Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Label: Microrainbow

April 22, 2016

Rehearsals at The Place – The Casement Project


I hadn’t planned initially to have this phase of rehearsals in London but after the sense of connection to people who were supporting the project that I felt when we rehearsed there in September during Choreodrome, it was clear to me that we couldn’t disappear for half a year and then come back with a premiere. Maintaining and building on connections and networks of support felt like a necessity. And so, thanks to the help of The Place, we were able to rehearse for a week.


A week is a short time, but I was knew that I wanted to reactivate movement material we’d developed in early stages of the process and to introduce some of the objects that would help us to make further design decisions. Relearning material from a video is not the most creative process for this wonderful collection of dancers, however, there are always alterations, amendments, some losses and usually more gains in the task. I am also aware that how ever many times I review video material (and in the months since our last rehearsals in December, I promise I have been reviewing the material!), I know I need the liveness of the performers in a shared space to inspire me. It’s the same when it comes to design and for that reason it’s crucial that we have as many of the design elements in the room with us so that they can be a reality in the creation. Paying attention to what people, material and objects are really doing, and not what I imagined they might do, is one my main choreographic tools.

I also knew that I wanted to start amalgamating the smaller passages of material into longer arcs, to get a sense of what it was beginning to communicate. These arcs are always provisional, subject to reordering, and it’s a pleasure to see how the dancers rise to the creative challenge of navigating different journeys through the arrangements of material.

I was very happy that we were able to host another workshop for participants from MicroRainbow International. I’ve continued to work with this group of LGBT refugees and asylum-seekers and think they’re a very special community of support. It’s not easy for me to articulate why I think of these workshops as part of the creative work of The Casement Project and not some ancillary activity. In other models of engagement, these workshops might be with a view to mining the participants for content, or to generate a performance with them, or to disseminate the content of the show. For me our workshops are more a practise of solidarity, a exchange of movement, of care, of attention. And they are a reminder of the value of dance as a mode of human interaction.

We had a showing of our work in progress on Friday afternoon, an opportunity to invite a number of friends and supporters (from The Place, from 1418now, from the British Library and a big team from Dublin who are working hard to create the conditions for the work to be visible and appreciated). The rehearsal process is daunting for me: this feels like an important opportunity and I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to squander the talents of the performers and the creative team who are contributing to the work, nor do I want to do a disservice to the investment of many partners. However, despite that pressure, I wasn’t daunted about presenting what is still rough sketches of what the work might be. I am confident that we are in the right territory.

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But there are still lots of questions, still lots I don’t know (I never know!). One of the responses to the sharing that felt important to address was the appetite of some people to know more about Casement. It’s clear to me that this work is not a dance biography or a dance history lesson. I was relieved that Easter had seen a number of commemorative re-enactments of historical moments from 1916, because I feel that is done and that I can move forward. And it’s moving forward, conscious of a historical legacy but not burdened by it, that I want to do. For those that want to immerse themselves in the history of Casement, elements of The Casement Project like the symposia provide rich material; however I don’t think the dance is going to tell the that history, although I hope it will convey something of its complicated spirit.

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In practice this question of how much context to provide comes down to how much text we offer – in programme notes, in the use of the Rudkin radio play, in what the dancers say. I was struck seeing the historic Embodied performances by six female choreographers in the GPO this week how significant the use of text was for many of them. It seemed necessary to make place for female voices. However, I am trying to slip the authority of language that has curtailed possibilities and limited definitions. If I use words, it is to seduce them into an environment where they cannot claim certainty. So I have work to do to figure out how that works for me and for audiences who may have an appetite for something more stable. I’m listening….

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September 07, 2015

Choreodrome Week One – The Casement Project

11988386_1474174952909459_7902436948999785562_nIt was a relief to get in to the studio this week with some of The Casement Project dancers and to begin to explore in such articulate and creative bodies some of the ideas that I’ve been storing over the past two years. Fortunately an Arts Council Bursary two years ago and a residency at Dancehouse in Dublin meant that I’d been able to test some of the Casement ideas with Aoife McAtamney before I started writing the Ireland 2016 National Project application. That physical testing meant that I could trust that the ideas could make sense in bodies. However, it feels like a lot of words and intellectual brain processing were required to make the application a success. Now, it’s important to bring that processing back to bodies and to the particular knowledge and wisdom they possess.

It turns out Roger Casement was born on the September 1st, so it was an appropriate day to start rehearsals at The Place as part of this year’s Choreodrome. For the first week I was joined four of the six dancers who will be in the piece: Bernadette Iglich, Matthew Morris and Mikel Aristegui have danced in a number of my projects as well as choreographing Cure. I’ve danced with Philip Connaughton in work by Adrienne Browne and by Ríonach Ní Néill, as well as seeing him in the work of other Irish choreographers and more recently, his own magnificent Tardigrade. Having such a talented and experienced group of performers in the room is a privilege. However, it’s not just their creativity and skill that I rely on to create the work, but also their generosity of spirit.


That generosity and openness was particularly evident on Thursday when a group of LGBT refugees from Micro-Rainbow International joined us in the studio for a movement workshop. I’ve been singing in the Micro-Rainbow choir over the summer and getting to know the group. I wanted to invite them to experience something of my work and see what kind of community we could build from the exchange. On the day when the heart-breaking photograph of the drowned Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, appeared in newspapers around the world, it felt good to share joy, care and creativity with these refugees. Opening the rehearsal studio is a gift for us, helping us see the studio and our work from the perspective of people who are not jaded by over-familiarity with the art form. And their visit reminded us of the importance of joy. We’re looking back to the next workshop on Tuesday.

On Thursday, we went out of the studio, on a research visit to the British Library. With the help of Ellie Beedham, Senior Producer at The Place, I’ve been working with Dr Eva Del Rey (Curator, Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance) to find ways of connecting The Casement Project to The British Library’s holdings and archives. Her colleagues Joanna Norledge (Curator, Contemporary Performance and Creative Archives,) and Helen Melody, sourced original material for us about Casement and about David Rudkin, whose play Cries from Casement as his Bones are brought to Dublin, I’m using in the work. They showed us Cabinet Papers from July 1916, prepared to discuss whether Casement’s death sentence might be commuted. Also correspondence and papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Clement K. Shorter, concerning their petition to the government to reprieve Casement, with responses from people like Yeats and HG Wells (whose answer to the request for help was ‘Absolutely not!’). We also saw David Rudkin’s notebooks containing his notes on reading The Black Diaries, as well as the script used in the original studio recording of his radio play at the BBC. Seeing Casement being interpreted in these official and artistic documents is very useful in my own project of engagement with his life and after-life.

As the year goes on, we’ll find ways to distill all of this rich material, but for now we will keep on gathering and dancing with the material we gather.