Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Label: Dialogue

May 28, 2010

Dialogue in Shanghai: Irish Pavilion in the World Expo

Performing at the Irish Pavilion in the Expo wasn’t easy. I think Xiao Ke, Feng Hao and He Long felt a little weird in the Expo environment as they felt it to be a manifestation of the Chinese government and its desire to present an image of harmony and success to the world.

The Disney-style parade that passes through the Expo each day sings over and over the message ‘One World’, but my Chinese colleagues can’t really buy in to that government-enforced optimism. Most of the Chinese artists I’ve met in Beijing and Shanghai roll their eyes at the mention of Expo and are amused that they are co-opted to be part of international projects in the various pavilions. Xiao Ke will be back at Expo next month performing with Janice Claxtion at the British Pavilion.

Of course I’d like to think Dialogue is different, particularly because it is based on a friendship. I am very happy to count Xiao Ke as a friend now and through her I have met collaborators, He Long and Feng Hao, who are good artists and good people. Though we haven’t worked together long as a team, the adversity we faced in Shanghai has made us pull together and support one another.

The Irish Pavilion had prepared a 9m x 4.5m stage in its courtyard that was suitable for the traditional Irish music and dance show that was performed there, but not right for Dialogue. It took a bit of effort but we managed to get the technical support to have the performance at the top of the courtyard as I’d originally agreed after my visit in April. We didn’t have theatrical light but the shifting LED lighting in the courtyard walls was beautiful and the piece looked good there.

May 16, 2010

EXPO visit: Improvisation in the Beijing Traffic

Three weeks in Beijing have passed quickly and tomorrow I leave for Shanghai and the whole Expo experience. As always, being in China has taught me a lot about myself, my habits and preconceptions, nowhere more so than in relation to traffic and travel.
I spent the first week waiting for Platform China whose studio that I’m staying to provide the promised bicycle and in the meantime took a lot of buses in and out of town. I hated having to wait, being constrained by an unfathomable timetable and being jostled and squashed. When Platform China couldn’t provide a tall enough bicycle, I rented one myself (of course now I am wiser thanks to everyone’s post factum counsel that it would have been cheaper to buy a bike than rent one). Having a bike restored my much valued independence. It’s clear to me that I am willing to expend a considerable amount of physical energy to secure that independence as I have cycled hour long trips across the city rather than subject myself to buses or even the uncertainty that a taxi might be taking you for a ride. So that’s one lesson about independence.

The other thing I learned cycling in Beijing is about improvisation. The rules of the road are baffling to me – more baffling than the language. People cycle the wrong way, pedestrians walk in the middle of the road and with passive aggression ignore the constant hooting of cars and bikes. Buses pull in in front of you, pinning you to the kerb and then stop but pull out again when you try to overtake them. Since the choreography isn’t clear to me, I have to improvise, alongside everyone else who seems to be improvising. I imagined that this improvisation had a structure, a set of shared rules which I might not know but I assumed everyone else did. However, when I see the accidents, the battered cars and the injured cyclists, I do wonder if that’s the case. More than anything I am ground down by what appears to me to be the discourtesy of such lawlessness. Whether or not I am completely misreading the situation, it is the fact of this care for courtesy that I notice in myself. Courtesy of course doesn’t leave much room for surprises.

I think about improvisation because working with Xiao Ke on Dialogue for the past two years has been the most sustained engagement with improvisation that I have undertaken. I have grown more comfortable with the process but only after we’ve established clear parameters for the improvisation. This version of Dialogue which we will perform in Shanghai has two new artists involved: Feng Hao, an experimental musician who is making a name for himself on the improvised music scene in Beijing and He Long, a video artist who does a lot of live visuals for music events. Both have brought a youthful energy to the piece. Meanwhile Xiao Ke and I have refined the structure of the piece, simplifying the line and relaxing in to our growing familiarity with each other.

My tai chi and qi gong practice have given me access to a different movement style that I’ve used a lot in Dialogue. In previous versions I was anxious about representing the kind of muscular physicality that I had considered a hallmark of my work. Now I don’t feel the need so much to that. Maybe I’m older. Maybe I’m tired. Maybe it just isn’t necessary.

With Match and Niche to perform after Dialogue, however, I’m curious to see whether I can still tap in to that muscular engagement upon which Match in particular was constructed.

May 04, 2010

EXPO visit: Rehearsals in Beijing

I’ve been in Beijing over a week now. I’m staying in Caochangdi, an artists’ village beyond the famous 798 art district but not quite as far as Beigao where I stayed last year. I’m living in a studio that belongs to the Platform China gallery, one of the many galleries in the village. The whole place, however, is under threat of demolition by Government-sanctioned developers despite its concentration of successful galleries and despite being the home of Ai Wei Wei

Xiao Ke also live in Caochangdi so we’ve been rehearsing this latest version of Dialogue in an empty gallery space nearby.

Yin Yi who made the music for our earlier versions of Dialogue isn’t with us so instead we have a musician called Feng Hao and a a video artist called He Long. They bring a new energy to the piece and at the same time, the fact that there are two of them allows me and Xiao Ke to refocus the dance more clearly on our relationship. We’ve taken this chance to refine the through-line of the piece and that coupled with the fact that we have even more experience under our belt makes this process feel quite relaxed.

It’s been interesting to hear various Chinese artists like Xiao Ke and Yin Yi talk about the other international collaborations in which they’ve been involved. I’m gratified, naturally, that they’ve been positive about their experience with Dialogue in a way that they’ve not been with other projects. Listening to them, however, it seems the key ingredient to success is investing time. I’ve known Xiao Ke since 2006 now. We are friends. This allows us a mutual understanding that enhances the way we work. Many other projects however are shot-gun marriages of convenience that are put together to take advantage of a funding opportunity. And there’s no reason why such arranged marriages shouldn’t blossom in to something fantastic – but the results are rarely immediate, particularly when there is such cultural differences that impact on aesthetics and working practices.

August 07, 2009

Dialogue in Edinburgh: First review in The Skinny

Posted by Rebecca King, Fri 07 Aug 2009

Rebecca King enjoys a thoughtful dance-chat.

Fearghus O Conchuir studied at Oxford University before going to London Contemporary Dance School; this is an unconventional way of training as a dancer and indeed Conchuir’s Dialogue is an unconventional piece. O Conchuir works with musician Yin Yi and fellow dancer and choreographer Li Ke to create a relaxed, tranquil piece which utilises technology to the full.

When the audience enters, the dancers and sound artist are pre-set onstage, sitting around a small table which also holds Yi’s laptop, which will generate the music for the show. There is also a portable video camera and a projector, and at one point Ke films the contours of her own body from her own perspective, live footage of which is projected above the dancers, making for striking, memorable viewing.

Footage of both moving dancers is projected along with their dancing shadows. Dialogue is not only a danced and verbal conversation between three people, but also an exchange of ideas between different media. You won’t be blown away by virtuoso tricks but you will be struck by the intelligent, experimental nature of the piece – this is essential viewing for those who like their dance thoughtful, quirky and intimate.