Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
January 27, 2022

Dancing More Wisely: “How long do you plan on doing this for?”

Two Zoom screens in the photo with strips of black above and below.  In the left hand box a smiling woman with cerise top and a greying bob against a grey background.  In the right hand a woman in a black top with her right hand raised and her blonde hair pulled back while a man in a blue hoodie with dark hair turns his head to look at her.

I’ve always been drawn to dance artists who are performing when it’s beyond the expected, people whose persistent dancing may be surplus to conventional requirement, not normal (let’s say in the statistical sense). Part of this project of Dancing More Wisely is to reflect on what allows some to persist, to investigate what conditions, what personal, social, economic, physical conditions would allow more people to have sustainable dance lives (and careers) if they wished. And resourced with that wisdom, how we might resist the pressure to use it all up quickly because no one envisages you’ll be around for the long haul?

I was struck by Annie’s mention of a well-intentioned question from someone she met. They asked her: “How long do you plan on doing this for?” It’s a question with a lot of potential – a genuine enquiry, an expectation that it should finish, a judgement that it’s already gone on too long. I’m embracing it as a potential title – perhaps it’s the title of this little dance.

What looks like a duet is in fact a trio with Olga. I think it’s the coolest dancing I’ve done all year

November 09, 2021

Unreeled at Uilinn/ West Cork Arts Centre

A man with right and raised and left hand touching his chest.  He's wearing a dark sparkly top and a velour gold trousers.  His shadow is visible on the white wall behind.

Photo courtesy Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre

When I was asked by Luke Murphy if I’d like to present something at a season of dance he was curating at Uilinn – West Cork Arts Centre, I was keen to accept but to also make clear that over the past two years I haven’t had the opportunity to produce any work, as in prepare it for stage with the usual support of lighting, design and costume that an audience might expect. The combination of pandemic restrictions plus the fact that as an Arts Council member, I’m not able to apply for funding in my own name, has meant that while I was able to dance, I couldn’t pay the teams of collaborators that I’d usually work with to shape and refine how a performance meets its audiences. What I did have to offer was the beginnings of a repertoire born out of the pleasure of dancing and a belief in dance as a way to connect to ourselves and to others, to ourselves through others and through attending to this apparently solo activity, to connect to others.

Dancer in black facing away from camera with hands raised and balancing on one leg with the other bent.  Against a white wall

Photo courtesy of Uilinn West Cork Arts Centre

What I assembled was an evening of dance made from the different elements I’ve been working on this past couple of years: For Tove, the solo that has evolved through a number of screen and streamed versions for this first live performance; the Déambulations audio piece from the Walthamstow Wetlands; Unreeling, the solo I performed at Tipperary Dance Platform and finally For Isabella, a solo I’ve created with and for Isabella Oberlander via Zoom that draws on the Wetlands as sanctuary. I trusted that these pieces, still fresh, still with potential to develop further could work as companion pieces for the evening. I liked that they had aspects that drew from my own experience but that the evening ends up with Isabella who transforms my experience through her own.

Female dancer in black with both arms raised and her face blurred

Photo courtesy of Uilinn West Cork Arts Centre

We performed in the gallery space in Uilinn, a space with a concrete floor that I really shouldn’t dance on, and a generous height that is a pleasure to be in. The audience was limited due to pandemic restrictions but felt warm and supportive. It included family, dance colleagues and friends as well as other artists from the area. I tried to create a relaxed atmosphere by encouraging conversation between the audience members. And so when it came to a short exchange at the end of the evening, it was rewarding to hear what people had connected with. Some mentioned calmness after a difficult day, some memories of London through the audio piece, another a memory of their father in the middle-skin of my bare torso (she didn’t call it middle-aged but she did mention the particular quality of skin that my body now has and that I couldn’t have evoked when I was younger. There are connections this older body can make that younger ones can’t. And vice versa.)

Male dancer with eyes closed and both arms raised over his head against a white background.

Photo courtesy of Uilinn West Cork Arts Centre

As with TDP, I was energised by performing and by the realisation that sharing the work with others does do something more that the pleasure of dancing alone can offer me. It has an intensity that teaches differently and the work is clearer (and by work I mean the choreography and what I’m trying to achieve by dancing) when it’s undertaken in relation to audience.

I come away from the experience grateful to have been able to dance, to dance for an audience, to be in a team with Isabella and with Jared who looked after the sound. I wonder about how to develop this work: the same challenges exist in terms of resourcing the collaboration of others. But I trust the material and will wait to see where it can grow next.

October 06, 2021

Layering, filaments – AR and Dance Research

Male dancer in grey sports top viewed from waist up.  Left arm raised, right arm to the sideWhen I saw that the Lightmoves Screendance Festival was expanding its programme to support  research on work that combined dance and digital technologies, I recognised that it was an opportunity for Rob Eagle and me to continue the work on dance and AR that we had initiated at NDCWales with the support of Clwstwr.  When I stepped down as AD of NDCWales in 2020 we continued to explore the development of the initial research with the Company but with the uncertainties of the pandemic and the necessity for the Company to pivot so much of its engagement with the public to online formats, the particular queer live-digital experience that was at the heart of our research wasn’t straightforward to pursue.  Rob and I knew ourselves that conceiving an audience experience that involved shared AR headsets wasn’t going to be achievable in a climate of anxiety about hygiene and proximity, though that anxiety about intimacy that’s part of our queer/gay inheritance already haunted our exploration of AR.  With NDCWales’ blessing we’ve been able to progress the work independently and the Lightmoves Open Studios residency offered a space and context for a welcome resumption of our collaboration.

As with everything this past year and a half, Covid and attendant travel restrictions have been challenges to choreograph with.  The week before we were due to arrive in Limerick, Ireland increased the mandatory quarantine period for travellers from the UK who were not fully vaccinated.  Rob was able to respond quickly to arrive for the lengthy isolation period.  The extra time commitment was a signal of how important it was for us that this would be an in-person research.  Rob and I shared an apartment when I got to Limerick 5 days later and worked as a bubble for the week at Dance Limerick’s beautiful church space.  From the start of our collaboration we’ve been keen to foreground the bodily impact of augmenting technologies and the seduction of immersion.  While some of the other projects on the Lightmoves Open Studios residency had chosen to work remotely and made that remote collaboration part of their research focus, it was a delight and release and inspiration to be in a studio/performance space together.  Some of that had to do with feeling part of a familiar creative community, being in an environment where I’ve danced before and being able to meet in-person friends and colleagues who remind me of my place in a wider network of dance. 
Person with blue hair and red top draws on another's lower leg with black pen.  Both are sitting on a wooden floor
Another part of the pleasure was finding an easy working process with Rob that was testimony to what we had learned from our earlier Clwstwr/NDCWales research.  On a practical level we had to relinquish our earlier investigation of the AR headset, the wonderful group of dancers we’d worked with and with them some of the explicit references to Hylas and the Nymphs.  Instead we shifted to an exploration of AR on smartphones with me as the performer.  And yet what we achieved during the week – the nature and the extent of it would not have been possible without a shared language, a shared approach and a clarity about the fundamentals of our joint focus in this this dance and AR collaboration.  

As with the Waterhouse picture of Hylas and the Nymphs, we remained interested in the threshold of immersion, the queer flow back and forth between the seductive pleasure of being immersed and the estranging awareness of what that immersion entails.  As with using the Oculus headset when working with with smartphones we started with existing AR apps as a point of departure, using Instagram as a platform for activating filters that Rob was able to adapt to our use.  This meant that we could dive in quickly to a testing phase to which I also brought some of the solo material I’ve been working on.  On the one hand this meant that we inherited assumptions, content, approaches already built into what we were bringing to the collaboration.  But it also meant that we were working with something that was already layered, already tested, already viable.  And it meant that the collaboration between dance and technology was an encounter between robust elements that was made productive (rather than combative) by the work of mutual understanding that Rob and I had done through our previous research.

Image of inside of right forearm against a black floor with another pair of hands drawing with a pen an ink tattoo of three lines

We worked with AR layers activated by codes marked on my body – marks which made us think of tattooing and other body adornment whose long history proves how fundamental augmentation always been to the human bodily experience.  The invitation to draw people and their phones close enough to my body to read a code and activate a photographic layer prompted the questions of intimacy and safety that hasalways been our preoccupation.  The set up brought up questions that are technical and artistic as we tested the transparency of layers, the effectiveness and durability of mark-making on sweating skin, the dramaturgy of revealing marks and their attached images that might enhance a narrative and finally the experience of viewers who might see others coming close but who would maintain a distance to observe the process unfold and therefore have a different perspective.  

June 21, 2021

A space to dance in

A man dressed in black sweats and t shirt holds his body in an s-shape with his right arm raised and obscuring his face while his left hand touches his chest.  He's in the middle of a wooden panelled studio with a black floor and white panelled ceiling.I’ve been cautious about celebrating publicly that fact that I’ve had access to studio space recently.  Aware that I’ve fretted reading social media posts about others working (how are they doing that?  where is that possible?  are they bubbling?), I haven’t wanted to contribute to any one else’s anxiety – especially when my achievements in the studio have been of the most basic kind.  I can’t contemplate any grand schemes of making when I’m not confident that I have a handle on what I’m experiencing, let alone what anyone else is experiencing.  What I feel I have managed to do is be in a studio, thanks to the generosity of Artsadmin as it tests out its new protocols for opening up the Toynbee Studios again.  I’ve experienced again and with great appreciation the pleasure of going out of the house to work in a space that has enough volume to draw out more movement possibilities.  And crucially, a space big enough to allow me to invite some other dance artists to share that space physically.

I have been connecting with Isabella Oberlander with Zoom as she’s worked in the Dance Limerick studio and though mostly I’ve done that from the spare bedroom at home, seeing her in a studio has felt like a valuable reconnection with a generative working environment.  However, connecting with her via Zoom from the Toynbee Studio felt even better, when we could share work spaces – one in London, one in Limerick – where we could both move to communicate ideas rather than my just indicating things to her from the bedroom confinement.

Equally, I cherished the fact that I could talk with Alexandra Waierstall today from the studio, sharing movement material with her, seeing what she saw via Zoom, knowing that the digital media could extend the very strong connection I have to her beautiful work and that I could feel her supportive attention from experience and from the screen.

But what was particularly thrilling and emotional for me today was getting to dance with another dance artist in the same space.  Though I’m still making my own way through the processing of our current experience, I know that doing that work with and alongside others is not only enriching but essential.  So the generosity of Toynbee allows me to share space with others.  Today Rob Bridger and I maintained prescribed social distance in the studio, and yet found connection across the space in gentle lines of energy that felt so nourishing.

Three dancers in a wood panelled studio with a black floor.  They make angular shapes with this bodies

I want to claim a space for the validity of moving together, of rediscovering the pleasure and necessity of that wordless connecting (alongside useful spoken conversation), of retuning our antennae.  It’s not the time for me to design performance.  It’s the time to cherish, nurture and celebrate the value of corporeal connection – not just for those of us for whom dance is a profession but all of us