In a world of Twitter wars, cycling news feeds and cancel culture, Luke Murphy looks to contextualise it with his dance piece Villains
“You’re just trying to present images and ideas that the audience can actually put together themselves and have the catharsis of creating the thought themselves as opposed to having it thrown in their face.”
Every week, Luke Murphy checks the Munster Rugby team announcement on Twitter. The one-minute clips feature each member of the team staring down the camera lens with their arms behind their backs while Game of Thrones-esque music plays in the background as though they are entering into battle and not playing Exeter Chiefs. Murphy knows it’s over the top, but he can’t help himself. “I’m totally a sucker for it,” he laughs.
As Murphy sees it, these rugby announcements reflect the change in how we consume news and media. “Everything feels like it has to be so epic now to get our attention,” he says. “When there’s a political debate, they play this Gladiator music in the background. Everything is so intense and huge and loud and blockbuster.”
It’s a phenomenon Murphy explores in his new dance show Villains, which premieres at the Fringe this month. Billed as a live graphic novel, the show aims to explore the role of the hero and the villain in the world of the 24-hour news cycle, Twitter, and cancel culture.
“It just seemed to really reflect this way of social conversation where everyone is talking about amongst themselves and everyone who disagrees with them are the worst thing in the world,” he explains. “They are evil and they are terrible and they are ignorant. There is no space for anything else. It’s just completely black or white.”
Originally from Cork, Murphy studied dance in Pittsburgh. From there, he went on to perform with various companies and spent years performing in the off-Broadway production of Sleep No More. In 2015, he moved to Belgium and started working with the company Ultima Vez. Now based in Cork, he still lives a “nomadic” lifestyle and frequently finds himself between cities.
Murphy has previously staged several of his own shows at the likes of Dublin Fringe and Cork Midsummer Festival. Villains is his most ambitious work to date, both in terms of scale and the sheer number of elements involved. The show’s aesthetic is heavily inspired by comic books and graphic novels. It features choreography, animation, a video installation by David Fishel, and an elaborate sound score, as well as cheeky nods to the likes of Blade Runner and Superman.
The cast is comprised of dancers from all over the world, including the USA, UK, Taiwan, and Switzerland. As he notes this, he catches himself using the word “assemble”. “Assemble! Avengers assemble,” he laughs. “It’s everywhere.”
Murphy notes that the script is more narrative driven than your average dance show and says the storytelling is inspired by everything from Marvel movies to anime.
“We structured it like a film. We trace these three stories that interlink and really come together at the end. You’re introduced to one character and you see their world and then it pulls you to a different place and you’re following another character. You don’t know what these things are for a while but then they slowly come together and you see why they relate.”
Similarly, the movement and choreography borrows from comic books.
“There’s this raw energy that’s constantly pulling you along,” he says. “Sometimes there will be a comic book brought to life on screen where they will show you a panel and then they very dramatically move to the next panel really quickly. We were thinking of that movement on stage.”
Murphy describes the subject matter as “fragile” and notes that even participating in the conversation around how we communicate with each other can leave you vulnerable to criticism. In that sense, dance is the perfect medium through which to explore the issue.
“Something I like about working in dance is that you never have a sentence. If you’re making a piece about war, you never have a sentence that yells at the audience and says, ‘War is bad, everybody!’ You’re not trying to hit people over the face with something and you’re not trying to preach anything to anybody. You’re just trying to present images and ideas that the audience can actually put together themselves and have the catharsis of creating the thought themselves as opposed to having it thrown in their face.”
Murphy is confident that the show will resonate with audiences, particularly those who don’t typically see dance shows.
“I work in a form where you’re dealing with abstraction a lot,” he says. “A lot of the time when you’re working in dance and there isn’t a super widespread audience for it, you’re trying to find angles on what you’re doing to say, ‘Well, this is a way that people who aren’t necessarily interested in it feel invited to see it.’”
“With this show, I feel that if you have any interest in film or mainstream media there’s a way in here and I think it’s going to be an enjoyable show for people who wouldn’t normally see dance. And for people who are used to seeing more abstract work, the piece also has a lot of integrity.”
Words: Amy O’Connor
Project Arts Centre
Preview September 7, 6,15pm (€11), Performances September 8-11 (6.15pm) & 13 (9pm), €14/€16