Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
October 06, 2020

‘We find ourselves at the centre of one another’

Image of the Pantheon Paris Dome caught by the evening sun, seen at the end of a narrowing street Since arriving in Paris to start my residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, I’ve been mostly in Zoom meetings.  Valuing the space for creative focus that that the CCI and Dance Ireland residencies provide, I’ve been trying hard to clear that space of other work.  I’ve postponed a lot of conversations and meetings until November but it’s been difficult to say no to everything, whether it’s the ongoing responsibility of the Arts Council Ireland work or other connections such an invitation to chair a roundtable for FICEP – an association of international cultural institutes and organisations in Paris – or joining in a conversation curated by Lian Bell between Maeve Stone, Gary Keegan and me as part of the Irish leg of IETM Multilocation 2020.  Part of the reason I find it hard to say no to these invitations is because I worry that not participating will lead to a self-centred disengagement.  I feel an obligation to be part of conversations that are working towards better futures for more people.  Happily being part of those conversations is also enriching and stimulating and I think more so because I’ve cleared space around them that allows me to reflect on their impact, their resonances, their calls to action, their hints at future direction.  Having space allows me to hear better and notice more.

Image of a brochure on a reception desk.  The brochure has a picture of a man (Fearghus) dancing in the courtyard of a n 18th century French buildingArriving at CCI, I saw centre’s recently published history on the reception desk and saw myself on its front cover, dancing in the CCI courtyard.  Though I was rushing through my checking-in to be ready for the first Zoom, the image reminded me that I have danced here before, that I have danced, that I have a history.  And I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to insert myself into some institutional histories.

Image of a poster on a wall. The poster has a black background, a reddish image of a tree and roots and white text printed over

One of the other things that I saw soon after my arrival was the series of manifestos for a new era that CCI co-commissioned from three Irish collectives with Dublin Fringe Festival.  Though the live connection that was intended as part of the commission didn’t happen as intended, the collectives’ words have a strong presence in the CCI courtyard.  There is a commonality of intersectional inclusion in the manifestos.  I was particularly drawn to a paragraph in the WeareGriot manifesto.  WeareGriot are a trio of Nigerian-Irish poets and storytellers (Felispeaks, Dagogo Hart, and Samuel Yakura) and their poetic power is evident in the language of the manifesto:

Now, here at the crossroads, a sudden and firm standstill, we find ourselves at the centre of one another, we rotate to see that we have been encompassed, each by the other, one body.  We must acknowledge a conversation that must follow and flow inward; into this global community.  The beginning is the resistance to singular comfort.

What resonated for me in these words was a recognition that looking inwards needn’t be solipsistic because we are already connected to, in interdependence with others: ‘at the centre of one another’.  I’ve written elsewhere about this important recognition of interdependence as a counter to the neoliberal pressure to present oneself as independent, self-sufficient, whole.  So to take this time of self-focus need not be a time of separation from others but a time of recognising the others that make me, my reliance on them and also my responsibility/responsiveness to them.  I plan for that to be my artistic focus during this time in Paris and with the frame that the Dance Ireland Hatch residency provides.

French philosopher, Lévinas cautions against the presumption to know the other, to comprehend and to apprehend the other’s difference.  I don’t think an acknowledgement of interdependence performs that violence:  to recognise my kinship with, my relationship of dependence on and responsibility for the never-fully-knowable other exposes us to an even more radical vulnerability, a risk we can’t ever fully mitigate but which is the necessary risk of love.

September 22, 2020

Bodies and Buildings renewed

When I applied for the Hatch residency at Dance Ireland earlier on this year, I was aware that I wanted to use it as an opportunity to reconnect with parts of my archive – the kinds of things I done in my career already – that might be relevant to where I find myself, where we find ourselves now.  There’s a risk for a ‘mid-career artist’ in looking back – it may seem like you’ve got nothing new to say and so much of our work in a contemporary art form has been about novelty and innovation.  But I’ve grown suspicious of novelty that doesn’t recognise its roots, its connections to lines of enquiry, networks of learning that others (perhaps less recognised) have provided so that this apparent ‘novelty’ can emerge.  There’s something sustainable in this return to the archive, this reworking and repurposing and from the deepening of knowledge that might come from looking again at what one has done.

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Today, I started teaching to 3rd Year students at Trinity Laban, solo material that I developed, danced and re-danced through the Bodies and Buildings research that I started in 2007 [The link is to my original blog but all of the material is on this website blog too].  There’s no definitive version of the material, But I trace its origins to a dance I did in Shanghai as I recovered from food poisoning (for all my aspirations to corporeal and conceptual openness, my body didn’t enjoy chicken’s feet) and that I evolved during my time as Artist in Residence for Dublin City Council.  I went back to this performance from outside an office block in the Dublin Docklands to provide the bulk of the material.

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Because no dance text exists apparent from my body and the performance in different places, I taught a movement sequence today as scaffolding for the students to dance the solo.  By ‘scaffolding’ I mean that I taught a clear set of movements for them to follow, and I wanted them to learn these movements accurately in the same way that one would want one’s scaffolding to be strong and secure.  But the scaffolding is not the building.  And the movement sequence is not the performance.  It’s a support that will help them perform the solo live in relationship to the physical, emotional, climatic, social that they find themselves in.  120015299_10157054009276626_4733546702593071783_n

Knowing that the Trinity Laban Dance Faculty is housed in a relatively new prize-winning building designed by architects Herzog and De Meuron and that its construction is part of wider projects of urban development that has transformed the former docklands environment, re-connecting with the original context of the bodies and buildings research in areas of rapid urban change (like the Docklands in Dublin that are now home to headquarters for Google and Facebook and the Irish Financial Services Centre) made sense.  It was also familiar to find the grass amphitheatre in front of the building where we’re doing the work was also the workplace for high vis clad engineers and workers who were sinking bore holes and using a variety of fascinating ‘sculptures’/markers and barriers to define and decorate the space.  Their digging reminded me, as before, that there’s a buried world supporting our existence, a hidden, subterranean network that literally and figuratively has the foundations of what we do in the light and on the surface.

120021141_10157054009101626_4500521222529731428_nI was also reminded of networks of support and influence when Ellen Van Schuylenburch – a teacher of Cunningham technique at Trinity Laban who also taught me when I was a student and whose class I’ve taken frequently since – appeared unexpectedly.  Her presence underlined the physicality that is part of the material I’ve given the young dancers, my own debt to the history and knowledge that Ellen carries and also to wider lines of choreographic work in public space .  Whether it’s Cunningham’s events or street dance battles or Darren Suarez voguing with friends outside Liverpool Catherdral, theres’ a long history of dance’s appearance in and claiming of public space.120005533_10157054009156626_5839261570029148218_n

September 19, 2020

In a studio

For the first time since March, I got to dance in a studio today.  It was still familiar.  And it felt great.

 

Screenshot_20200918-152318_Video Player I was at Trinity Laban to prepare for teaching some material from my Bodies and Buildings work.  That teaching will happen outside but I took the opportunity to request some studio time to make sure I’d be ready.

20200918_142950_resized  I’ve been asked to teach some of my work because I have this history of dancing outside the studio and the stage.  It wasn’t until I was back at the Trinity Laban building in Creekside that I realised how appropriate that the Bodies and Buildings connection would be.  That dance material and research was developed in areas of rapid urban regenerations – from its initiation in Shanghai where hutong were being cleared in preparation for the Expo, to Dublin’s Docklands, to Beijing and East London before their respective Olympics.  Creekside is another Docklands that’s been transformed by gentrification and redevelopment.

20200918_160404_resizedI don’t know Creekside’s history yet but it encourages me to know that reconnecting to the Bodies and Buildings investigation there will make sense and will extend the research in another place and through a different generation of dancers.20200918_151132_1

September 11, 2020

Understory

Understory is a project conceived and realised by dance artists who were aware of how difficult it would be for many people entering the profession at a time when it’s so hard for that community to come together in work, rehearsal or play.  It’s website describes itself:

Understory is for anyone entering the field of dance, including but not limited to; dance graduates, those who are self-taught and people learning outside of normative structures, at whatever stage in life.

A place for informal honest chat from people who work in dance focusing on the times when they had to navigate the unexpected in their career.

A collective act of solidarity from speakers of different backgrounds and on different paths, intended to offer some hope, inspiration, tools and humour whilst exploding the myth of a straightforward path through a dance career.

Understory is artist-led, independent and run voluntarily.

I’ve found it fascinating to read the contributions from a huge range of dance artists at different stages of their careers, some primarily choreographing, others performing and everything in-between.  My contribution is available here

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I responded to the questions we were asked:

 

What is your name? Where are you now? What do you do?
What was your pathway from study into the professional field of dance?
Tell us about the bit of your journey that’s not mentioned in your bio? What didn’t go quite as planned? How did it feel? How did you navigate it? Did something else come out of this encounter?

If you like, you can follow up with these (we appreciate they can be complex to respond to).

What advice would you give to your graduating self?
What advice would you give to a graduate now?
Share one hope for the future of dance that could come out of 2020?

Knowing that my contribution is part of a diversity of responses makes it easier to acknowledge my idiosyncratic route to dance.  I don’t offer my experience as a definitive guide – but maybe it will give reassurance to someone else who hasn’t followed the most familiar path.

Those that are organising Understory are performing a huge service and putting a huge amount of time into soliciting, editing, captioning, uploading.  They aren’t drawing lots of attention to themselves but we know who you are and applaud you.

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