Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2024

March 15, 2024

Dance and Drawing at the CCI

Fearghus topless in jeans against a white wall with charcoal drawings.  one arm is raised covering his face. the other hand touching his chest.As part of the Centre Culturel Irlandais’ programming for the Paris Olympic year, its director Nora Hickey M’Sichili  has assembled an exhibition on Gaelic Sports in the centre.   It’s the third in a series of art and sport exhibitions she’s programmed there this year and the Gaelic Games focus meant she invited me to present my GAA dance films, Match and Abú alongside beautiful work by photographer Amelia Stein, designers Camán and Co., sound artist Úna Monaghan, photographer Paul Carroll and visual artist James L. Hayes.  It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to insert dance into these contexts and I was delighted to have Match and Abú resonating with the work around it, whether it was the shared warrior attitude of Erin, the young camogie player in Abú, and the soldiers in Amelia Stein’s portraits, or the green grass of pitches in Paul Carroll’s photos and Croke Park in Match, or indeed the vibrant team colours in Camán and Co’s design and the kit on the dancers.

White background and floor covered in charcoal drawings.  Gabriel crouching in bacjkgound in white t-shirt and trousers watching Fearghus topless and wearing blue jeans.  Fearghus is standing tall with one arm reaching above his head.
For the exhibition opening, Nora invited me to present with visual artist Gabriel Schmitz again another version of the dance and drawing encounter we had performed for an invited audience at CCI in June.  I realised as I was preparing to introduce the event that I’ve known Gabriel since before I started dancing.   We were first introduced by my long time friend, the sculptor Tove Hirth when she and Gabriel were both studying at the College of Fine Art in Edinburgh and I was at Oxford.  Our paths crossed through Tove over the years but it wasn’t in dance until much later.   In 2011, when  I was presenting Tabernacle in Barcelona, where Gabriel lives, he came to sketch some of the rehearsals and produced some beautiful paintings with images from the work as inspiration.  He continued working with other dancers subsequently and gradually developed a practice of live sketching alongside dance improvisations and performances.  Among the dance artists he’s worked with is Elena Giannotti who was in the Tabernacle rehearsals he first visited.  You can read some of his text on dancing and drawing in the 2018 entry here:

To paint or draw a dancer is a challenge. And I am not speaking of rendering anatomy in a convincing way, nothing could interest me less. I am speaking of the attempt to catch a glimpse of what is behind the appearance of things. Dance as I experience it comes close to naming the unnamable, rare moments when the veil falls away and the essence of things surfaces, a kind of truth that does not filter through reason. Raw material.

Also among the dancers Gabriel saw in Tabernacle was Matthew Morris whom I could see  on the screen in Match as I danced at CCI.  I’m increasingly aware of and sensitive to these links across time and space that traverse my dancing body.  Remembering and finding again people and experiences that have shaped who I am as I move now.

And exhibition space with people om the sides watching Fearghus lying on the ground in the foreground and Gabriel crouching and drawing in the background.  White back wall and ground  covered in charcoal drawings

Standing in the middle of the Gaelic Sports exhibition, I felt strongly that though I hadn’t yet started my dance training when I met Gabriel, I had been trained by the GAA environment I grew up in and that I could feel from the variety of work around me.  I’ve been shaped by a culture, by habits, by practices and the movements and emotions they evoke.  I try to recognise and move with all of this legacy as I dance.

And as a more concrete nod to that legacy, I wear the Cork jersey that we bought for Match almost twenty years ago.  I didn’t wear it n the film but we did use them in our live performances.  The jersey has been to Italy, China, London, Cyprus, Spain and now France.

Gabriel in white crouching in foreground drawing Fearghus in background with arms wide and on tip toes.  Fearghus is topless, wearing blue jeans and with a red Cork hurling jersey hanging from his waist.  White background and floor with charcoal drawings


The photos above are from Olivier Debienne.  And this video is from Iranian choreographer and film-maker Tanin Torabi, whom I haven’t see since she did her MA in Limerick.  More connections across space and time.


January 28, 2024

Heaney dancing

What a poet can establish in the act of writing a poem is something a reader can get from the completed work, that is a realisation that as persons and as peoples we can get further into our selves and farther out of ourselves than we might have expected; and this is one of the ways that poetry helps things forward.

Seamus Heaney “Through-Other Places, Through-Other Times: The Irish Poet and Britain”, Finders Keepers p. 377

Heaney’s work resonates with many people. My particular connection is not only through the poems learned, parsed and analysed in primary school and secondary school (the “poppy bruise” on his dead brother’s temple imprinted itself on my memory). But through Heaney’s time as Professor of Poetry at Oxford while I was a student there. I didn’t study Heaney as part of my course – nothing quite so contemporary in our survey of English Language and Literature. But Heaney was a good friend of my Old English tutor, poet, Corkman and gentle saviour, Bernard O’Donoghue. I think that’s why as Professor of Poetry, Heaney became an honorary fellow of my college, Magdalen. And I remember being invited to an honorary lunch on his appointment. I have no epiphany or personal revelation to report in being so close to literary greatness. It didn’t help me gain access to his oversubscribed lectures and indeed by the time Heaney’s professorship finished in Oxford in 1994, I was already completing my first year as a dance student at LCDS.

So it’s in retrospect and at a distance that I appreciate this proximity and the many aspects of Heaney’s reflections – on Irishness, in Britain, on art’s navigation of personal and cultural identity, on the responsibility of art to impulses that aren’t about contemporary politics – that help me make sense of what I experienced in Oxford, and that I continue to work on as an artist today.

In the quote from “Through-Other Places, Through-Other Times”, I can easily substitute dance for poetry (another poet, Thomas McCarthy, told an event at the Firkin Crane in Cork that dance and poetry emerged together in the rhythmic songs and movements performed or expressed around campfires by our ancestors). I may quibble with Heaney’s valorisation of forward movement: it’s perhaps inevitable in the progression of the poetic line (though rhyme so often takes us back in poems as much as forward, with its echoes of the past), while dance can go forward and back, progress sideways, upwards and downwards. But mostly I’m heartened by the combined aspiration of deeper inwardness and farther beyond ourselves, through others that his prescription for artistry proposes.