Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
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.

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.