Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist
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

April 01, 2021

Surviving or Thriving Podcasts

One of the best things about taking part in the Surviving and Thriving Panel (organised by Waterford Healing Arts in partnership with An Chomhairle Ealaíon/The Arts Council) was that, though online, it was an opportunity for some of the dance community to gather.  David Bolger acknowledged as much at the beginning of the session chaired by Maureen Gaffney and also featuring Catherine Young.  Of course this virtual presence also reminded us of physical absence – a loss of our possibilities to dance together and also the very definitive loss of the much loved, much admired Emma O’Kane.  Though our focus was on positive strategies for survival, there was no attempt to paper over the loss, the confusion of uncertainty, the destabilising realities we’re experiencing.

You can hear all of the podcasts here  including the dance panel.

What I took away, having begun to speak about what it takes to dance more wisely, is that there is a prevailing narrative that accepts that dance is fragile, temporary, threatened by the unfolding cycle’s of life.  I want to propose an alternative narrative where dance is worthy of being sustained over a whole life.

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