Girl Song review: A slow burn that’s more than the sum of its parts

Emma Martin’s new show seeps into the consciousness long after leaving the theatre

Grace Cahill in Girl Song

Grace Cahill in Girl Song

 

Samuel Beckett Theatre

★★★★

Attention is often given to unpicking experiences suppressed in the mind, rather than experiences archived within the body. In Girl Song, choreographer Emma Martin has exposed the raw nerve-map of the unconscious in a cogent meditation on femininity. Her physical metaphor is a large bleak room with just one small door inhabited from time to time by four dancers: Joanna Banks, Grace Cahill, Stephanie Dufresne and Justine Cooper.

 In the beginning, two overall-clad workers seep and hoover up detritus while Banks slowly strokes the wall, as if listening through her fingertips. The grubby white surface excludes the outside, but also seems to have soaked up the experiences of those inside. Banks is a formidable presence throughout the dance, in spite of minimal movement, her stillness radiating dignified strength and sagacity. In contrast, two solos illustrate struggle, but conclude in defiance and exultation: Cooper’s solo ends with her slowly circling, stomping her foot, a clenched fist stretched upwards, while Dufresne finishes hers spinning, arms outstretched and her head thrown back.

 The overall emotional arc is unpredictable, with all four performers cumulatively embodying a range of experiences. The psychic space they share feels safe and free from outside influence: Cooper, Dufresne and Cahill all enter wearing dresses that are soon chucked in a corner. Along with the superb performances, Girl Song has impressive contributions from it’s creative team, particularly composer Tom Lane and videographer José Miguel Jiménez.

In the last moments of the work, Cooper and Dufresne dance a duet in and out of unison, Banks is quietly seated, while Cahill walks absorbed listening to headphones. After, an hour of constantly-shifting emotions, there is a quiet sense of finality and self-acceptance. But Girl Song doesn’t leave any slam-dunk impression. Rather it slowly seeps into the viewer’s consciousness long after leaving the theatre.

Run concluded