Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
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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

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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.

October 17, 2016

After Butterflies and Bones in Belfast

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In the discussion after our performance of Butterflies and Bones in Belfast, one of the audience members spoke about the different ‘climates’ she’d observed throughout the piece and the transformations of bodies that she recognised. Describing herself as a foreigner and therefore unfamiliar with the Casement history, she wanted to know what the different climates represented.   I responded that I didn’t ask the dancers to represent ideas or people. Instead I asked them to work at being present with the potential of transformation. I was looking, not for presence as a fixed essential being, but presence as an openness to what might be possible, a risk of being surprised, a presence that seems paradoxically to require of the performers a being centred so as to invite a creative decentredness that takes them beyond ‘themselves’.

Another audience member was moved by what she called the ‘gift’ of the dancers’ presence in the work. I had noticed her as we danced and it was clear that she was generously engaged with the performance throughout. So I think, the presence she felt was also a relation between us, audience and performers, that she enabled and welcomed.  And the choreography invites those relations between all involved in it and is at its strongest when those relations are palpable, as they were in Belfast.

The more I think about why I make work in the way I do, the more I realise that I am not really choreographing to place myself in a dance tradition. I am part of a particular dance training and aesthetic lineage that I value, but I’m not sure that I am engaged in a conversation with other experts about the development of that lineage. Instead, I’m trying to think through why dance matters in the world, maybe especially (though not exclusively) in the limited part of the world in which I grew up. So my work might be a call to people who are interested in what dancing and its work with and through bodies, can change, for them and for others. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate and applaud the refined expertise that’s developed in studios and shown on stages. But I am motivated by what that advanced R&D signifies/enables/predicts beyond its specialist confines.

With this in mind, I hope audiences recognise the performers on stage as fellow humans exploring their capacities and frailties in ways that remind us of what strange potential is available to all of us. I don’t want audiences to consider the performers as an alien species whose beautiful forms might be delightful but which have no relation to our common capacities.   And yet, I realise the work is complicated (like life) and occasionally (like life) uncomfortable. It’s also uncomfortable for me to acknowledge that I may not be contributing to the development of this art form that has transformed my life, nor am I providing many people with entertainment.   But what I’m doing is deliberate, and, for now, it’s what I’m compelled to do, grateful for the support of people and organisations who make it possible.