Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
April 01, 2021

Surviving or Thriving Podcasts

One of the best things about taking part in the Surviving and Thriving Panel (organised by Waterford Healing Arts in partnership with An Chomhairle Ealaíon/The Arts Council) was that, though online, it was an opportunity for some of the dance community to gather.  David Bolger acknowledged as much at the beginning of the session chaired by Maureen Gaffney and also featuring Catherine Young.  Of course this virtual presence also reminded us of physical absence – a loss of our possibilities to dance together and also the very definitive loss of the much loved, much admired Emma O’Kane.  Though our focus was on positive strategies for survival, there was no attempt to paper over the loss, the confusion of uncertainty, the destabilising realities we’re experiencing.

You can hear all of the podcasts here  including the dance panel.

What I took away, having begun to speak about what it takes to dance more wisely, is that there is a prevailing narrative that accepts that dance is fragile, temporary, threatened by the unfolding cycle’s of life.  I want to propose an alternative narrative where dance is worthy of being sustained over a whole life.

February 26, 2021

Addressing the Nations

When I was Paris last year, Nora HickeyM’Sichili, the director at CCI invited me to be one of the forty artists she was commissioning to be part of Addressing the Nations in short videos for the start of 2021. Her premise was that

Worldwide, 2020 was the year of the televised address of the nation, with diligent speech-writers working in over-drive, constructing emotive speeches which have both reinforced our awareness of the fragility of human existence and inspired altruistic acts of humanity. New language has been developed to describe new circumstances. Unfamiliar words have become common currency.

She wanted to balance those political addresses with artistic ones.  The resulting videos and downloadable texts are available here on the CCI website.

It was a interesting challenge take on but also an important opportunity to channel a creative practice based on movement into this format of videoed headshot (some of the artists managed to stretch the rules in ways that added helpful diversity to the assembled programme).  I’m not sure how, but I started to write about grief.  Before Christmas and before the recognition of the new Covid variants, the mood seemed to be lifting around the pandemic and I sensed that we were all in a hurry for it to be over and while I desperately shared that need for joy and release, I could also feel a tug against the rush, a tug I recognised as grief.

I’m not the only artist to have mentioned grief in their address: Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi feels grief in the pandemic and in the context of racial injustice as a ‘ravenous animal, rabid and roaming around a parched wasteland’.  While I’m not sure how I started writing about grief for this address,  in truth grief has been intertwined with my dancing from early on.  My father died when I was twenty and my mother when I was twenty four.  These were also the years in which I met and fell in love with dancing and in which I met and fell in love with my now husband.  My first works at London Contemporary Dance School were Caoineadh (the Irish word for lament) and Slán (‘Safe’ but also ‘Good bye’ as in ‘go safely’).  These weren’t necessarily sad works, even if they have a nostalgia.  But I recall in them a determined liveliness (me dancing around to John Sheehan’s fiddle playing on Kate Bush’s Jig Life) and a request to be seen living even while grieving. “Dancing as if language had surrendered to movement, as if this ritual, this wordless ceremony was now the way to speak” – Brian Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa.

Dancing is an art form of liveness and aliveness.  I can’t help but look at my personal history now and see that dancing has been a way for me to respond to grief, to be alive and dancing while that is possible, knowing that it will not be possible indefinitely.  When my father suddenly fell ill, I flew back urgently from Pearson College in Canada.   I returned to Canada from my father’s sick bed a month later and remember that one of the first things I did there was perform in the Ukrainian folk dance group I loved for the College’s annual gala show.   I left rehearsals of Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker when my mother fell ill unexpectedly a couple of years later.  And after her death, I returned to London Contemporary Dance School to finish my training.  My body has been saturated with grief in its formative moments as a dancer.

And as a young gay man, I’ve survived, experienced and anticipated the threat of death as we navigated the AIDS/HIV crisis in the West (The crisis remains acute in other parts of the world, even as treatment and prevention options have reduced its danger for richer people in richer countries  – death is common to all but the particulars of our vulnerability to it are not equal distributed). Acknowledging grief as an important part of life, learning from it and from which it can teach us about living, and about our relationships to each other and to our environment – all of this feels particularly necessary now as more people are faced with the loss of loved ones and the loss of certainties and futures they depended on.

November 25, 2020

Residency Centre Culturel Irlandais – Triptych

I’ve been developing movement material/a dance that turns on itself, gradually expanding the energy and scope of its gyre until it settles again (thanks to fellow Artist in Resident Emily Cooper who reminded me of the word ‘gyre’ when she came to watch me working).  At CCI, I repeated the dance regularly to get to know it and its possibilities and gradually I amassed these solo recordings that I thought I’d assemble into something bigger.  Working on video is a way to amplify the dancing when I don’t have access to other performers, a way to grow from the singular.  And it’s interesting that despite the potential megalomania of multiplying myself, the choreographer in me pays less attention to me as an individual performer in the triptych I’ve made.  What’s activated instead is the temporal, physical and energetic space between the bodies on the screen.  And of course not only the moving bodies, but the ever-present bodies in the large religious paintings at CCI that canonise versions of how bodies could be and that remind us of CCI’s long religious history not just as a centre of Irish culture but as a centre of Irish Catholicism.  Of course culture, politics and religion are not separate – and CCI’s building and evolution is a material manifestation of how they have intertwined and separated in Irish history.  And that history links Ireland beyond its geographical borders, not only to France but to wider European and global histories.  The courtyard at the CCI has plaques that commemorate the building’s use as a shelter for ‘displaced persons claiming America citizenship’ in the Second World War and of the Polish Seminary set up by survivors of theDachau concentration camp.  Thanks to a partnership with Dublin Fringe Festival, the CCI courtyard currently has three large posters which display utopian manifestos by three collectives: Glitter HOLE (a queer performance space and DIY drag collective), WeAreGriot (a collective of Nigerian-Irish poets and storytellers)  and gender.RIP (a trans- led art collective).  As I dance at CCI, I’m thinking about the kinds of embodiment and movement that this important Irish cultural space can support.  And I’ve been grateful that it has been so hospitable to the impulses and experiences that make my body.


The triptych has a long history in Christian art and as the name implies, it often refers to works that could be folded shut.  It’s hinged on a dynamic of opening and closing, of revelation and protection.  I’ve used this multiplication of the solo in video in collaborations with Dan Dubowitz, in the twelve screen installation of solo performances for Tattered Outlaws of History, and in a triptych for If the Invader Comes

November 16, 2020

Residency Centre Culturel Irlandais – Autumn

In traditional Chinese cosmology, Autumn is the time to let go, slow down and nourish oneself.  My room faces the courtyard of the CCI where I can see the chestnut trees shed their russet leaves, preparing for winter.

Lockdown in Paris has curtailed my movements across the city.  We are permitted travel for exercise no more than a kilometre from our residence – though essential shopping and work provide excuses to get beyond that limit.  I travel mostly between my room and the Salle de Conference or Salon des Residents where I dance – still moving a lot despite my asking myself what could I let go of, how could I slow down?  This question isn’t new.  When I was here in 2018 I wrote a post about sweat, the over-investment in effort as a signal of value, a demonstration of commitment.    It’s an old habit, born of a sense of inadequacy and need to compensate for not trusting my value.  Conor Horgan took a photo of me at the time which shows that sweat.  The portrait has just arrived at the CCI along with a number of others that will hang in the stairwell of the CCI.  It’s an honour to be included in the selection, though that is more a testimony to Conor’s art than to mine.  When I saw the portrait again, this time I thought less of the effort than of the stillness that I ‘earn’ after exertion.  I can see the possibility of rest and renewal.  Deepening more than changing.

Knowing that I return to a fortnight of quarantine in London in addition to the English lockdown, I think of myself storing dancing experiences here at CCI, squirrelling away the possibilities that I don’t expect to develop visibly until Spring.  The time here has made me keen to gather but a bit more patient about outcomes.  I sense the flow and don’t feel so anxious about its pace.

This small video comes from near the end of my residency time in Paris and reminds me of a video I did with Xiao Ke in 2007 on what was then a basket-ball court in the part outside of Dancehouse in Dublin.

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Like my CCI courtyard dance, this is also a November dance shot from a distance in a way that reminds me of the kind of Chinese landscape paintings that have a small human figure crossing a bridge in a corner, suggesting our place in a bigger arrangement of energies and cycles.  Xiao Ke has this week finished leading the remount of Jérôme Bel’s Gala in Shanghai.  Bel has decided to no longer travel by air to make his work and is instead working remotely with trusted collaborators on site to have his work show up around the world.  Still trying to show up in the bigger cycles.