Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2018

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.

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.


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?


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.

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.

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.


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.

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


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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February 05, 2018

Ag cleachtadh don Táin/Rehearsing An Táin

My first dance outing of 2018 was a weekend rehearsal in Dublin for An Táin. I hadn’t been in the Dance Theatre of Ireland studios for years (since working Dublin Youth Dance Company for Open Niche, perhaps?) but it was great to be in the light-filled studios with the energy and skill of the musicians playing with Lorcán MacMathúna. Daire Bracken, Martin Tourish and Eamonn Galldubh are all accomplished individual musicians and it’s interesting to hear how they work out their playing together, especially in this context, where, like me, they are serving Lorcán’s singing rather than foregrounding their own musicianship. I found that I was fitting my dancing with their instrumental interludes rather than trying to dance while Lorcán sang, so as not to split an audience’s attention.

Carrying the spirit of transformation from The Casement Project, I’m also enjoying letting the multiple characters, animals, atmospheres and emotions from An Táin pass through my choreography without trying in any way to represent the narrative. Lorcán’s singing does that but there’s something beyond the details of that ancient narrative that I want to embody for a contemporary audience. After our rehearsal together, I’m reassured that I’m on the right track. Cífimíd.

Photo https://holstphoto.com

Photo: Viv Van der Holst www.holstphoto.com

February 05, 2018

Residency in Paris

Photo: Karl Burke

Photo: Karl Burke

I was in Paris at the beginning of December thanks to a residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais and at La Briqueterie, the Centre de Développement Chorégraphique du Val de Marne. Every year, the CCI supports Irish artists with residency time (and in the case of visual artists, studio space) in its beautiful premises in the centre of Paris, behind the Panthéon and in the heart of the Sorbonne University quarter. For me, after The Casement Project and the submission of my PhD, I knew I would value some time to begin the process of discovering what route to follow next in my work. So I was grateful to have been awarded a CCI residency to start that process.
Many of my fellow artists in residence were in Paris for the maximum residency awarded of three months and their residencies were coming to a much-regretted end by the time I arrived for a two-week stint. (I’m back again in 2018). Their immersion in Paris life made me think that my two-week residency was a bit too focused, especially for someone keen on discovering a new route ahead. Though I have performed Cure in its gallery and used one of its lovely rooms as a rehearsal space, CCI doesn’t have a dance-dedicated studio so I was very happy when La Briqueterie offered a week in its beautiful studios in Vitry.
Photo: Karl Burke

Photo: Karl Burke

I got to know La Briqueterie when I was Curator at Firkin Crane and we tried to develop a Creative Europe project as part of a wider partnerships of venues. I was impressed by its facilities then but even more so when I arrived and was handed a key to a big studio for my exclusive use between 10am-10pm on weekdays and 10am-6pm on the weekend. It felt like such a luxury to be in a building dedicated solely to choreographic development. While I might have benefited from some time to muse, I also wanted to use the time to work on material for An Táin, a collaboration with sean nós singer Lorcán Mac Mathúna who has written a song-cycle based on the old Irish myth of bulls, greed, Cúchulainn, Maedbh, magic, blood and civil war. I will dance with Lorcán’s live music in a performance at The Model Gallery in Sligo, where Louis le Broquy’s beautiful ink illustrations of Thomas Kinsella’s translation of An Táin will be installed. In his note to the translation, le Broquy considers his drawings to be modest interventions in the text and, after a busy period of foregrounding dance in a deliberately visible way, I’m choosing a more modest approach for this project too. It’s not mine to lead. The focus should be the singing. I will be adding something, but not trying to pull primary focus.

Though I only had the studio at La Briqueterie for a week of my two in Paris, the second week was largely given to preparations for my viva, scheduled for the Tuesday after my return from Paris. I could still enjoy being in the city, enjoy the cycle to La Briqueterie, strolls in the Marais and a visit to the Louvre, to which I hadn’t been since my first trip to Paris as a teenager on school trip with Mr. Shanahan. When people complimented me on my reasonable French, I saluted Mr. Shanahan’s uncompromising Francophilia that gave me such a good grounding in the language. The Louvre trip with its martial figures from various cultures provided some interesting material for me to incorporate into my studio research for An Táin. I remember that similar figures from the Pergamom Museum on antiquities in Berlin shaped some of the Cosán Dearg solo that, through multiple transformations in the bodies of other dancers, still resonated in Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project. I continue to circle close to fertile territory.

That second week in Paris also introduced me to the very impressive Irish Embassy there. The embassy is in an ornate building just next to the Arc de Triomphe and as residents at the CCI, we were invited to a reception there to mark the launch of a book about Paris’s role in supporting Irish creativity. The reception was on the evening of the day the UK yielded to what were effectively Irish concerns not to have a hard-border between the Republic and Northern Ireland post-Brexit. I was surprised, following a 2016 in which as regular guest of the Irish Embassy in London, I’d heard all the rhetoric of positive Anglo-Irish relations, to find (not from the Ambassador of course), a barely disguised glee at the UK’s weakened position and the positioning of France as Ireland’s most significant (and geographically) closest cultural ally in Europe. Given that my PhD addresses questions of cultural diplomacy and nation branding, I found it fascinating to be part an artist at the Embassy on that evening and to contemplate the increasingly important role the CCI will play as one of Ireland’s two official cultural centres abroad. And that fascination has made me want to spend some more time in Paris figuring out what dance can do with this shifting geo-politics – which is, I guess what An Táin is about too.

I was lucky to be at CCI with a bunch of engaging, talented and above all friendly artists: Karl Burke, whose photographs enliven this post; singer and composer, Adrian Crowley;contemporary art jeweller, Genevieve Howard and photographer and filmmaker, Conor Horgan. Though I didn’t have as much time to hang out with them as I would have like, I did want to make some artistic connection with them before I left. Karl and Conor both took some photographs of me and I listened to Adrian’s music as I worked in the studio.
20171214-KARF4856_preview And on the one of the last days, I asked Genevieve if I could dance with some of her work. She was very generous but reminded me the as the pieces are made of paper, my sweating would destroy them. Hence you can see in the photos my minimal movement with the jewellery and and the prophylactic hoodie I’m wearing. But this restriction was productive, as was the knowledge that Genevieve’s work is a translation into 3D of musical scores. Therefore to touch the pieces is already to sense the information coded into them and to be in human/non-human dialogue.

Photo Karl Burke

Photo Karl Burke