2017 marks the sixtieth anniversary of Dublin Theatre Festival, what’s considered the oldest specialised theatre festival in Europe. At its beginnings, the festival presented only theatre, both Irish and international – unlike, say, the Edinburgh festival, which also presents dance, opera and music. But in recent years, boundaries between theatre, visual art, dance and music have become ever more permeable, with artists comfortably inhabiting multiple forms or collaborating across them – the term ‘theatre maker’ has emerged to capture the spirit of how performances are often made now, smashing together the roles of playwright, director and designer.
DTF has also become more diverse in recent years, with dance making its way onto the programme, as well as collaborations between theatre artists and musicians. Rachel Donnelly speaks to Choreographer Emma Martin of company United Fall about the themes Girl Song deals with, and the approach to making it.
Girl Song – United Fall
It’s the ugly, unedited animal that women aren’t supposed to be.
A common refrain from people who haven’t seen much contemporary dance, or none at all, is ‘I don’t think I got/would get it.’ This feeling is understandable – we think we communicate primarily through words, and those are usually few and far between in a dance performance. But, the idea that words are our main mode of communication is probably not true – one researcher famously put the amount of communication that happens through words at 7%, the rest happening through tone, facial expression and body language. This figure is regularly contested and qualified, but the point is that a large proportion of our communication is not based on words. Which means we’re actually all fluent in the language of the body, we’re just not necessarily aware of it.
The other thing to remember about dance is that there generally isn’t a particular message to ‘get’. A lot of contemporary dance is a gradually unfolding experiment – it starts when the choreographer goes into the studio with the performers, and it continues when the performance is received by an audience. The experiment is usually focused on things that we can’t understand with our humdrum daily minds, the parts of existence that are shadowy and strange and elude us. Though an outsider in the heavily verbal world of theatre, dance has held a place on the theatre festival programme for the last number of years. Choreographer Emma Martin, of company United Fall, returns to this year’s festival with new work Girl Song, following on from her 2015 debut in the festival with Dancehall, a dance and music collaboration with Crash Ensemble.
This new work is preoccupied with interior worlds; Girl Song looks back over the span of a life, seeking the ‘essential self’ that lies at the core of a person, the mind that was there before the world came crashing in. In making the piece, Emma is working with four females at different stages of their lives – from a child to an elderly woman.
It’s the idea of rewinding back through life… to when you were younger and a bit more of an animal in the world.
Emma began with a text, based in part on vivid images from dreams she’d had – one of the watery, uncharted parts of consciousness that we don’t well understand. I ask if she thinks dreams provide some sort of access to this essential self she’s interested in.
I don’t know what that essential self is – it’s not a question I want to answer. I guess I’m thinking about this indestructible, pure essence that’s hard to break… there’s also a little bit in the text that comes from the idea of reincarnation – I’d like to believe in that sometimes, the continuous journey of the soul through different lives and beings and bodies.
The choice to focus on four women and no men is a very definite one. Emma was interested in the interior life or world of the female, feeding into the question of how women are socialised.
I got quite interested in Jung and his theory of the psyche and the ego and the different layers – the male’s anima and the female’s animus [the idea that every man and woman has an unconscious counterpart of the opposite gender]… in women, that masculine element is shut down slightly because the feminine approach to the world is what’s drawn out in us… in our consciousness somewhere, there are those different versions and difference approaches that aren’t so at the forefront of how we work through everyday life. We have this machine which is the body and it has a very specific function, but if we were to just treat it like a machine rather than an… emotional container… I was watching these videos a couple of weeks ago of girls fighting, street fighting – it’s so much harder to watch than guys fighting. You watch and sort of recoil. It’s the ugly, unedited animal that women aren’t supposed to be.
Girl Song is at the Samuel Beckett Theatre from Wednesday October 4 to Monday October 8 nightly at 7.30pm. Matinee on Saturday (2.30pm) and Sunday (2pm). Tickets €15-€25
Words – Rachel Donnelly
Lead photo – Luca Truffarelli