Week one of the Dublin Dance Festival has already drawn to a close and the first half of the programme under new director Benjamin Perchet has exceeded expectations with a diverse mix of surprising, intriguing and vital work. Here are some of the bits I liked best from the first seven days.
Fernando Belfiore – AL13FB<3
AL13FB<3 is the world reimagined. A florid, bombastic piece, the set and props perform as much as the choreographer himself does. The ground of the performance – literally, the floor Belfiore performs on – is a Photoshop colour picker, amplified to fill the stage and ever-changing in hue as the lights shift. This is the work of Belfiore’s long-time collaborator, Serbian visual artist Nikola Knezevic. Knezevic’s intention is always clear, with the result that the performance is a series of fully realised scenes, each integral in itself.
The piece is a saturation of colour and sound – Belfiore wants everything and excludes nothing – he lets the entire world in; the Brazilian choreographer doesn’t make distinctions between reality as given and reality Photoshopped. He collapses boundaries between ‘high art’ and pop, layering classical and contemporary music to create a cacophonous score, tapping into different strands of the soundtrack at different points, as though navigating the din of the world. Whether crunching ice, swaddled in tinfoil or spewing blue liquid drunk from a plastic orb, the performer is always committing the same act – recognising every part of reality – animate and inanimate – as equal points on a continuum. He relates to the world/existence/reality, emotionally first and foremost – as he says at the close of the performance: ‘Everything has a heart’.
Justine Cooper – Folds of the Crane
With a strong emphasis on the interplay of light and dark, Folds of the Crane plumbs the depths of the void. Choreographer and performer Justine Cooper presents consciousness as a constant, travelling across time and space, an ever-present kernel of being that inhabits different states. The piece is strongest in its final section when flickering shafts of light (lighting design by the prolific Sarah Jane Shiels) and windmilling arm movements create the impression of a soul traversing a cosmic terrain. A murky tribute to pure being in the abyss.
Katherine O’Malley – Bias
Katherine O’Malley’s Bias at The Complex was a visually weighty, aesthetic piece. The conceptual premise of the work, as explained in the programme, is O’Malley’s exploration of her own biases and how these influence her daily decisions. But the piece stands for itself, without this context. Framed by three projections of Mark Linnane’s impeccable filming showing O’Malley in different natural settings (Sandymount Strand, Poolbeg lighthouse, a gorse patch in a field), the dancer performs a sequence of sinuous movements, echoed by her projected self in a series of swooping loops as she runs through the space on the same track in a continuous cycle. The complexity of the timing, the precariousness of moving in a space that is uneven of floor and obstructed by pillars, is handled lightly, and with grace. Bias is a well-formed thing, a spacious object for contemplation, a delight for the eye.
Oona Doherty – Lazarus and the Birds of Paradise (Episode One of Hard To Be Soft: A Belfast Prayer in Four parts)
The stand-out piece so far has been Oona Doherty’s Lazarus and the Birds of Paradise, a solo performed by Doherty herself as part of First Looks at DanceHouse, a strand of the programme presenting work in progress. Oona manages something very rare with this piece – it’s a performance that’s about a social issue, a political issue, but without being crassly and explicitly about that issue; meaning the choreographer comes at it sideways, intuitively. She internalises a body language, a culture, that’s part of the fabric of her native Belfast, and re-presents it spliced with something like divinity. It’s the language of harsh streets, fear and aggression – a thin veil of defiant posturing concealing vulnerability. Set to a score of clamouring, angry male voices from docudrama Wee Bastards? mixed with the sweetly epic strains of Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus, Lazarus and the Birds of Paradise channels violence, hedonism, joyfulness and despair to transform the trampled, disregarded and reviled into something beatific.
The festival continues this week, until Saturday 28th May. I’m hopeful about Betroffenheit by Kidd Pivot & Electric Company Theatre and Relic by Euripides Laskiridis.
Words: Rachel Donnelly