Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
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March 26, 2017

A response from Quarto Collective to Butterflies and Bones at The Mac

From Quarto Collective Blog:

Recently I went to Butterflies and Bones, performed at the MAC as part of The Casement Project, and the Belfast International Arts Festival. The piece was choreographed by Fearghus Ó Conchúir, together with his team of dancers. Fearghus happened to be performing that night, too, and spoke about the work onstage afterwards.

In art college I had become interested in performance art as a feminist strategy to foreground bodily, sensory experience and the present moment. As a novice to viewing dance, it was enlightening to hear Fearghus talk about the genesis, development and outworking of his ideas for the piece. He made a number of points that relate to Gemma’s and my earlier conversations in this blog about bodily engagements with place.

First, when asked about where the ideas had come from, he connected them back to his experience of growing up on the margins of certain identity constructs in Ireland. This provided the impetus to imagine Casement, and all that his figure is used to conjure with, from the outside. That is, from outside nationalism, republicanism and imperialism, religion and heteronormativity. These were referenced in the performance, but only tangentially, and through a critical lens.

Second, he made clear to me (in my ignorance) just how significant dance training is, in terms of being present in the body. More than this, dancers are taught to be present in different ways, and communicate differently, even in repeating movements and actions. This ability to be present in each moment means each performance is subtly different, a very special skill.

Third, Fearghus spoke of the way in which history is not simply a textual record of what happened when, where and why. It is also about the sensations and gestures of the bodies who make history. In Casement’s case, the feeling of putting on a dress suit to be knighted, the act of sex with a man, the plunge through the scaffold’s trapdoor. I like this notion of history. To explore it takes imagination and creative licence, since by definition these feelings and gestures are ephemeral and subjective.

Imagining what a historical body may have felt and done must be a very effective exercise in empathy. Fearghus spoke eloquently about the role of empathy in Butterflies and Bones. It is work that aims to fragment our assumptions of who belongs and who does not, who is inside and who is outside. The dancers’ bodies are interactive and interdependent throughout, even when in seeming conflict. Amid public arguments about who belongs in the United Kingdom and who does not, it is a timely message.

December 18, 2016

I’m Roger Casement, Television Premiere, RTÉ One, January 17

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photo Michael Kelly

The Casement Project has crossed a lot of borders, so it’s no surprise that it continues beyond 2016 with the broadcast of I’m Roger Casement, a dance film directed by Dearbhla Walsh and produced for The Casement Project by COCO Television. The film will be shown on RTÉ One on 17 January at 23:10. It will also be available on RTÉ Player after that.

This broadcast was always an important element of the whole project, not only because it would be a chance to work with Dearbhla again, after the success of working with her on Match and Mo Mhórchoir Féin, but also because it was a way to reach people in their homes who might never set foot in a theatre to see contemporary dance. Because I believe in what dance has to offer to a wider public, it’s important for me to find ways to reach an audience beyond our important but smaller familiar dance constituency. Broadcast provides that opportunity. The film also gives The Casement Project a way of continuing to reach people through online streaming and other screenings.

I met someone this week involved with the GAA recently who told me that he showed Match to young players each year. He didn’t say what they thought about it, but I’m delighted that the film exists as a resource to stimulate whatever reactions it does. I hope I’m Roger Casement has as long a life. I’m excited for people to see the result of the beautiful work that many people put in to making it.

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photo Michael Kelly

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photo Michael Kelly

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photo Michael Kelly

December 16, 2016

Forgetting and Remembering: finding the future in the past

In placing The Casement Project in the frame of the ART:2016 and 1418NOW commemoration programmes , I wanted to show how dance helps us understand ourselves, our history and what we might do together in the future.  It was encouraging to have the recognition of the commemoration programmes that a dance project could take a major place among artistic responses to 1916.

As the year draws to a close, Dance Ireland has commissioned Michael Seaver to reflect on the place of dance in Ireland in 2016.  And despite the uncertainties that the year has brought us, the good news is that dance has proved what it can contribute.  According to Michael:

The dance artists that took part in 1916 Centenary events made artistic choices that focussed
on the individual rather than scratching post-colonial wounds. The body and the unique individual person inhabiting the body was paramount, in contrast to the military commemorations: members of the Defence Forces marching down O’Connell Street in choreographed homogeneity and anonymity

Read his essay here

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October 22, 2016

Butterflies and Bones review: blood and thunder

The Irish Times

Sat, Oct 22, 2016

Butterflies and Bones review: blood and thunder

Roger Casement is (again) centre stage, but this time it’s the dance world that’s exploring the many facets of his life

Butterflies and Bones

Project Arts Centre, Dublin

****

In the context of the remembering of 1916, in Ireland and the world, Butterflies and Bones is a dance theatre work shaped and sustained by the complex, heroic and contradictory life of Roger Casement: knight of the British Empire, outspoken international humanitarian, Antrim Protestant and rebel nationalist of his native Ireland. As each of the six lithe performers, four men and two women, quietly declares “I am Roger Casement” we are at the heart of Fearghus O’Conchúir’s mostly realised choreographic intent: to create a highly physical and visual performance where dance embodies and explores the multiple meanings of that life. This incorporates the symbolic, the gendered and the social aspects, then and now.

We begin at the end of a beginning: the exhumation of Casement’s body in Pentonville Prison for return to Ireland. O Conchúir’s recorded voice recounts the clinical uncovering of fragments of the quicklimed hanged body, with a disjointed list of ribs and vertebrae. On stage, an awkward solo is embraced into a healing ensemble phrase, featuring Mikel AristeguiTheo ClinkardPhilip ConnaughtonBernadette IglichMatthew Morris and Liv O’Donoghue. The performance intimates the relentless parsing of Casement’s life, from vilified personal sexual history to emerging cultural nationalism, not in splinters but as a unified experience.

Dancers in T-shirts emblazoned with phrases from the ever contested Black Diaries, bring both visceral and delicate movement to cramped homosexual encounters, evoking both tenderness and urgent fulfilment. But, they move also to the different free-flowing grounded rhythms of the Congo or the Amazon, lands of heat and dust and exploited landscapes.

These are summoned by Ciaran O’Melia’s evocative lighting and simple staging and the outstanding sound design of Alma Kelliher. Later, as we move to the events of Easter 1916, her pacy design of single separated shots of the executed 1916 leaders is set against thundering artillery fire and we are immediately drawn to the fields of the Somme.

The dancers’ bodies and the staging all play transformative roles, most strikingly when Matthew Morris’s body bursts out of its clothing chrysalis into a mesmerising image of painted body art. Stacks of speakers are constantly shifted around, sometimes emanating sound but more often reconfigured as pieces of landscape, corners of concealment or mountainous piles of rocks.

Even the backdrop is whipped down to become a ship’s sail and in the final redemptive moments the floor of brown paper billows and falls, when lights on a horizon hold promise and dreams seem still alive.