Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2015

December 29, 2015

Development Rehearsals in Dublin – The Casement Project

photo: Ste Murray (www.ste.ie)'

photo: Ste Murray (www.ste.ie)’


Despite now having a very supportive and highly skilled team to help with production, communication and administration ( Project Arts Centre, Lian Bell, Annette Nugent), for the past two years of its creative and practical development I’ve held The Casement Project and its intricate networks of relationships, partners, and negotiations. We’ve been passing on as much of the operational responsibility that I’ve been holding to the people on the team who have a much greater expertise than I do, leaving me the work of choreography and artistic direction on which I’d like to be concentrating and by which the success of the The Casement Project will ultimately be judged.

For the two weeks of development rehearsals in Dancehouse in December, it felt very important to me to switch from the list-ticking project management mode that I’d been in throughout the necessary planning phase and to allow myself a more expansive, exploratory state in which we could find the depth and breadth of the work. This felt particularly important as this was the first time the whole cast would be together.

photo: Ste Murray (www.ste.ie)'

photo: Ste Murray (www.ste.ie)’


I could see from the outset that this was and is an exciting assembly of people. They have distinctive personalities but nonetheless create a rich, textured but cohesive group entity that I am privileged to work with. Much of these two weeks of development has been about allowing them and me the time and space to figure out how this group entity works, what its capacities and limits are, what it allows in to its world, how it affords space for difference within it. This group building is an essential part of the choreography and probably the most important part given that I focus less of my energy on what the dancers are doing than on how they are doing it. I have this luxury, of course, because as co-creators, the dancers take such care of the movement material that they generate in response to what I’ve proposed them. And it’s not only the dancers: it’s also Alma Kelliher and Ciaran O’Melia, the composer and designer respectively, the production and administrative team and an expanding circle of guests, friends and visitors who become part of The Casement Project, however temporary their interaction with it. I’m thinking of people like Polly Mosely, my fellow Clore 2, who came from Liverpool especially to see part of the process and left traces of thoughts, words and images that inform how I see the material we’re developing. I’m also thinking of photographer Ste Murray whose light documenting presence in the studio has gifted me images of the work in progress that confirm the compelling qualities of the performers and frame moments of poetry that I might not have noticed. Given how much photographs by and of Casement have influenced the movement material so far, it’s not that this contemporary photography should be similarly informative and generative, reminding us how the shifting protean qualities of the dancing are fixed in particular moments by the photographer’s work.
photo: Ste Murray (www.ste.ie)'

photo: Ste Murray (www.ste.ie)’

December 17, 2015

Research at the National Archives – The Casement Project

Extract from Irish Times 1960 Maurice O'Gorman on The Black DiariesI’ve gotten closer to Casement’s diaries. Having read them first a few years ago in an edition by Roger Sawyer, and more recently in Jeffrey Dudgeon‘s gay-friendly edition, I’ve been approaching them and Casement through archive material in the British Library and in the National Archives in Kew. In Kew, there is the letter from the Dr Percy Mander, the duty prison medical officer at Pentonville Prison who examined Casement’s body after his hanging to probe whether he could have had the sex he wrote about.


I made the examination which was the subject of our conversation at the Home Office on Tuesday, after the conclusion of the inquest today, and found unmistakable evidence of the practices to which it was alleged the prisoner in question had been addicted. The anus was at a glance seen to be dilated and on making a digital examination (rubber gloves) I found that the lower part of the bowel was dilated as far as the fingers could reach.

There’s a letter from Harley Street psychiatrists, R Percy Smith and Maurice Craig who affirm that ‘ in our opinion that the writer [Casement] must be regarded undoubtedly as mentally abnormal individual.’ There are sworn affidavits from hotel staff in Norway where Casement stayed with his valet and lover Adler Christensen that the pair were having sex together.


I hearby declare that Sir Roger Casement was seen by me on Karl Johan’s street, Kristiania [modern Oslo] October 29th 1914 in the company of a well-known “sodomite” from Bergen, the German teacher of languages BAUREMEISTER.
I have also made thorough investigation with regard to Sir Roger Casement’s conduct during his stay in Kristiania . He came there from America together with a Norwegian named Adler Christensen, a native of MOSS. Both men lived for several days in the Grand Hotel in KRISTIANIA where they provided sure proof that they were “sodomites”. This opinion was general among the staff of the Grand Hotel which came into contact with Casement and Christensen.
It is beyond all doubt that it is Sir Roger Casement who has caused Christensen to become a homosexualist and so ruined him, and this is the general opinion among those people who knew Adler Christensen before he made Casement’s acquaintance.
(Signed) H. DEGERUD

Many, many pages of writing have been generated on account of Casement and that’s not inappropriate given what a prolific writer of official and unofficial documents, poems, diaries and reports that he was. I wanted to get closer to the materiality of that writing, to see it as a labour of his body, as vigorous and ambitious as the sex he describes. He wrote late into the night, it takes energy, it develops a particular musculature and physical coordination. I wanted to see the body expressed in his writing.

Casement’s 1903, 1910 and 1911 journals and diaries have been in the public domain only since 1994 (before that they were available for vetted scholarly inspection and of course they were strategically distributed in 1916 to discredit Casement and stymie an appeal for clemency – the National Archives contain a letter from ). At the National Archives, they are accessible now on microfilm, Reference HO 161 (indicating that they were Home Office files).
Diaries on Microfilm National Archives
There’s a still a light, democratic vetting process involved in registering as a reader at the National Archives, and a negotiation of the computer catalogue, the storing system and then the microfilm reader. You have to acquire some knowledge before you get to see the diaries. In the transfer to microfilm, the original white pages and dark writing has been inverted so they’ve literally become the Black Diaries that they were names in 1959 in Singleton and Girodias’ book about them. I found it a challenge to decipher all the handwriting but I can read much of it. The sexual content exists alongside details of his travels, his meals, his expenditure, his research:


‘X Deep to hilt’ ‘Deep screw and to hilt’

See it coming’! In Dublin. To Belfast, John McGonegal X 4/6. Huge & curved. Up by Cregagh Road met by chance near clock tower & off on tram – it was huge & curved & he awfully keen.

Turned in together at 10.30 to 11 after watching billiards. Not a word said till – “Wait – I’ll untie it” & then “Grand” X Told many tales & pulled it off on top grandly. First time after so many years & so deep mutual longing. Rode gloriously – splendid steed. Huge – told of many – “Grand”.

Caught three splendid butterflies on road. O’D & Sealy in fingers. Beauties.

Much of the content is already familiar to me but seeing it in his handwriting, sometimes packed on the page, sometimes loosely trailed across it, brings a new sense of him. I’m also struck by the pages opposite the entries that bear the ink blot traces of his writing. They seem like a code of their own, a transposition linked to the original but mysteriously beautiful in their own right, perhaps as I imagine the choreography will be.

Casement diaries blotter

November 01, 2015

Do not yet fold your wings: Liverpool Irish Festival:

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It wasn’t until the a couple of hours before the performance at the Bluecoat in Liverpool that I read the wall text that accompanied Bisakha Sarker’s installation. I’d arrived to perform in ACE-supported collaboration with pop band Stealing Sheep and contemporary music ensemble, Immix as part of The Liverpool Irish Festival. I’d planned to be dancing alongside Aoife McAtamney but a last-minute illness prevented her from performing and so the planned duet became a more improvised 30 minute solo on a raised cruciform platform flanked by musicians.
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I’d been passing the installation on the way to and from the rehearsal space and was taken by the lustrous projections of an older woman (b is in her seventies) in a predominantly red sari.

On Sunday, before the show, I was a little daunted about the prospect of performing on my own. The collaboration had happened virtually with demos of Stealing Sheep’s music arriving via Dropbox and Daniel from Immix explaining via email the structure of the composition. But it wasn’t until Saturday, the day before the performance, that Aoife and I heard the whole sequence of music and on Sunday, by the time it was clear that Aoife would not be able to dance, I was hearing the whole sound of Stealing Sheep and Immix Ensemble together for the first time as I figured out what I could do. But what a sound. I accepted the invitation from Laura Naylor of the Liverpool Irish Festival because while I liked what I heard of Stealing Sheep and Immix’s separate work, it wasn’t music I’d usually choreograph to. But I think it’s important to get beyond your habits and comfort zones, even temporarily, so you can find new things and maybe return to the familiar approaches with renewed insight and understanding. Seeing Stealing Sheeps slick, graphic image, I wasn’t sure how my more organic, raw style would sit with their sound, but Cunningham and Cage have taught me not to worry too much about such things. I described our collaboration as a salad of tasty ingredients, rather than a stew. We didn’t have much time to have our flavours blend into a stew but could trust the audience to do some of the digestion for us.

Without Aoife, it felt like a bigger challenge to meet the music as an equal element in the collaboration. It was clear that this was a gig format rather than a dance show. I was dancing on a platform but the audience was standing and there was a support act before it. Knowing it was a gig was an ease in some ways: most people would be there to hear the music and there would be fractal projections over the stage that they might find a more familiar visual accompaniment. But I didn’t want to be a backing dancer in that scenario.
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Reading the text accompanying Bisakha Sarker’s installation, I discovered that she is a dancer choreographer now in her seventies who worked with a contemporary choreographer to explore new ways of moving in her mature body. She was inspired to keep dancing by a quotation from Tagore, ‘Do not fold your wings’. Seeing these words and her image inspired me in turn to keep enjoying the dance I am able to do, to enjoy the spread of my wings, their beating and where they carry me.

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The performance seems to have been a success. I did feel that it took the audience a while to know how to see me in this music context but gradually, as I fed from the music and the musicians, and unravelled the movement material and ideas I’d brought, I felt part of the bigger sonic, kinetic and visual energy we created together. I’m grateful for all of these opportunities to be dancing with and for people. And I hope that I will be as brave, curious and creative as Bisakha Sarker.

October 31, 2015

www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk review of Liverpool Irish Festival’s commission: Stealing Sheep, Immix Ensemble, Fearghus Ó Conchúir

– Bluecoat, Liverpool, 25th October 2015
By Andy Vine · On October 27, 2015

LMW_Stealing SheepThe stage is set, in an inverted T-shape with a low catwalk in the middle, so the widest part is closest to the audience. Stealing Sheep’s equipment is set up on the left, a row of six chairs are set out facing them on the right for Immix Ensemble. The wall opposite shows a projection of the net of CGI shapes – spheres stretched into a point on one side suspended in the air as glitchy electronica floats over the PA.

Stealing Sheep arrive without fanfare. Immix file in on the right and take their seats. They begin to warm up their instruments and the low brass tones blend with the fuzzy bleeps being played over the PA. The background music fades out as Stealing Sheep fade in with burbling keys and a roll of the floor tom. Immix’s brass section strike up an ambient, chirruping sequence and a man steps onto the catwalk. The man is choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir. His partner Aoife McAtamney will not be able to join him tonight. He strikes a pose to the left of the stage reminiscent of that of a life drawing model, knees bent, stretching his muscles. We wonder if McAtamney was supposed to be on the right-hand side of the inverted T. It doesn’t matter.

Stealing Sheep summon a kind of folky electronic drone, repetitive and rhythmic. Emily Lansley is playing a lap steel guitar, fiddling with various pedals for a treated sound, as drummer Lucy Mercer sings about moving a little bit into space that’s left behind. She could be singing to Ó Conchúir as he stretches into the main section of his catwalk, his movements jerky, swinging his legs high with his back to us. We stifle a chuckle thinking about Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks; this is more modern ballet than classic comedy.

The music becomes a proggy, sci-fi soundtrack with an insistent recurring phrase being played by Immix’s strings. Ó Conchúir is making wider shapes with his body, moving his hand just as insistently as the cellists to his right. The music strips right back and goes gently ambient. He’s making longer lines, his face agonised. Daniel Thorne on the saxophone counts in Michael Walsh’s oboe and Stealing Sheep edge their way into the creepy folk of ‘Evolve and Expand’ from this year’s Not Real album. The snail’s pace delivery of the opening line “They will cook you up and grind you down for glue and clay,” has left Ó Conchúir on the floor, looking up at the sky with his arms outstretched. The visuals have become a trippy triangular tunnel, all the colours of the spectrum.

He’s on the edge of the low stage, looking from one side to the other, from the experimental pop band to the experimental classical ensemble. A throbbing bass pulse comes in, weird, intimidating, dissonant rhythms. Rebecca Hawley sings into a distorted microphone the instruction to “Give it a go/You might like it,” and she’s right; Ó Conchúir begins to fling himself around to the flashing green visuals and rhythmic handclaps from both sides of the stage. As scratchy strings and spaghetti western guitar come in and the lights flash, his movements become more balletic, yoga stretches, triumphant leaps. The sound is bassy, heavy, more confident. Hawley yells again “You might like it!” and the brass meshes with the bass and the keys jig around as much as Ó Conchúir; he leaps into the air clipping his heels together and with grins of relief all round, it’s all over.

The sense of relief at a job well done is palpable from all collaborators. And that’s what this is: a genuine collaborative performance where no element is lesser than another, and without any one element the whole would not be the same. It makes you wonder what the piece would have been like had Aoife McAtamney not been ill, but not as much as it makes you wonder what Stealing Sheep’s follow up to Not Real will sound like. Hopefully further collaborations happen in the future, and not just on stage but within a wider creative field as this was a very special partnership between Liverpool Music Week and Liverpool Irish Festival. A complete success and an absolute joy.

Read the review at www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk

September 29, 2015

Choreodrome Rehearsals Week 2 – The Casement Project

photographer Pari Naderi

photographer Pari Naderi

After our first two weeks of rehearsal on The Casement Project, there are some things I know and many more questions yet to be answered. It’s not a bad place to be in. After the confidence required to make a good proposal, this more humbling uncertainty feels like a better place from which to be creative.

We’ve already shown movement sketches to the participants in our Micro-rainbow workshops, to a variety of old friends who dropped in to the studio, to the Artist Development team at the Place, and to a paying public in the Touchwood series of scratch performances. Each of these encounters with others have taught me different things: it is one thing to share work with people with whom you have already established a relationship and with whom you’ve begun to build some kind of community. It is another to do that with people who are meeting the work for the first time. How do I ensure that their first encounter is one that draws them closer to the work and that invites them to get to know more about it?

photographer Pari Naderi

photographer Pari Naderi

One thing I do know after these openings of the early raw material is that I am fortunate to have such a compelling group of performers, whose individual distinctiveness is matched by a sensitivity to the others (performers and audience) with whom they are sharing the performance. Life experience made legible in their bodies and generously revealed is part of what makes them so special. While I know I have a job of crafting to do to shape with them the environment that an audience will encounter in the work, I am proud that already the heart of the work exists with them.

photographer Pari Naderi

photographer Pari Naderi

One of the things I was concerned to test in this Choreodrome research was how the allusive, shifting, dynamic world I wanted to create in the movement, a world in which Casement’s life, afterlife and legacy might be set in motion rather than represented, could work with the radio play that I propose to use as the basis for the sound score. I am using the original BBC production of David Rudkin‘s play, Cries from Casement as His Bones are Brought to Dublin. The play was broadcast in 1973, having been delayed according to Rudkin because of sensitives in Anglo-Irish relations at the time. Its point of departure is the ‘repatriation’ in 1965 to Dublin of Casement’s bones, from the prison yard in Pentonville prison in London. It had been Casement’s wish to be buried in Antrim but such a re-burial wouldn’t have counted as a generous gesture that the British government wanted to make to the Irish Republic in advance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. The play is fragmentary and multi vocal, with characters ranging from Dr Crippen to Joan Bakewell. Rudkin read much of Casement’s archive, including his diaries, and noticing the different handwriting styles he found there, imagines a complex, fragmenting, shifting Casement. I’m using the play, because there is much in Rudkin’s approach that is sympathetic to my concern to put the body and its knowledge at the heart of the national narrative. Also the fact that it is a radio play, beautifully designed by the Radiophonic workshop, makes it suitable as a score, something to be listened to, rather than seen. And, with its period BBC and occasionally duff Irish accents, the excellent production nonetheless conveys something of a civilising colonial perspective, an authoritative voice whose authority I wish to complicate by bringing it alongside the dancing. There is perhaps homage and guile in the strategy, a strategy not unfamiliar in the history of Irish literature in English. It is the strategy of the colonised.

Finally, using Rudkin’s play reminds me that no matter how much original archival research that I do, our access to Casement is always mediated, and we construct our version of him in relation to a history of mediation as well as to our own context.

photographer Pari Naderi

photographer Pari Naderi

September 07, 2015

Choreodrome Week One – The Casement Project

11988386_1474174952909459_7902436948999785562_nIt was a relief to get in to the studio this week with some of The Casement Project dancers and to begin to explore in such articulate and creative bodies some of the ideas that I’ve been storing over the past two years. Fortunately an Arts Council Bursary two years ago and a residency at Dancehouse in Dublin meant that I’d been able to test some of the Casement ideas with Aoife McAtamney before I started writing the Ireland 2016 National Project application. That physical testing meant that I could trust that the ideas could make sense in bodies. However, it feels like a lot of words and intellectual brain processing were required to make the application a success. Now, it’s important to bring that processing back to bodies and to the particular knowledge and wisdom they possess.

It turns out Roger Casement was born on the September 1st, so it was an appropriate day to start rehearsals at The Place as part of this year’s Choreodrome. For the first week I was joined four of the six dancers who will be in the piece: Bernadette Iglich, Matthew Morris and Mikel Aristegui have danced in a number of my projects as well as choreographing Cure. I’ve danced with Philip Connaughton in work by Adrienne Browne and by Ríonach Ní Néill, as well as seeing him in the work of other Irish choreographers and more recently, his own magnificent Tardigrade. Having such a talented and experienced group of performers in the room is a privilege. However, it’s not just their creativity and skill that I rely on to create the work, but also their generosity of spirit.

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That generosity and openness was particularly evident on Thursday when a group of LGBT refugees from Micro-Rainbow International joined us in the studio for a movement workshop. I’ve been singing in the Micro-Rainbow choir over the summer and getting to know the group. I wanted to invite them to experience something of my work and see what kind of community we could build from the exchange. On the day when the heart-breaking photograph of the drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, appeared in newspapers around the world, it felt good to share joy, care and creativity with these refugees. Opening the rehearsal studio is a gift for us, helping us see the studio and our work from the perspective of people who are not jaded by over-familiarity with the art form. And their visit reminded us of the importance of joy. We’re looking back to the next workshop on Tuesday.

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On Thursday, we went out of the studio, on a research visit to the British Library. With the help of Ellie Beedham, Senior Producer at The Place, I’ve been working with Dr Eva Del Rey (Curator, Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance) to find ways of connecting The Casement Project to The British Library’s holdings and archives. Her colleagues Joanna Norledge (Curator, Contemporary Performance and Creative Archives,) and Helen Melody, sourced original material for us about Casement and about David Rudkin, whose play Cries from Casement as his Bones are brought to Dublin, I’m using in the work. They showed us Cabinet Papers from July 1916, prepared to discuss whether Casement’s death sentence might be commuted. Also correspondence and papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Clement K. Shorter, concerning their petition to the government to reprieve Casement, with responses from people like Yeats and HG Wells (whose answer to the request for help was ‘Absolutely not!’). We also saw David Rudkin’s notebooks containing his notes on reading The Black Diaries, as well as the script used in the original studio recording of his radio play at the BBC. Seeing Casement being interpreted in these official and artistic documents is very useful in my own project of engagement with his life and after-life.

As the year goes on, we’ll find ways to distill all of this rich material, but for now we will keep on gathering and dancing with the material we gather.

August 06, 2015

Ireland 2016 – The Casement Project

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It’s the start of a big adventure. Today, at the RHA in Dublin, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys announced that The Casement Project is one the successful nine proposals in the Arts Council’s 2016 Open Call for National Projects. Some of you will have heard me talk about the role of the artist as citizen (alongside doctor citizens, hurler citizens, parent citizens, scientist citizens, drag queen citizens, etc.), so I’m delighted that The Casement Project will be one of the major art events of the 2016 Centenary Year and be part of a process of national and international reflection on our past, our present and our future. You can read about the other amazing projects on the Arts Council’s website, but I’m particularly pleased that there’s another dance project involving Coiscéim and Anú Productions, as well as a work on women and the nation by Jesse Jones and Sarah Browne

It’s a huge honour and a huge opportunity to be one of these successful projects and the proposal would not have been successful without the support of many people: the dance artists, the creative team, the producers, presenters, venues, experts from beyond the arts and a myriad of others. (It’s a big project.) I’ve known that the proposal was successful for just over a week, but had to keep it under wraps until the official announcement. That was very difficult, since I wanted to get started on the work straight away, but also because I wanted to celebrate with everyone: it’s going to be a big team effort to make The Casement Project the success we want it to be.

The Casement Project is ambitious – ambitious for me, for dance, but also for how people could understand their individual and collective potential. What would be the point in proposing it, if it weren’t ambitious? It’s also achievable, since it’s built on a creative team and network of partners that I’ve worked with in the past. But for the first time it’s gathering all of them to focus their skill and talents on this one big idea.

The project has five interconnected elements that people will be able to see and join in during 2016: a stage performance presented in Dublin, London, Belfast and Kerry; a celebratory festival of dance on an Irish beach; a dance-film for television and online streaming; an academic symposium in Dublin and in London; and a series of creative engagement opportunities to get all kinds of people involved in the making of the work.

The Casement Project is inspired by the queer body of Roger Casement, British peer, Irish rebel and international humanitarian, whose experience reminds us that Ireland’s flourishing has always been linked to the flourishing of disadvantaged people around the world. Casement’s body offers the model for a national body whose identity is dynamic and open to otherness. We want The Casement Project to be a moment when we explore the potential of a new national body, the kind that Casement might have wished for when he came ashore on Banna Strand at Easter in 1916. And we want to celebrate what the diverse bodies of the people of Ireland are capable of one hundred years on.

Now that the announcement is public, we have lots of work to do: I’ll be starting in the studio with some of the performers for two weeks of research at The Place, London as part of Choreodrome 2015. There will also be a lot of planning and logistics. We’ll be letting you know the details on our dedicated website which goes live soon
thecasementproject.ie

Let us know what you think.

July 26, 2015

Cosán Dearg at the Agnès b. Librairie Galerie, Hong Kong

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I’d thought I’d given up dancing on concrete floors. A commitment to presenting dance beyond the theatre, where different people might meet it and where it could resonate differently, had led me to performing on hard floors. But after tearing the meniscus in my knee during performances at the Shanghai Expo in 2010 when we danced on concrete floors, I thought I wouldn’t be doing that again. My recently, I watched the committed dancers of Boris Charmatz’s Musée de la Danse, pound their bodies on the concrete of Tate Modern and feel disquieted and bemused since the Tate Modern website featured an interview with Yvonne Rainer that specified that dancers in galleries should benefit from sprung wooden floors for their performances (Cunningham’s work in galleries was usually presented on raised stages).

And yet, last night I danced on the polished concrete of the Agnès B gallery in Hong Kong and had a wonderful evening, even if my body does now feel compacted and a little bruised. The evening was curated by Alice Rensy, formerly Raimund Hoghe’s manager and now based in Hong Kong. She took advantage of the fact that I was in Hong Kong to include me in a series of dance events that she’s programming at the gallery to mark the exhibition there of Eugenia Grandchamp des Raux’s photographs. I shared the evening with Yang Hao, a Hong Kong-based dance artist from Chongquing whose accomplished dancing I saw when he was in CCDC, and who was a fellow participant in the i-dance festival improvisation workshops last December.

Yang Hao in rehearsal

Yang Hao in rehearsal

I decided I would revisit the solo from Cosán Dearg for the performance. It’s the piece I performed on my first visit to Hong Kong in 2007, as part of the Dadao Live Art Festival on tour.

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I presented it in the Osage gallery and so it seemed appropriate to be doing it again in another gallery. Also, it’s the solo that I shared with Aoife McAtamney this year when we first started to work together in the studio. I wanted her to have some sense of my movement so asking her to take it in to her body was a way of passing that sense on. But I also wanted to see how the work transformed in her. Performing it again, I wanted to test how it has transformed in me.

It’s a work that’s built on repetition, the red path or cosán dearg indicating the earth worn brown/red from repeated traffic. It was a martial choreography with a strong and defended body when first I made it. Now as I’ve start to investigate what porous and permeable bodies might bring to my choreography, I was ready to repeat the work with a different sensibility.

For the evening we decided that each of us would bring a solo and that we would finish with an improvisation that built on the dialogue between the solos.

Because my solo was shorter that Yang Hao’s I performed Cosán Dearg, Yang Hao presented his Pied a terre, and I did Cosán Dearg again, inviting the audience to notice what had changed in me and in them since the first time they say it. We finished with an improvisation in which we reflected on the evening and on our response to one another’s work while dancing material that echoed that work.

The audience

The audience

I was so happy to perform and found the audience, which included ACLP and dancing friends in HK, generous and engaged. I think the gallery staff were surprised by the turn-out though given Yang Hao’s profile in the city (a former star dancer in CCDC and growing choreographic talent), they shouldn’t have been. Mostly I was very happy with the warm and open atmosphere we created together, making for an environment where the audience could be involved in and close to the work.

Fearghus and Alice in Agnès B

Fearghus and Alice in Agnès B


I was also tickled by my costume. The solo was always performed naked: I’d had a sense of it being an animal energy and the unclothed body best expressed that. However in Hong Kong in 2007 I wasn’t allowed to be naked and though things have changed in the city’s cultural scene (I presented Cure last December with no issue about nudity), the Agnès B gallery weren’t comfortable with me being naked for this version either. I didn’t need to push but did wonder what I would wear instead. The solution presented itself when I discovered that the Agnès B shop had loaned clothes for a previous performance. I chose an outfit of vibrant red clashing prints of a kind I’ve never worn before. But I loved the transformation and strangely animal quality of the print. It also has a hint of the clown and of the rock star but I was happy not to take myself seriously. This lightness is something I’ve learned from dancing with Olga Zitluhina. Thank you Olga, it’s makes for joyous dancing that is no less serious for its fun.

March 10, 2015

Mind Your Step: After the performances

Photo Karen Till

Photo Karen Till

I am proud of our performances of Niche this weekend because the piece proved to be robust enough in its construction to be open to and welcoming of the unexpected possibilities of an uncontrolled public environment. Some of the feedback we received focused as much on the passers-by who entered into the environment of our performance as on the choreography we planned. ( The giggling teenage girls who stayed to the end to watch the dance, the shouting man who passed right through but left behind a residue of heightened energy). I am confident, however, that the choreography enabled the audience to notice those unexpected interventions without feeling that the performance was compromised.

To protect the irreplaceable

To protect the irreplaceable

This robust permeability depends to a great extent on the qualities of the gifted, creative performers and also to the history of our working together and clarifying the intention and ethics of our way of performing. These performers have been with me not only in Niche, but in Tabernacle and in Cure also and this history makes a difference to the assurance with which we can take risks together. There has been an investment: of physical energy, of emotion, of care and yes, of money. Such an investment doesn’t guarantee a return but it helps.

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The robustness of Niche is also the result of a year as Artist in Residence for Dublin City Council, researching the relationship of bodies to buildings in the context of urban regeneration. That research led to a film made in the Docklands, to a stage performance and to a touring project, Open Niche, which saw choreographic material from local participants in each place we performed woven into the structure Niche provided. Our performance of Niche this weekend (an excerpt from the whole) carries all of this research and experience in it. Work gets better as you work on it, test it, re-live in different contexts.

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Openness brings surprise: our rehearsals for this iteration of Niche had been mostly light and joyful. Even Bernadette, often segregated into loneliness by the process of Niche, was part of the fun of re-rehearsing as we discovered that the piece existed not only in the individual roles assigned to particular bodies. We were all familiar with each other’s material, so I could observe Bernadette take on the signature physicality of Matthew’s solo or Matthew the distinctive high kick of Mikel’s Basque dance. Meanwhile I had visions of Stéphane dancing particular moment’s of the piece as I took on his role. We retained some of that lightness in performance but a combination of the site on New Wapping Street, the world of marginalised people we still witness in Dublin today and our physical separation as performers across the large site we inhabited brought a toughness and sadness to the performances that I remembered from previous iterations of the work. Maybe dancing on asphalt and concrete, with broken glass and dog shit close by brings a different physicality to the dancing that changes the emotional temperature.

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It makes gives me satisfaction and happiness to be able to dance, to be a person who dances in this way.

March 10, 2015

Mind Your Step: Niche back in the Docklands

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When I saw the call for artists to participate in the Mind Your Step project, I was worried that it didn’t seem to acknowledge the work of dance artists and others who had linked choreography, urban planning, regeneration, architecture and social change in the context of Dublin Docklands. From Liz Roche’s All Weather Project commissioned by Dublin Dockland Authority’s in 2006 to Ríonach Ní Néill’s and Joe Lee’s recent multi-award-winning film, Area, there have been dance works made in and aware of the context of social and urban transformation. YouTube Preview Image

My concern to recognise and remember this existing body of work is probably selfish since, as Artist in Residence for Dublin City Council in 2007/8, I focused on the relationship of bodies to buildings in the context of rapid urban regeneration, primarily in that Docklands area but also in Berlin, Beijing and Shanghai. (This blog documents much of the work) It was a period of very valuable research for me that resulted in a variety of work, not least Three + 1 for now, a film installation made on wasteground near Sherriff Street, and Niche, the stage work that grew from that material. For that reason I proposed to revisit an extract of Niche for Mind Your Step and found the organisers (http://remindyourstep.org/team/) both positive and generous in their response and support for the proposal

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It’s been interesting, in revisiting the sites where I worked in 2007/8, to see what’s changed and what remains the same. Ellie Creighton (a producer, communications expert and dancer in DYDC when they took part in Open Niche, as was Jessie Keenan, another of the choreographers in the Mind Your Step performance) who helped locate performance sites for Mind Your Step, has told me of the challenges in getting property owners to allow access. Health and safety, public liability insurance etc. is one barrier, as it would have been in 2007. However, the main reason they are less helpful now is that, after years of properties remaining empty or unfinished, nascent economic recovery means that those properties have a value again as the potential of their commercial use is increased. Of course, we didn’t ask for permission to use the sites where we danced in 2007. We didn’t have institutional responsibilities and besides we weren’t organising audiences for performances with attendant public liability. Moreover, part of the intention of the work in 2007 was to test what possibilities were available for human creativity in the financial and social choreography that the redevelopment of the Docklands entailed. We made Three + 1 for now on wasteground that in 2008 was surrounded by encroaching development. Beside it was a single detached house which it seemed someone had refused to let the developers demolish. What surprises me is that both the house and that wasteground are still there, while many of the new build retail spaces surrounding them have been empty since their construction.