The Step Up Project 2022 had its live performances on the GAA pitches of University of Limerick and Mackey Park, Ahane at the end of May. The performances represented the culmination of my first arc as Curator of the programme (though the dancers still have some online information and coaching session as well as some placement opportunities with choreographers in Ireland). There’s so much to reflect on from the whole process and I will do that in future posts but for now I want to write about a surprising but consistent piece of feedback from the performances:birdsong.
In conversations with audiences members, a number people at both performances mentioned how enjoyable it had been to be able to hear the sounds of birds alongside or between the music composed by MuRli. The references seemed incidental but they speak to what I think of as an achievement of the piece and of the performances: that we could be with the dancing and with the environment because they were open to each other. We didn’t construct a performance that asked audiences to ignore the environment, that needed to impose itself on the environment to keep it at bay. Instead – and this was a conscious part of the creation and training process – I asked the dancers to invite in the environment, to connect with and draw energy from it.
Performing outdoors in rural and semi-rural environments where one is exposed to weather, to animal and insect life, is an opportunity if one has time and space to learn how to relate to it. It requires that time and space because otherwise the information that the comes can be overwhelming and any performance risks getting lost in the vastness. Tapping into the vastness can amplify performance but it requires work and sensitivity to make that connection. I think back to what seems like a very different aesthetic tradition in the work of Pina Bausch that Finola Cronin introduced to the dancers in our first week of rehearsals. Finola taught movement from the iconic Rite of Spring and shared the challenges of dancing on the soil that covers the Rite of Spring stage. In other Busch work the challenge or transformation of physicality comes from clothing and footwear – an elegant dress or suit, high heels or brogues – a challenge not dissimilar to the adaptation required by the Step Up dancers when wearing football boots on grass or Astroturf. Recognising how our human movement is being conditioned by environment, by non-human animals and material helps us to place our dancing better in the wider world. We are not a separate entity looking for a place but a moving entity evolving alongside others, provoking and channeling bigger energies so that our humanity can dance comfortably with birdsong and beats.