Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2012

July 11, 2012

Olympic Delivery Authority Residency – Neville Gabie, how did it go?

In 2010, I was shortlisted to be Artist in Residence for the Olympic Delivery Authority. It was an achievement to have gotten that far since the brief didn’t really invite applications for dance-based artists but having the support of Dominic Campbell was a great asset in getting our application to the final reckoning.

We weren’t successful but I have been delighted to follow the work of Neville Gabie who was the successful artist. His residency and the film-based work he produced is documented on his website GreatLengths2012. I particularly enjoyed his film Twelve Seventy for which he arranged for Olympic Park bus driver and committed swimmer Sema Yusuf to swim the 1270 metres of her usual bus route in the newly completed Olympic pool.

His Seurat-inspired Freeze Frame is fun too.


Freeze Frame has an immediate appeal that earned it coverage in the London Metro but Gabie’s Unearthed, that documents the history of the Olympic Park area as a site for artists’ studios tells an important narrative that counters the dominant description of the site as a former toxic brownfield ‘rescued’ by Olympic development.

An article in the Guardian explains some of the challenges that Gabie encountered retaining his artistic autonomy in the ODA residency. It’s inspiring to see what he has achieved, just as it’s important to recognise the challenges that artists face and hopefully offer when they place themselves in contexts such as the Olympic Park development and the political and commercial forces that the Park represents.

Now, how can we make sure dance is recognised as an art form that is an effective medium in such contexts?

June 28, 2012

Starlight: some press photos by Rory Coomey

June 26, 2012

E-motional Bodies and Cities: Berlin Love Tour

As soon as we finished the E-motional Bodies and Cities research in Dublin, I had to turn my attention quickly to the final preparations for the premiere of Starlight in the Cork Midsummer Festival. Cork and not Dublin is the city in Ireland that I have known longest and whose streets, shops, hospitals and theatres are part of my family history. I was born in Cork, as were my brothers and sisters. Close family have died there. We did our Christmas shopping and bought our ‘good’ clothes there. I saw a Chinese person for the first time in Cork and in recent years have made and performed work there.

BERLIN LOVE TOUR from Shoot To Kill on Vimeo.

I think it was the work together in Dublin that made me particularly sensitive to my emotional and physical relationship to Cork when I attended the Berlin Love Tour, one of the shows in the Cork Midsummer Festival. The Tour is a two-hour walk through the city during which the female guide points out major sites in Berlin. We are invited to ‘see’ them as she describes the challenge for Berliners to find the right balance of remembering and forgetting. The fact that many of the important or resonant sites in Berlin are places which no longer exist (such as the Wall) made our tour of Berlin in Cork seem particularly appropriate. Berlin and its historical wounds were imaginatively present while physically absent.

A further layer of emotion emerged during the tour as the guide began to tell us of her failed relationship with a German man. Her tour through the city allowed her personal challenge to remember and forget to anchor the more philosophical or ideological challenge of memorialisation for greater Berlin.

While the guide pointed out the Brandenburg Gate or Unter den Linden, in Cork, now, I also remembered layers of Cork before.

Berlin Love Tour seemed to me an exemplary artistic engagement with emotions and cities. And as we walked for two hours in the rain and growing darkness, our bodies absorbed information too. Or maybe it’s that our process in the E-motional Bodies and Cities research has sensitised me, transformed me in some small way.

June 17, 2012

Starlight: “It didn’t look like your work”

A number of people who came to see Starlight commented on the fact that it wasn’t like my other work: “in a good way”, was what some added. I understand what they mean and yet am clear about what connects Starlight to the other pieces and what preoccupations remain constant.

The things that are different are obvious: there’s a disco ball, there are pop rock tunes from the eighties, there’s a gold tutu and there’s unabashed spectacle when a number of those new elements come together.

I asked for feedback from the audience immediately after the show and this is some of what they wrote:

For some it was a surprise that the work had been so fun, so sparkly, so charming. I had set myself a challenge to make it like that having made work that wears its thoughtfulness more seriously. Tabernacle was a challenging and heavy work. It’s not unleavened by joy and beauty but ultimately it has a weight that felt necessary given the subject-matter with which it engages. However, after Tabernacle I wanted to test if my thoughtful and serious work had become a habit or if I could find a lighter way of connecting with the audience.

That doesn’t make Starlight a piece of fluff. Mary Leland’s review of the piece recognises the fact that the focus on light in the piece doesn’t diminish its inevitability of darkness. The work starts in that unpromising darkness and is built from sparse materials that are transformed by the alchemical talents of the performers and of the relationship the audience establishes with them.

That concern to build connections between audience and performer is also something that has been important throughout my work. I have the experience of the traditional Irish sessiún as a model where everyone has a song. Yet in that environment we still recognise that one or two people have a particular gift and when they sing, they sing for all of us. We are not diminished by their talent, nor disconnected from it. In Starlight, I wanted the audience both to register the amazing abilities of Matthew and of Peggy, but to see those skills and talents up close in a way that allowed them to recognise the humanity of those ‘stars’ and by recognising that fellow humanity to open up the possibility for each audience member to recognise a bit of star potential in themselves. Starlight’s choreography makes no sense unless the audience ‘dances’ it too.

June 11, 2012

E-motional Bodies and Cities Research: The Bigger Picture

While we’ve been working in Dublin, Ireland has voted somewhat half-heartedly in a referendum to accept the EU fiscal treaty. As Fintan O’Toole explained in the Irish Times

Here we see the deep strangeness of contemporary Irish politics. In a normal world, if people don’t believe the Government, they vote against it. But in the topsy-turvy world we currently inhabit, people voted for the Government line precisely because they don’t believe the Government. If people did believe what Michael Noonan had told us – that a second bailout is a ludicrous and inconceivable notion – the main argument for a Yes vote would have collapsed.

The Yes campaign had effectively stopped trying to argue that the treaty, as a response to the euro zone crisis, had any intrinsic merits. The only real issue was, as one voter quoted in a vox pop put it so succinctly, “I am going to vote Yes because we need the money and I don’t see us getting it anywhere else”. This is the surreal state we’re in: people voted Yes not in spite of their belief that Government is bullshitting when it says a second bailout is ludicrous but because they believe it is bullshitting.

This is not “a loud expression of confidence in the Irish economy”, it is a loud expression of the belief that the Irish economy is likely to be on life-support for at least the rest of the decade. It is not “another reminder that Ireland is dealing effectively with its problems”, but an expression of grim fatalism. People, by and large, do not believe the policy of austerity for the poor and lavishness for dead banks (what should we call it – banksterity? austravagence?) is leading either to economic growth or to a restoration of sovereignty.
And there is a clear reason for this: people are not eejits. They know that the EU expects Gross National Income to decline by a further 1.3 per cent this year, with private and public consumption continuing to fall. They can read the figures that show that long-term unemployment (the really toxic kind) increased by 7 per cent in the last year.
They know that only large-scale emigration is keeping youth unemployment from reaching catastrophic levels. They know that the domestic economy, on which the vast majority of Irish employees depend for their jobs, is still shrinking. They know the Government is still committed to burning almost as much money every year on promissory notes for Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide as it is taking out of the economy in cuts and extra taxes. They know that the political and governance systems that created this mess remain largely unreformed. If this is evidence “Ireland is dealing effectively with its problems”, it is difficult to imagine what ineffective policies might look like.

This delusional talking-up of the state of the country wouldn’t matter so much if we could put a cordon of silence around the island. But what are our European partners to make of our pleas for help when we keep saying “ah but sure we’re doing grand really”? Or is it that the Government feels there’s no danger because it knows that no one believes what it says anyway?

(Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland)

There’s also been the annual Bloom garden festival interestingly subverted or at least complicated by landscape architects Luke Byrne and Cillian McDonald whose ‘show garden’ called Departures was an artistic installation using straw, audio recordings, a reclaimed floor and some lime trees to address the experiences of contemporary Irish emigrants. Thanks to Luke Pell’s connections in Dublin, he met the landscape architects and invited them to come to talk to us. Discovering that they both have written theses on disused space and buildings in Dublin made them particularly interesting for me. A connection with potential…

Meanwhile, this week the Eucharistic Congress has started in Dublin with Catholics from all over the world arriving in the city to the news that

that just 38 per cent believe Ireland today would be in worse shape without its dominant church. And just three-fifths even knew the Eucharistic Congress was coming to Ireland.’

The last time Ireland hosted the Eucharistic Congress in 1932, more than one million – a quarter of Ireland’s population – packed Dublin’s Phoenix Park for Mass with not a dissenting voice.

This time, Ireland’s opening soccer match on Sunday in the European Championship has dominated public attention and excitement. So much so that the congress blog had to point out to visitors that all the Irish flags on display on buildings, shops and taxis represented excitement about the football, not the faith.


As I write this blog that Euro 2012 excitement that we see all over Dublin in the fiesta of tricolours decorating houses and shops has waned in the wake of Ireland’s defeat by Croatia in the opening match of the campaign.

Massacres continue in Syria but I think people are more sensitive to the conditions of Spain’s EU bailout.

All this goes on around us. It’s woven in the city. It shapes how people feel what they hope for and what they fear. It can’t be forgotten in attending to E-motional Bodies in Dublin.

June 11, 2012

E-motional Bodies and Cities Research: Remember a space for possibilities

May 31, 2012

E-motional Bodies and Cities Research: Connections

Recognising that I have found already several niches for myself in Dublin, I also realise that the city is already full of connections I’ve made with other people, connections that have a particular power when they have been made through shared creativity and corporal expression. Those connections are alive in me as I continue to experience the city in the company of new colleagues.

Niche - Fearghus, Matthew, Stéphane (photo Jonathan Mitchell)

On Monday, I brought our E-motional group to Howth and introduced them to the Martello Tower and to Pat Herbert who runs the Radio Museum there. Hearing him ‘perform’ his history of telecommunications in Howth surrounded by his Aladdin’s cave installation of radio paraphernalia, I remembered how important the radio museum with its idea of communication was to the Tattered Outlaws of History. Pat’s spirit of generosity and his enthusiasm also fed the work and helped shape its relationship to the people of Fingal..

Pat Herbert, Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Musuem- Arianna and Luke All of this was with me as I introduced the some of the Docklands where I've done a lot of the Bodies and Buildings research to the E-motional group.

As we walked around the streets, I remembered similar walks with Matthew, Mikel, Bernadette, Stéphane, Jarek and Elena. I could remember them dancing and feel their energy in my body. As I think about Cure, my next project with the Tabernacle dancers where they choreograph for my body, this idea of taking on their energy, their patterns, their insight is important and of course complicated by the fact that I know them through their involvement in my work. So we are connected in many complicated ways.

This idea of connection came up again in response to our visit to the Macushla Dance Club. I wanted Luke, Arianna, Madalina and Olga to meet the group for a number of different reasons. These older bodies offer another perspective on the city. They are for the most part Dubliners born and bred so they carry a particular history in their bodies that Ríonach releases and extends in her creative work with them. And I wanted them to meet some more friendly people. We started with the cup of tea and chat downstairs in Dancehouse and joined the group for its weekly class. I danced the Mo Mhórchoir Féin solo for them and was touched by their generosity in watching it, absorbing it and engaging with it through their subsequent questions and observations. Even though I danced, I felt they were supporting me and was moved by their willingness to include me in their community. And again I recognised that I have a history with Macushla from making Sweetspot for them to including Marie in Mo Mhórchoir Féin and so when Ríonach taught us all a phrase developed from Marie’s imagination it was if I was home, connected. Maybe this is what my work aspires to.

May 27, 2012

E-motional Bodies and Cities: First day in Dublin

Five artists are talking part in the Bodies and Cities research that I’m part of for the next few weeks in Dublin. Madalina Dan from Romania, Luke Pell from England, Olga Zitluhina from Latvia, Arianna Marcoulides from Cyprus. We’re working from Dancehouse as part of an EU funded E-motional Dance project.
Having introduced ourselves to each other for most of the morning we spent the afternoon getting to know the city. Dublin on a Friday afternoon in unexpected summer heat. Fair Irish skin greedy to be exposed. Pink.

It didn’t seem right that I should introduce the visitors to the my version of Dublin – they’ll get that anyway as we work together – so we oriented ourselves by sticking a pin into a map. The first destination was the Central Bank and as we passed through Temple Bar our way there we had a sun- and alcohol-drunk man sing to us the’Fields of Athenry’ (‘where once we watched the small free bird fly’). His adult son had been pelting him with food as we arrived but as his father sang for Frances’ microphone the son carefully brushed bits of burger bun from the man’s temple, as if to better present his dad for his public performance. As we were leaving he asked us for money for more cans.

We people watched, took photographs and talked before doing a circuit of Temple Bar ending up with the guidance of a dancer we bumped in to at a bar overflowing with Friday post-work drinkers.

As we walked around, I didn’t want to guide and I didn’t want to talk too much but I found it difficult since I was becoming aware of a kind of ownership of the place, an ownership earned since my residency with Dublin City Council in 2007. We walked past Project – my creative home in Dublin. We walked past Barnardo Square and I wanted to say that I screened Three+1 for now there.
At the junction of George St And Dame St, I wanted to tell everyone that we had danced across the junction for a day as part of Rebecca Walter’s Walk Don’t Run.

And of course there so many places in the Docklands that I’ve danced too. Here’s a video of my dancing near the building site of what has become An Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.

Of course I’m not the only one to feel an ownership of the city but I have tried to imprint myself on Dublin and I feel I’ve earned through physical and creative commitment my own place among the places of others who also inhabit this place. It is with a kind of surprise that I recognise this but I think it’s an important realistion that I can accept responsibility and credit for having contributed something in this city.

May 01, 2012

Corp_Real performance and symposium

I was taken aback to hear how viscerally some people responded to my performance in Galway last week. Someone described holding his breath while I danced the Mo Mhórchoir Féin solo in silence. Another commented on how it felt painful to watch but that she was compelled not look away. Both of these people said that it was easier to go from watching the live performance to watching the film.

I was presenting the live version of the film material during the Corp_Real Performance and Symposium that Ríonach Ní Néill had curated as part of the Mapping Spectral Traces conference and the Dancing Days Festival (There were a lot of partners). One focus for the conference was the relationship between body and place. I wanted to show the Mo Mhórchoir Féin material live to indicate that it existed independently of the religious context in which most people will now have seen in – whether that’s in the film or in the reworking of it as the opening and closing of Tabernacle. As I pointed out in the talk I gave as part of the symposium, the material was generated first during my residency at the Red Gate Studios in Beijing in 2009 and I experimented with it in the videos I shot in unfinished art spaces on the northern outskirts of the city. Of course there were specific and clearly potent gestures, such as the beating of the chest – ‘trí mo mhórchoir féin’, that I added for the film version of the material but I still maintain that there is an internal life to the material (and by extension to its performer) that is not overwhelmingly determined by the context in which it is viewed. While many people respond to a perceived pain in the film, I recall that as I performed it on the day, I felt happiness: I was happy to be able to be dancing in a church, to be making a space for my perspective, my existence in what might often be considered an inhospitable environment. I was happy to be staking my claim to be included.

That’s why I was taken aback by the discomfort some people felt watching the live solo. Again, I felt good about performing it. I haven’t performed live since last year and it feels good to be able to do so again, after my knee surgery and despite my getting older! Neither of the people who spoke of their own very physical reaction to watching was being critical of the piece. I think they considered it a mark of the power of the work that it could effect them in that way. However, I don’t know if I want people to feel pain – at least I don’t want them to feel pain unless it’s part of a process that eases that pain, recognising and acknowledging it, understanding it, overcoming it.

And as I reflect further maybe I should be grateful for these troubled but appreciative responses to the performance. The conflict between discomfort and pleasure suggests a complexity of response that feels like a better recognition of the conflicts that animate Mo Mhórchoir Féin and hopefully give it an internal life that matches the complexity of lived experience. In short I don’t like to be pinned down and, despite the fact that many of the assembled academics are artists in their own right, there is always a danger when a theme has been set that an art work is reduced to being an exemplar of that theme.

April 22, 2012

Starlight Fundit campaign

I’ve wanted to make Starlight since we did the research at The Firkin Crane in 2010. 2011 had Tabernacle and Invaders as a focus but I knew that there would be a chance in 2012 to bring Starlight to the public. In the absence of a grant that would automatically underwrite the production of Starlight, paying the dancers and building the design around them, we’ve had to ask for people’s help to generate funds for Starlight. Project Arts Centre, The Firkin Crane and Cork Midsummer Festival will all be contributing resources and we’re building on Arts Council investment that supported my residency in 2010. But what’s really helped is the generosity of individual donors through the Fundit campaign we launched.

There’s something particularly encouraging about knowing people (from all over the world) believe in the work enough to commit money to it. Thank you all so much:

Rachel Ni Chuinn, Colin Murphy, Sheila Creevey, Caitriona Ni Threasaigh, Una Carmody, Roise Goan, Eleanor Creighton, Mo Kelly, Mairead Devlin, Paul Fahy, Michelle Whelan, Dylan Tighe, Lisa Bennett, Crea Brazil, Clive Kilgallen, Caroline Williams, Tom Creed, @a_hetherington, Fiona Kearney, Anne Clarke, Jack Gilligan, Deirdre Finn, Andre Portasio, Prue Skene, Roisin McGann, Cian Ó Conchúir, Jo Mangan, Lian Bell, Sian Cunningham, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Conflicted Theatre, Julie Feeney, Emma Martin, DROP EVERYTHING, Louise Church, Aoife Spillane-Hinks, Cian O’Brien, Katherine Baker, Oonagh Desire, Ciaran O’Melia, Mikel Aristegui, Dawn Mac Allister, Éimhín Ní Chonchúir, Kate Heffernan, Natasha Thompson, Ross O’Corrain, Maedhbh Mc Cullagh, Victoria O’Brien, Alisha Whittington, Katherine Atkinson, Katrin Neue, Miriam O’Keeffe, Fiona Sheil, Paul Johnson, Lara Hickey, Seamus Nolan,Liv O’Donoghue, Carolyn Jones, Eithne Egan, Willie White, Eimear O’Herlihy, John Scott, Niamh O’Donnell, pixel design, Daragh Ó Conchúir, Bríd Cranitch, Fiona Cameron, Claire O’Neill, Giovanni Giusti, David McKenna, Michelle Browne, Grace Dyas, Fran Henderson, Sara Robinson.

Peggy Grelat Dupont and Matthew Morris in Starlight. Photo Andy Ferreira