Colin Murphy’s article about Niche in today’s Irish independent
Finding his own niche dancing on the streets
Saturday October 25 2008
One afternoon during the summer of last year, Fearghus Ó Conchúir put on his black overcoat, put the hood up, and walked out into the rain. He was looking for something.
He wandered through Dublin’s northside till he found himself on a corner in the docklands, on Guild Street, where the pavement was wider. He took out his mobile phone, turned on the video function, and propped it up so it was watching him. And then he started dancing.
He danced for 10 minutes, took a break, and danced again. Some people walked by, giving him a wide berth. A woman sitting outside her house called him over.
“You want to be careful of that,” she said, pointing at the phone. “It’ll get robbed.” And she asked him what he was doing. A passing car stalled, and the driver asked him what he was up to.
He was up to a few things. He was dancing. He was researching. He was rehearsing. He was recording. He had been given money by Dublin City Council and the Arts Council to develop choreography on the theme of ‘bodies and buildings’. The body of Dublin was changing, he believed — not just the physical city, of buildings and infrastructure, but also the typical, individual, human body.
Ó Conchúir wanted to explore this in dance, and so he would spend his morning developing dances in the studio, working with his ideas about different bodies, and then, in the afternoons, he would try these dances in different places in the docklands, to see how they felt, and how the environment changed them.
That work has ultimately become the show Niche, which plays tonight in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, and next Saturday in the Mermaid in Bray.
But at that early stage, Ó Conchúir wasn’t thinking of getting it into a theatre.
“The thing about performing in a theatre is that it’s people who are comfortable coming to a theatre who will come to see it,” he says. “To do it on the streets is a way to let people stop and watch as long as they want to.”
Many of those who passed him dancing simply ignored him. “It’s interesting what level of strangeness people will accept,” he observes, wryly.
Others would watch from afar: office workers smoking outside their building; or builders on construction sites. “It pleases me that there can be a place for art alongside the everyday. I like that it was okay for me to do my thing alongside people smoking, or building, or pushing the pram, or whatever.”
Having worked on his own, he decided to bring in some other dancers, and produce a show. But as he was due to put the finishing touches to an Arts Council application, he fell ill, and missed the deadline.
He was devastated. He knew the time was right for this show, and didn’t want to wait until the next funding round. So he decided to try fundraising himself.
He sent out an email: “You can help me make a new dance piece. I am looking for 500 people to donate €100 each,” it said. Once he had 10 positive replies, he knew the piece would happen — though he ultimately received just 50 donations. (The rest is being made up by in-kind donations of theatre services, and his own money.)
Paradoxically, he found it empowering to say to people, “I need help, can you help me?”
It provided a way of bringing other people into the project, and forced him to think more about communicating and sharing what he was doing. (All of this early work, including the Guild St video, is documented on his blog, bodiesandbuildings.blogspot.com.) He calls his funders ‘the Optimists’.
Despite the bleak economic prospects, he says he too is optimistic for the arts: “We made this piece on a shoestring. We found a way to use the limited resources at hand to make something that I hope is beautiful and engaging. There is something that is optimistic for me about being able to do that.”
Niche features four dancers, a motley collection of artefacts cluttered on a bare stage, and no music.
“Music often tells an audience what to feel and think and I’d prefer to let you make your own mind up,” he writes in a programme note. “And besides, there’s lots to listen to: the sound of plastic bags, of jumps, of effort, of traffic in the distance… “
He describes how the docklands environment inspired the dances: sites there can be strewn with rubbish; looking at abandoned objects, he would wonder where they had come from.
“What’s the story behind that child’s buggy in the middle of that wasteground?” he might think.
Niche, he says, is “a dance about finding your place”. It may sound eccentric, but that fits. Ó Conchúir’s method is a celebration of the eccentricity that flourishes in the city, of the ways people forge an identity amidst the turbulent cross currents of economic and social change. Ultimately, everybody needs to find their niche.