Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Label: choreography

August 13, 2020

Annwyl i mi: Passing it on

This week Faye Tan and Camille Giraudeau from NDCWales, are using movements from Annwyl i mi to teach young dancers (between 8 and 17 years of age) in a summer school organised by The Place.  It’s a summer school that would usually happen IRL but, like so much else, is being delivered online this year.  It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to know that work that originated  in small choices and impulses in one place can have an impact elsewhere in other bodies – in ways that maintain connection to the source but transform it in unanticipated ways.  In this way, Cami and Faye are continuing the process I used to make the work with them and many others.



Annwyl i mi at the Eisteddfod 2019 – Photo Iolo Penri

I’ve spoken a lot about how the Rygbi Project draws on input from a whole community, that it’s something we researched in a variety of bodies and experiences – a range of professional dancers, professional and amateur rugby players and communities of supporters etc.

Photo shoot for the Rygbi Project

Photo shoot for the Rygbi Project

NDCWales visit to Ospreys training

NDCWales visit to Ospreys training

But it’s also something that I was able to facilitate because it resonated in my body too – not just because of my own (limited) experiences of playing rugby but because of how I could recognise something in the way the sport and its physicality makes individual and group bodies.  Owen Sheers’ account in Calon of a place-kicker in any international arena connecting to his home ground and the hours he’s spent practising kicks under the eye of a grandfather or valued coach reminds me of how each performance is saturated with memory, with networks of support concentrated into individual nodes that express a community experience.  I feel that in my own performing and tried to include that in Annwyl i mi:  even if the focus is on team and group, sometimes the weight of performance falls on an individual in that team, alone and supported.

Rehearsals Dancehouse NDCWales

Rehearsals Dancehouse NDCWales

Outdoor rehearsal Bute Park, Cardiff

Outdoor rehearsal Bute Park, Cardiff

So as I think of young people learning movement impulses and material from Annwyl i mi – during this week’s summer school and already from the work of NDCWales Dance Ambassadors and dancers who have led workshops based on the Rygbi Project this past year –   I see a community of experiences concentrated into individual bodies, lived and processed by those bodies – including my own – and passed now to others in an exciting expansion whose impact I won’t ever see.  And though those activities have happened thanks to the work and vision of others, I still see it as part of the choreography of the Rygbi Project – a choreography designed with connection and community in mind, built on collaboration and achieved through the creativity and commitment of others.  I choreograph to ask questions, to invite responses to challenges: seeing the Rygbi Project unfold  teaches me what the answers could be.

Rehearsals Theatr Clwyd

NDCWales R&D Rehearsals at Theatr Clwyd

November 26, 2009

Sweet Spot 2

With Sweet Spot, I’ve been checking that I am guided by my artistic instincts and not by a therapeutic intentions. One of the ways that I thought I could be true to my artistic instinct is that I would use this project to learn something and to push myself into a new area of practice. The piece is called Sweet spot and in it, I’m trying to explore joy. Of course, joy for me doesn’t mean jubilation and hilarity but it is a departure. I’m doing that because I have grown comfortable in the darker emotional terrain and that comfort conditions the work that I make. While Sweet spot may end up in that terrain (and putting a solo before and after the film is probably going to do that!), I hope that by setting off in the direction of joy that I may end up somewhere I haven’t been before.

I’ve also tried to integrate some of my experience in China in my work with other people. Through Tai Chi, Qi Gong and my collaboration with Xiao Ke, I’ve been trying to assimilate new movement information into my own body. This was the first time that I tried to pass that work on to others.

I taught Tai Chi (Wu form) to all the performers and it proved a good common ground for professionals and non-professionals. It also helped us to start rehearsals with a particular calmness that may not have been jumping bean joy but that felt like edging closer to a sweet spot (or maybe what I think is a sweet spot).

It’s interesting that for Niche and other recent projects, I haven’t led a group warm up, providing instead space and time for the performers to prepare themselves as they wished. In doing so, we started rehearsal as individuals sharing a space. Doing Tai Chi together on the other hand created a common space and a common point of departure.

One of the elements of the piece that feels right to me is a moment when the group of women sew and stick together a blanket of autumn leaves. Connecting to the natural cycle and celebrating the autumnal phase seems particularly appropriate to this group. There’s an element of the fairytale in the image too – Rumplestiltskin, Babes in the Wood.

November 26, 2009

Sweet spot

For the past three weeks, I’ve been working on a commission for an evening of work called Triptik.

The evening is produced by Ríonach Ní Néill and her company Ciotóg (in association with Project Arts Centre) and it will take place in Project Arts Centre from 15th-19th December. Ríonach also runs the Machusla Dance Club for over 50s and has been finding ways to extend the club and her own artistic practice by involving club members in her work. For a triple bill, she’s commissioned me and Rebecca Walter to make pieces that include performers from the Machusla dance club and professional dancers.

Accepting the commission raised a number of questions for me since I wanted to work out how I could be true to my artistic instinct and practice and still work in a way that respected the input of all the participants.

I’m still in the middle of the creation process since I decided to make a film for the performance which James Kelly of Feenish Productions is directing. We’ve completed the filming but now the editing has to be done and while I did some of the choreographic work to generate the material for the film, there’s another choreographic job to be done in determining the rhythm, structure and tone of the film. I also intend to add a live element to the performance and expect that will take the form of a solo for Stéphane Hisler as a prelude and coda to the film.

I decided to add the live element since the film features only female performers and, as with Niche, I wanted to add a kind of balance to that gender dominance. I also imagine that the solo will be a counterpoint to the predominantly group activity of the film and consequently introduce a different emotional colour.

July 21, 2009

Tattered Outlaws: Choreography

I suppose I was concerned that the TV coverage of Tattered Outlaws didn’t really mention anything about the choreography. But then I realised that by focusing on the opportunity for people to get inside the towers and to reflect on what that heritage means, the coverage is acknowledging the most important aspects of the choreographic work. For the people who enter the tower, the experience is a structured physical experience. They shift from the relative warmth of the outdoors to the towers cool damp interior. Their eyes must adjust to the interior gloom. They may queue until it’s time to stoop carefully to climb the switch-back stairs we’ve built until the arrive on the viewing platform in front of the screen. Only six adults can fit on the small platform at a time – it’s a dance which many can experience but not as a big group. Standing in front of the screens, the viewers are encouraged to connect beyond the immediate physical experience of the Skerries tower (they rain my drip on them) to the other towers and to performances glimpsed on them.

This experience of visiting the installation corresponds to my own physical engagement with the tower. They came alive to me when, on the advice of some passing schoolboys, I was able to climb in to the tower at Loughshinny and make my way on to the roof. The physical buzz of climbing into the towers, the nervousness of making my way around the spiral staircase in the dark, the emergence on to the roofs which open to the sea and the surrounding coast, dark, light, sunshine, rain, all fed in to the dances I made for the films.

After those initial visits to the towers I went back to the studio to develop some physical material, phrases of movement that had enough nooks and crannies for me to explore each time I danced them. I brought that material to the towers for the filming and adapted it to each tower, the conditions I found there and the feelings evoked in me by the encounter between my movement and the place.

When you dance in a studio and on a stage, for the most part, there is a relationship between the movement and the space that you can take for granted. The floor will be even, with a particular texture. Dancing on the towers is a constant dialogue between the movement I’d prepared and what the tower offered. For the most part, I danced in the derelict towers. There’s broken glass, rough stone, grass, bird shit, steps, wind, rain. So each time I put my foot down and slid and rolled, my intention was challenged by the tower. In an instant, I had to adapt and a whole new set of images, memories, feelings flooded my body. I may have prepared the material but there was nothing predictable when I brought it to the tower. Though the tower is strong and my interaction with it temporary , I leave traces of myself on it, small bits of my DNA scraped off, pebbles shifted, grass disturbed – small, impermanent traces – but tokens of my presence nonethless.

Bernadette’s encounter with Balcarrick followed the same process. Her material is prepared but transformed by what she finds in the tower. Her DNA in the smeared in spit on the surfaces of the tower.

And why the other people? Zach and Eva play, a kind of connection between imagination and physical exploration that I think is a good way to help people understand what the ‘dancers’ are doing. Dorothy tells the story of her personal history with the tower. Hers is a process by which memory becomes movingly present, a process we can read in her body as she circles the tower to keep up with the camera, making sure that it hears what she wants remembered. Joe, at his bench calls each of the towers in turn with his Morse code. We know there will be no response but the gesture of calling is important nonetheless.

And Tom, reading his book, silently, is also a renowned broadcaster. He is the owner of the tower but his background in communication makes him an appropriate presence. I read in his stillness a calmness and self-assuredness that provides a counterpoint to the fretful physical explorations elsewhere in the films.

July 17, 2009

Tattered Outlaws: We opened

Owners came, friends came (having painted walls in the tower while rain seeped down them), a mayor spoke. Dan and his son, Zach, wore linen suits.

We gave Caroline flowers to thank her for joining us on the journey. We had a big marquee and Irish music. There were queues of people to make it to the viewing platform. I had to breath deeply when I couldn’t turn on the power and Dan couldn’t turn on the power. But Zach saved the day with the rhetorical question: ‘Shouldn’t that be plugged in?’

And here’s how it all began and ended up. Footage from our very first visit to Skerries and from the day of the opening.

Tattered Outlaws of History / Public Arts Project from Fingal Arts on Vimeo.

July 14, 2009

Tattered Outlaws: Braving the elements, indoors

Even though I am used to the vagaries of Irish weather, when you organise an indoor event for the middle of July, you don’t expect that torrential rain will be a problem. I arrived in Skerries today to start the preparations for the opening of Tattered Outlaws of History on Thursday. When we opened the door in to the tower it was clear that the drips and dampness we’d had to contend with in the past had escalated to extensive leaks that didn’t bode well for our system of electrical wiring and fancy plasma screen set up. More heavy showers are forecast for the next few days.

Fortunately, the water damage was mostly on the perimeter of the first floor, leaving the place where the screens will go relatively dry. We installed the TVs and covered them for the night with plastic shrouds. I know the electricity works so if they survive tonight, Dan and I will test them more fully tomorrow.

They keep you on your toes, these buildings. But returning to them, I feel very happy that they are part of my physical memory now. I’ve been rain-soaked, sunburned and wind-buffeted on them; I’ve rubbed my skin on their stone, slid on the tussocks of grass that have survived in their cracks. I know what the towers feel like and how they dance.

July 02, 2009

Woolworth’s in Leytonstone: A room of one’s own

I’ve been discussing with Waltham Forest Council the possibility of using the empty Woolworths in Leytonstone for an evening of Waltham Forest choreography. I’d been calling the evening Pick’n’Mix but Leytonstone Arts Trail has used the Woolworths first and adopted my title too. They’ve put part of their annual visual art exhibition into the Woolworths and the opening party last Friday was packed with people of all ages. They’ve really generated a buzz and media interest, reminding people what artists can do with limited resources. The co-operation of the council has been a great help too and will be very important in ensuring the success of Pick’n’Mix: a dance selection later on in the year.

In the meantime, the organising committee of the Arts Trail has generously allowed me to use one of the spaces in the Woolworths that they can’t open to the public because it is not equally accessible. It’s really exciting to have access to a space relatively close to home that I can use for free to doodle physical ideas. It’s not a sprung floor but it’s wooden with tiles – not an ideal space but tall and big enough for me to move around in. I don’t cover quite as much ground these days.

The floor was really dirty today but given that I’ve rolled around in bird droppings, it’s not bad. I started the cleaning process, knowing it will take a few more attempts but because I want to get rid of the surface stickiness that makes sliding around uncomfortable and difficult.

The space used to be the locker room of the employees and has lots of notice reminding them that they are being watched even in this ‘backstage’ area.

I wonder what new dance will emerge for this left behind space.

April 16, 2009

Tattered Outlaws test installation

I arrived in Skerries yesterday to see what our installation of twelve Tattered Outlaws films look like. From the Skerries tower you can see the Martello Tower on Shenick’s Island, so I’m reminded straight away that however solitary each tower seems, it is an echo of another tower. It is part of a family that share a structural DNA, however the vagaries of history may have shaped its members in different ways.

We’ve persuaded the council to clean out the layers of bird droppings from the tower but it’s still a rough environment with scaffolding supporting the rotting ceiling and floor.

Dan has been working with Pickle to install the screens, stairs and viewing platform so that when I arrive, I can climb from the gloom of the ground floor to the viewing platform and be dazzled by the unexpected brightness of screens. Dan has designed such an elegant and simple construction that the screens seem to grow out of the damp floor like high-tech mushrooms. That’s a good thing.

It was wonderful to be able to show the work to a variety of people today: for many the excitement of the project lies in the opportunity to be inside the towers and to see what the other towers look like. It occurred to be that the towers are a bit like the areas subconscious – a repository of stories with not quite understood associations, present but mysterious. Reading the towers as an unconscious helps me make sense of the place of the dancing bodies on the towers. I think the movement can communicate the less rational associations of the towers, their strangeness and the permission they, as outlaw buildings, give people to shelter the outlaw aspects of their consciousness.

We’ve had to dismantle the installation now to protect the screens from damp and damage until July when the exhibition opens properly. There are still jobs to do, as Dan’s list suggests, but we know it can work.

January 16, 2008

Fox on Foley Street

What I see are the passing people, the separate place where Stéphane dances, the bare trees that are being cut down, the new apartment buildings, the hoardings around new construction.

What I hear is the sound of timber boards and jack-hammers and one strong bird whose whistle momentarily defeats the mechanical music.

What I know is that the blob under the tree is a concentration of Bernadette energy and that Stéphane is fighting the inhospitable cold and yet the fight, vulnerable and strong, moves me.