the life of the piece and to share it with different venues around the country, but it didn’t feel right that a piece made in response to a particular moment and a particular environment in what we now know as pre-crash Dublin, should be transplanted to various locations around the country. The piece was responsive. It’s structure is adaptive, as the performers alter their performances in sensitive response to each other and to the audience that shares the experience with them.

So instead of doing a regular tour where financial efficiency requires a quick get in, perform and get out, I sought (pre-crisis) Arts Council support to develop a different model of engagement. So for Open Niche, I am working with dancers from each of the five locations where we will perform: with the Dublin Youth Dance Company for the Pavilion show in Dun Laoghaire, with MA students at UL and DMPs for the Limerick performance, with the Siamsa Tíre core company for the Tralee performance and with local dance enthusiasts for both the Firkin Crane (Cork) and Hawk’s Well (Sligo) shows. I will make material with each of the groups and integrate it in to the show making a performance unique to each venue.

I’m hoping that this process will help Niche and me to learn something about each of the places we visit rather than coming as a closed, pre-packaged event. The challenge to me and to my work is whether the structure I bring is resilient enough to be generous. Can it make space within it for the new elements? This is a personal challenge for me and for the wonderful Niche dancers who will need to maintain the architecture of the piece while responding to the new inhabitants within it.

I’m hoping also that this process of being open to local influence will make it easier for local audiences to engage with the work. And I’m trying to create a situation whereby my spending more time in each place to make these new pieces of material means I am more available to help the venues with the marketing and publicity.

There’s an Open Niche fan page on Facebook

and some more information on Project Arts Centre’s website

January 31, 2010

Pick’n’Mix:The Dance Selection/Dominque Rivoal’s film

It’s nice to be reminded of what we achieved with Pick’n’Mix:The Dance Selection; and it’s useful encouragement to get on with the next incarnation. Maybe it will be in a library on Walthamstow’s High Street?

January 29, 2010

Daghdha residency: Roberta Lima

I flew directly from New York to Limerick to start a two-week residency at the Daghdha Dance Company. I applied for the residency so that I could work with the video artist Roberta Lima whom I met in Beijing during our residencies at the RedGate Gallery. The video work that she made there with my help has already been shown in an exhibition in Tirol. Coming from a practice which had involved her own body, Roberta seemed drawn to the discipline of dance and the possibilities it could offer for her to experience her body in a new way that didn’t require the needles, suspension and body modification.

I am drawn to Roberta’s use of video as a way of observing the body but also setting herself at a distance from it through the layers of her video image. I am so close to my body, aware of it as a means by which I understand physically the ideas I want to explore. I still use it one of a number of mechanisms by which to communicate to other dancers.

I use video in a very direct way to communicate my experience of particular buildings or sites to people who are not present at the live ‘performance’. The style I use is a kind of verité. The mobile phone video is low quality but suggests an immediacy and authenticity. It doesn’t draw attention to video effects even though I do edit the material and add music to guide the viewer’s response.

With Roberta, I can begin to unpick the theoretical underpinning of using video and the relationship that is set up between the screen image and the breathing body.

In terms of working method, I see that Roberta is able to video an experiment and consider using the resulting footage in an exhibition. Of course with the Tattered Outlaw films we used some of the first takes of our performances on the towers too, but we did many takes of the same set up and I had already worked a long time on developing the choreographic material that we used in those performances. The specificity of each performance is important to me but it’s also important that I allow the specificity to develop within coherent structures.

In Roberta’s company therefore, I’m confronted by my need to be prepared, to correct and, perhaps, to work hard as a justification of the value of what that work produces.

This experience reminds me of what I encountered in myself when collaborating with the quicksilver Xiao Ke too.

Roberta attaches a spy-camera to her body and invites me to move her. She responds to strong physical impulses from me: I push her, fold her, lift her, tug her and though she’s not a dancer, her body yields and resists as her instinct takes over. Her analytical control is temporarily suspended. Initially I am uncomfortable about the process: her passivity and my physical dominance, the disparity in our size, make me question my role. Yet as we go on, I feel Roberta’s body assert its capabilities. She is still smaller than me, still physically weaker but as I sense her areas of strength I can free myself to exploit them

January 16, 2010

Niche at APAP 2010: Brooklyn Bridge

On a snowy Friday morning, we met with the Culture Ireland team and a New York press photographer to take pictures of Niche on Brooklyn Bridge. We recreated the original poster image and variations of it that included Bernadette with the iconic bridge in the background and a fortuitous construction worker in high-vis vest passing through the shot.

The pictures (photographer Bryan Smith) were used in Irish Times articles about the Culture Ireland sponsored delegation of Irish artists at APAP and while none of my dancers are Irish, the fact that they converged in Dublin in that period of economic wealth and have maintained a relationship to Ireland, makes their experience telling and typical of strand of the Irish story.

Of course that Irish story has already woven New York into its historical plot twists and so it’s not surprising that Niche looks right under the skyscrapers. Belinda Mc Keon’s Irish Times article gives a sense of the hustling that appearing in APAP required and that too is part of the ongoing cultural narrative. Now the Irish government, through Culture Ireland is investing in the promotion of Irish artistic talent in this particular North American market, hoping not only to create opportunities for those artists but through them to attract tourism to Ireland. Being part of that effort isn’t a problem for me since it’s clear that the programmers of the selected Irish work have chosen a range of that reflects the range of the Irish experience. The contemporary dance showcase had four works with very different aesthetics, ranging from Dylan Quinn’s dance theatre, to Liz Roche’s crafted delicacy, to Daghdha’s improvisational aesthetics and my…, well it’s always easier to summarise others’ work than one’s own! I’m grateful ultimately that what the New York audience saw was that even in the relatively small field of contemporary dance in Ireland there is a variety of interests and approach that communicates something about the complexity of the contemporary Irish experience.

January 09, 2010

Niche at APAP 2010

This week I’ve been rehearsing an excerpt of Niche at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. We’re preparing for a Culture Ireland showcase of Irish choreography there that’s happening as part of APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters).

Apart from the thrill of seeing Baryshnikov there, it’s been wonderful to rehearse in the studios with their panoramic views of the upper west side. They let in the city in the similar way to the windows of Dancehouse in Dublin. Only the scale is suitably grander.

January 04, 2010

Dadao Live Art Festival – remembered

I’ve been roused to post after the Christmas hiatus by an email from Xiao Ke. She sent me a link to the Chinese contemporary art website Art-Ba-Ba where, quite unexpectedly, photos from my performance of Cosán Dearg in Shenzhen in 2007 have turned up. I can’t work out why they’ve surfaced now.

The discussion, prompted by nudity, is about freedom, and while I can’t decipher the precise intention of the post, it seems to wish for liberation of the body and mind.

I am reminded that these ephemeral performances have the potential to haunt, to return unexpectedly, suggesting that they have a continuing life and impact, even when they have slipped from my consciousness. This potential tells me that the idea that I leave things behind – move on, forward, away – is a misconception.

Maybe it’s time to revisit Dadao. Just before Christmas, I received a preview copy of the documentary, Dancing on the Edge, which Talal Al Muhanna made about the 5th Dadao Live Art festival experience. Having spent more time in China since then, I squirm at little at my naivité and ignorance: the documentary is right to capture that. When he posts it online, I’ll add a link to it.