Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2018

July 23, 2018

MicroRainbow: Walthamstow Wetlands Residency

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I’ve been aware from the outset that the Wetlands is a sanctuary and a refuge, for humans and non-humans, for anglers and walkers and parents and choreographers and, not least, a place for migrant birds.  It’s made sense to me therefore to connect my dance workshops for MicroRainbow International (an organisation that works globally to end LGBTI poverty and, in the UK, focuses its activities on supporting LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers) to this residency.  It’s partly about seeing the residency as an opportunity to host people, to share the privilege of my time in this beautiful location and also to ensure that the kind of public that benefits from the Wetlands is as inclusive as possible.

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This week we hosted the second of our MicroRainbow dance workshops on the Wetlands,  thanks to the generosity of the Wetlands team (especially Ada and Ralph who’ve given free time to guide us around the site) and to Wilsons LLP, a law firm in nearby Tottenham that has sponsored the travel expenses of the participants (it’s not enough to offer a free workshop to foster inclusion if people can’t afford to get to it).

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It was great to be able to share the beauty of the Wetlands in the evening sunshine, to see people relax and appreciate air and space, to see people enjoying friendship. It underlined to me again how choreography can also be developed by attending to the circumstances to which bodies are exposed.  And, as a result, I’ve been trying to work through the residency as a kind of choreography, a performance of the kind of relationships and exchanges between diverse human and non-human bodies I’d like to support in the world.

Here are some of the photos that Ralph Hanus took of the event:


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July 23, 2018

Footpath closed: Walthamstow Wetlands Residency

As I’ve noted before, the Wetlands’ site is a working reservoir as well as being a nature reserve and, of course, now, a dance ‘studio’.  For all my talk of the necessity of quietness in my choreographic relationship with the site, it’s also apparent that there are moments of noisy, energetic intervention.  This video sketch shows that it’s not only the non-human wildlife that influences how I can move around:  this footpath is closed because of Thames Water work on one of the reservoirs.  Though you can’t here the drilling in so loudly, you can catch a glimpse of the loud orange-uniformed workers through the fencing, as well as the ducks getting on with their bobbing in the adjacent water.

The next week, I saw a group of school children singing loudly and enthusiastically on the same footpath.  I don’t know for sure but they look like children from a school in Stamford Hill’s Orthodox Jewish community on the other side of the canal from the Wetlands but easily accessible across the Hackney Marshes.  There’s something very beautiful about the young voices singing to the expanse of water.  The birds can be just as noisy and it confirms again that quietness isn’t the only possible response to the Wetlands.

July 23, 2018

Trump Flies Over: Wetlands Residency

I was working outdoors on the Lockwood Reservoir when instead of the usual bird-life passing over, I noticed a big black helicopter buzzing from the horizon.   Flanked by other smaller helicopters, it was ominously heavy in the sky and I decided to try my dance in relation to it.  I later discovered that the helicopter was carrying Trump from Stansted to central London.

June 27, 2018

Fly in Focus: Walthamstow Wetlands Residency

Here’s a short video where the autofocus of my camera gives priority to the fly that happens to be buzzing in front of the lens rather than to the human who happens to be dancing in the background.  My relatively smart camera has the technology to detect faces but here the framing doesn’t give it a face to find and so blades of grass, insects and humans passing are equally worth of digital attention.

June 09, 2018

Noticing the infrastructure: Walthamstow Wetlands

20180522_142819It’s easy to focus on the wildlife in the Wetlands but there is a built infrastructure of varying vintages that has made the Wetlands the place it is and continues to shape how human and non-human, organic and inorganic meets in this environment.

The River Lea has long been a water-way for transportation and a source of power for the various industries that were situated along its banks.  The human intervention was increased when London’s need for clean water in the 19th Century brought the creation of reservoirs that transformed the landscape.  For a more detailed account of the Wetlands’ history see here

 

 

20180521_100810What I notice is the combination of somehow naturalized man-made elements and interventions that are more recent and contrasting.  In the former category are reservoirs themselves, the picturesque pump structures (first picture above) and the weathered and patinated pieces of iron that appear here and there (and whose function I don’t yet know).

20180522_133825 (1)In the latter category are the temporary fencing and hazard taping that signal work in progress, the cranes on the skyline that aren’t strictly part of the Wetlands but that dominate many of its vistas.  And also perhaps the unwelcome detritus, like this shopping trolley that a coot has nonetheless commandeered as a nesting site and which can’t be cleared until she’s done.

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There is an admirable adaptability in this avian ability to cohabit with the human-made, but can we offer a similar willingness to adapt to the needs of the natural environment.  The way some users of the site ignore requests not to cycle in sensitive areas, not to drop litter etc. suggests there’s a way to go.

Meanwhile, here’s a small dance with geese.

May 16, 2018

Quiet dances: Walthamstow Wetlands

I’ve been trying to figure out the existing choreographies on the Wetlands. The Wetlands exists because of human intervention in the landscape to provide freshwater for the capital. For an account of the history, see here. https://walthamstowwetlands.com/heritage The visible reservoirs are matched by buried tunnels and piping that channel the water through its various stages of purification and from there to Londoners across the city. There’s even a small nuclear bunker under the Copper Mill apparently that suggests a former movement script of crisis.

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This human intervention and the fact that the general public (though not birders and anglers) have been kept out of the reservoirs has created a place where wildlife has flourished, wildlife that lives there permanently or the temporary visitors that rely on the Wetlands as one stopping point in their migration routes. The site is being managed so as to protect as much as possible the resident wildlife and that means closing particular paths at certain times of the year to enable birds to nest or to moult undisturbed. For me it also means slowing my pace when I find birds on the path and deviating if necessary. It’s also meant that I’ve be trying out quiet dancing – dances in the open space that don’t make undue noise – a dancing that I feel is co-choreographed by the requirements of the environment and its non-human inhabitants. Of course I bring my own movement history and habits to this environment, but I’m enjoying the sense that there are other choreographers in this process too.

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May 16, 2018

Refuge: Finding my place on Walthamstow Wetlands

20180508_122557One of the themes of my residency is refuge and I’ve been wondering where my refuge is on the site. The viewing platform in the Engine House has quickly become that place for me since it has a beautiful view, there’s some space (enough for me to warm up), it is not too busy during the weekdays (but still has enough traffic to allow for some interesting conversations), it has a metal floor that is much more comfortable and forgiving than the tiled floors below and it has wifi. I’d like to have a sign that welcomes people in when I’m warming up there. I want people to feel that my work there is as natural and/or surprising as the Thames Water workers or the flora and fauna outside. And it’s also important to acknowledge that as a human I need a place to shelter, to rest, to prepare, to process. Though I’ve always been keen to bring dance beyond its comfortable familiar settings, the resilience that requires has to be supported by some care and respite.

The success of the Wetlands opening in terms of visitor numbers means that it’s not necessarily helpful for me to attract many more people to it. However, it’s important that my work and that of the residency is visible. A mixture of visible and invisible therefore. When I mentioned this to Emma, the London Wildlife Trust Reserve Manager, she told me of the newts onsite that are undetectable to predators above because of their camouflage colouring but that have brightly coloured under-sides that they can expose to attract potential mates – safe and flamboyant. How can I be similarly discreet and attractive?

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May 16, 2018

Beginning my Residency at Walthamstow Wetlands

20180502_100230I started my stint as Artist in Residence at Walthamstow Wetlands on 2 May. The beginning wasn’t as smooth as I’d planned, though a bit of friction is always informative.

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I’d been telling everyone how pleased I was that I could walk from my home in Walthamstow to work in Walthamstow – a rare convenience, and one that relies mostly on my accessing the Wetlands through the Copper Mill Lane entrance. Unfortunately the gate was closed because of Thames Water works on site and so I was confronted by the perimeter of the reserve, the long expanse of fencing that protects the sanctuary, the border that makes the Wetlands site possible as a place for refuge for wildlife.

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In Of Hospitality Derrida recognises that hospitality and hostility share a common etymology because he wants us to recognise that absolute hospitality has its limitations.

From a deconstructive perspective, hospitality is necessarily ‘contaminated’ by law, system, and calculation, and this contamination is emphatically not understood as an unfortunate loss of ideal purity.

Mustafa Dikeç, Nigel Clark, and Clive Barnett, ‘Extending Hospitality: Giving Space, Taking Time’, Paragraph vol. 32, no. 1 (2009), pp. 1-14, p. 9.

The notion of hospitality already implies that the host has territory, property and resources to be able to offer hospitably to others. Therefore, the borders that separate self and other, familiar and stranger are also a necessity to the ethical relationship of hospitality.

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This respect for the other’s space, the other’s difference, is something that I’ve felt on the Wetlands. I’ve noticed many solitary walkers, anglers, birders and of course, the solitary (for the moment) dance artist. Though I’ve adopted what I think of as the Irish custom of greeting the people I pass on my travels around the site, it is clear that many are there for solitude and that I should respect that.

And I also noticed that for the goslings, barriers and borders are pretty porous.
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April 13, 2018

A new adventure: ‘Fleadership’ and National Dance Company Wales

Photo Kirsten McTernan

Photo Kirsten McTernan


Today my appointment as the next Artistic Director of National Dance Company Wales was made public.[Press release here] It’s a relief to finally be able to let people know what I’m going to be doing. I can’t tell if you’ll be surprised. Surprise is not a bad thing. It’s the ability to respond to surprise – the surprise of other people, the surprise of our ever changing bodies, the surprise of living – that has always drawn me to dance since Adele Thompson who was giving a workshop on behalf of LCDT when I was still a student at university told the assembled dance amateurs that one of the challenges of being a dancer is that each day you deal with a new body. Each day you have to figure out how to address that body to the choreographies it was involved in before, or to make something new. And that constant opportunity to learn, to adapt, to figure out a way through hooked me, guaranteeing that I could never be bored in an art form that acknowledged the fundamental necessity of surprise.

What might be surprising in my becoming Artistic Director of NDCWales is that I’ve been what we call an independent artist for all of my career so far. Of course, as I’ve written elsewhere independence is a fiction. We’re all interdependent. But while I’ve worked with all kinds of institutions and organisations as artist, board member, client, coach etc., I’ve not been employed inside them. It’s a kind of relationship I’ve often called Fleadership, a kind of leadership that doesn’t have the heft of the Elephant, a heft that we need to beat great paths through the undergrowth. However Fleadership is mobile, capable of prompting the Elephant to shift, capable of carrying information from one place to the next.

With The Casement Project I had the opportunity and the resources to work with a brilliant team to realise a project of a larger scale over a longer time period. And I loved the increased impact, how many more people could connect with the work and how the work could grow over time.

Fearghus Ó Conchúir (Artistic Director) and Paul Kaynes (Chief Executive), NDCWales. Photo Kirsten McTernan

Fearghus Ó Conchúir (Artistic Director) and Paul Kaynes (Chief Executive), NDCWales. Photo Kirsten McTernan

March 30, 2018

Sweat

Photographer Conor Horgan

Photographer Conor Horgan

Back in Paris, I’ve been looking at the portraits that Conor Horgan took of me here before Christmas. He had asked that I be sweaty for the shots, as he had seen me like that one afternoon when I was rehearsing at the CCI. I was very happy to see myself differently through his frame. The portraits have made me think about the valorisation of effort, the demonstration of work, which of course, is not the same as achievement. While I was in Paris before Christmas, I ‘made good use of my time’ in the studio. It was a gift, literally a gift, to have space in the studios at the La Briqueterie and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. So I sweated each morning in the studio. No one who has been in a studio with me will be surprised to read that. I enjoy the sweating, or at least the rousing of energy in my body that leads to sweating. And maybe I know that something has happened when I’ve sweated. And that I will be capable of doing more because I’ve kept working at some of my physical limits.
And I’m also questioning this attachment to showing that I’m working hard.

During the second stage of my residency at CCI and at La Briqueterie, I’ve been ill and so I’ve not had the energy to sweat. Despite feeling weak, I’ve still gone to the studio because I think there’s work to be done to understand what my creative physicality could be when I’m not sweating. I haven’t loved being sick – it’s prevented me from enjoying the culinary delights of Paris and from getting around the city as much as I’d have liked. However, being able to be in the studio when I’ve had little energy has been productive. I’ve had to be patient, slower. And that has brought me in directions I might not have otherwise found.

I can’t see myself forgoing the pleasures of sweating completely, but there is something to add to the range of energetic possibilities. Thanks to Conor for prompting that realisation.
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