Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
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.

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.

A line of dance students on the grass  showing their muddy clothes to the camera

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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A piece of red and white fencing marking a man-hole in the middle of a white circle on the grass in front of Trinity Laban's Creekside building

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.

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.

Dance student lying down on the grass with three people  in hi-vis work outfits behind themI 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.Three students dancing on the grass in front of Trinity Laban Creekside with red and white temporary fencing

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