Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Label: NDCWales

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

January 01, 2020

Nigel Charnock’s Lunatic for NDCWales

78825291_2454765468070084_7028765300468219904_oThe energy that Nigel Charnock managed to dance, scream, laugh and whack into the world still reverberates despite his too early death 7 years ago.  Last week, the dancers of NDCWales, many of whom wouldn’t have been aware of Nigel’s work,  received that energy channelled through Jo Fong and through some of Nigel’s archive that was on loan  as part of the process of reviving Lunatic, a piece Nigel made for the Company in 2009.  Jo was one of the original cast and has, with Graham Clayton Chance and Nick Mercer, who are looking after Nigel’s legacy, and with Gary Clarke who also danced in Nigel’s work, helped plug the NDCWales dancers into the specifics of Lunatic and into the wider source of Nigel’s work.  It’s been exciting to see the dancers take the permission and the challenge that Nigel’s work offers to everyone – performers and audiences – to be more, to risk going further and to have fun in the process.


When I started dancing in the nineties, I was aware of Nigel as a fierce performer – fiercely funny, fiercely physical and fiercely moving.  I was also aware that he was gay and that his dancing in DV8 gave me a permission to explore a life through my dancing that might not have been possible otherwise.  Something in his energy also made it clear that, in the time of Section 28 and the AIDS crisis, that the life I might live had to be fought for with energy and determination.  I saw that insistence in his performances.  What I didn’t realise at the time is that before helping to found DV8, Nigel had been an equally iconoclastic performer with Ludus, a dance in education collective of the most radical kind.  I came to know Nigel’s solo work by the time I was in dance training myself and remember the thrill of being one of the students at The Place chosen to dance in a drama called Citizen Locke (based on the life of the philosopher) for which Nigel choreographed some scenes – thrilled and intimidated, because I felt in Nigel a standard to be achieved.  We wore very brown clothes.

Later, when I was beginning to choreograph, I had the opportunity to ask Nigel to be a mentor to me when I did a residency at Firkin Crane, working with Rebecca Walter and Ríonach Ní Néill on a piece called Vespers.  I didn’t quite feel adequate to his attention at the time and yet despite my sense of inadequacy, I knew that what he proposed, by being the studio, by asking me difficult questions, by warming up in the morning with such immediate and relentless vigour, would remind me that there was more to for me to give in everything I did.

79433221_2451985591681405_4648435141591433216_oWhen I arrived at NDCWales as Artistic Director, I started to think about the choreographers that I thought it would be good for the Company to commission.  But I also knew that one of the distinctive qualities of a repertoire company is repertoire – a sense of history that in our contemporary art form isn’t always cherished.  But proposing to revive Lunatic, a work Nigel made for NDCWales in 2009 , wasn’t about just about history.  Lunatic, like so much of Nigel’s work, explores sexuality, gender and national identity.  The energy of that work grew out of the oppressive society and politics of eighties and nineties Britain to which Nigel’s work responded.  We might have thought we’d moved beyond that context and therefore the fight that Nigel’s work represented.  But in 2019, that context, questions of national, gender and sexual identity, threats to the rights of minorities (and in the case of women, majorities) around the world, make Lunatic as relevant as ever it was.  And I love that a queer working-class choreographer who grew up in North Wales, trained in Cardiff and whose ashes are scattered across the Bay from the Dance House can still provide a radical energy to NDCWales work.


October 07, 2019

Annwyl i mi in Japan

It wasn’t ideal that Ireland (first in the Rugby World Cup rankings) should be beaten by what’s currently a second tier rugby nation –  Japan.  But the hosts played a beautiful game and deserved the win on the day.  The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, congratulated the country’s team on Twitter by remarking that the win was made possible  “ by teamwork“.  It’s that building of team,  a sports team in this case, but also a community of support (as is happening now in Japan, a country where rugby isn’t the main sport but where people are committing to getting behind the sport) that animates Annwyl i mi.

Rehearsals in Oita

Rehearsals in Oita

We arrived in Japan to prepare for our performances of Annwyl i mi at various places associated with Wales and the Rugby World Cup.  Rather than fly everyone back to Cardiff to rehearse some of the Company’s other repertoire for shows in Spain that follow immediately our Japan tour, we avoided the double jetlag and flights by rehearsing in Japan, specifically in Oita, a smaller regional city where we were to perform at the opening of a Wales-Oita visual arts exhibition at OPAM.  The advantage of this extended rehearsal in Oita was that we got to establish a working rhythm in the city that helped ground us in Japan.  And for me, after the busyness of Hong Kong, Oita was a quiet city to work in.



Though we would perform in Oita, our first performances in Japan were to take place at the Wales House Dome in Shinjuku in downtown Tokyo, where the Welsh Government was using the World Cup and the Welsh rugby team’s profile to promote Wales.  The Welsh Rugby Union had also embedded itself in  Kitatkyushu (a couple of hours north of Oita) where the team’s training camp was based and where a two-year programme of public engagement resulted in the city’s turning red for the World Cup to support Wales.  I managed to see the Welsh team in training in the stadium in Kitakyushu and brought back to our rehearsals the connections that I saw between their work and ours.


Wales team training in Kitakyushu

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Our rehearsals of Annwyl i mi  in Oita were focused on bringing Mat into the team to replace Folu who wasn’t available to dance for this tour.  Mat had been part of the R&D that I’d done with the Company at various points in the past year, so he had a sense of the background of how I was working with the dancers and what was at the heart of the work.  I was pleased nonetheless that we were expanding the team.  I always wanted it to be permeable – a structure that was strong but also flexible, adaptive and inclusive.


We had to draw heavily on our flexibility and adaptability in preparing for our performances in Shinjuku.  Our original performance location was changed to another of different dimensions which for bureaucratic reasons initially and then because of typhoon warnings meant our scheduled performances were cancelled.  Undeterred we found ways to bring some of the material to Shinjuku and to improvise the piece across an afternoon in Tokyo.

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The strength of Carl’s costume designs was evident as we travelled across the city, signalling our connection in the busy city.  Seeing how the dancers could respond to the changes that were necessary confirmed that we’d done the right kind of work in preparing the piece, building flexibility in to it, practising adaptability and also maintaining the structure that allows for the change.  That clear structure and support is fundamental to achieving spontaneity and freedom to respond.


Photo by Charlie Knight


Our return to Oita for the performances there was a return to familiarity.  In the few days I’d been away the city’s preparation to welcome rugby fans to the stadium had ramped up even more.  I brought into the studio a number of the images of rugby that were prominent in the city.  I wanted the dancers to keep refreshing their own image store of what rugby could look like, while also reminding us that the people’s physicality is shaped not only by what they do, but also by what they see.  Images suggest what’s possible.
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Our hosts in Oita invited the Company to see a recently opened exhibition of Japanese prints and I was struck by the exaggerated facial expressions and contorted body positions of the Kabuki actors depicted in a number of the prints.  In one of the sections of Annwyl i mi I’ve encouraged the dancers to extend the pressure and resistance in their limbs into their faces also and the Kabuki-like results are not to suggest that I intended them to be like Kabuki actors but that, being in Japan, we can accumulate their influence, let it pass through the piece as we perform in Japan, so that the piece stays open, receptive and alive.


69723305_2348959291987722_1229467764670857216_n 71223843_2348959158654402_1562537114061504512_n 71142746_2348958961987755_3625201295473770496_n 70158504_2348958788654439_9042208735761530880_n 70881243_2348959188654399_399510466235203584_n 71282868_2348959121987739_1947537333934882816_n 71117465_2348958891987762_4168795635178274816_n 71297570_2348959091987742_4022184212109983744_n 71300601_2348959338654384_6247545358172291072_n 70987809_2348959451987706_6903807032332124160_n 71842564_2348959248654393_5069790752091930624_n 70927686_2348959675321017_1687371236167909376_n 71184545_2348959631987688_2096854375946256384_nIn Oita we performed in the light-filled, airy atrium, with the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, and the Mayor and Governor of Oita in attendance, along with a large audience.  The piece looked wonderful in the generous space and it was fun to add the dignitaries to our line.  The line of support has stayed with me from The Casement Project.  In The Casement Project that line was mobile and linked.  I’ve tried to bring a similar fluidity and support to the line I’ve created in this Rygbi world.  It’s a line of solidarity I’d like to see increase, and to remain inclusive of possibilities for transformation.  That support for transformation and development is an aspiration I want to keep building in my work.  There was a certain amount of protocol to navigate in making our performance happen in Oita but the official response was very positive and it reminded me that the work, the dance, is what matters.  Getting all the protocol right wouldn’t have had half as much value without a compelling and engaging performance.  The performance was what changed something, brought people together, generated connection.  It’s not by accident that culture is a vehicle for diplomacy but that can only be of use, if the intrinsic value of the art is cherished, supported and facilitated.  Let the work do the work.



EFnnXcOX0AEKzePOur final performance was in the Fanzone at Yokohama, back on the grass in the open air and I loved seeing the dancers embrace, surrender to and dance with environment.  Sky, ground, water all add energy to the piece that the dancers have learned to harness.  In my introduction to the performance, I mentioned again that:


And at the very end of our Japan tour, I got to perform myself.  I had considered dancing in the piece before I started making it in July -knowing I’d add some age diversity to the cast!  But in that process, I found my role as support for the building the dancers’ readiness to give the work.  In Yokohama we were asked to do a second performance before the Wales-Australia match but the organisers couldn’t provide the space on the ground that they had for our performance earlier in the day.  So I agreed to dance a five-minute improvisation on a 3 x 12m carpeted stage space in front of the big screen and asked Faye, one of the dancers who wasn’t just about to fly to Spain, to join me.   I introduced the improvisation as a five-minute taste of the piece, and for me it was also a distillation of our experience in Japan.  It passed in a flash but it was special for me to get to express in some small way something of the energy I’ve taken from watching the dancers perform my work.  The work started with me and is now passed on to and through many other bodies.   It’s good to acknowledge the resonances of those other bodies in mine and be nourished for whatever comes next.