Fifteen days of dance end on a high step


Sold-out shows and a well-balanced programme deliver the audiences for the Dublin Dance Festival, writes MICHAEL SEAVER

THERE MIGHT BE dances in the pipeline that reflect the current global economic and societal crisis, but Lucy Guerin’s Structure and Sadness from 2006 already fits the bill. Created in response to the collapse of the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne in 1970, which killed 35 workers, its larger metaphor of the collapse of trusted structures and subsequent human cost resonates most strongly in these times.

Not only does Guerin create a physical structure – an impressive five-metre high house of cards made from flat pieces of wood – but her movement vocabulary is derived from the language of bridge building: suspensions, torsion and compression. Most palpable when balancing on huge see-saws or holding each other up with stretched bungee chords, the principles underpin the prop-less sections where a solo dancing body is still pulled off balance and settled into stillness by shifts in weight. These established principles are revealed to be flawed and while the domino-effect collapse of the structure is breathtaking, the fact that the dancers’ very language can’t be trusted makes the work all the more powerful.

After 15 days of dance, Soul was a perfect ending to this year’s Dublin Dance Festival. Both joyful and sad, serious and mischievous, choreographer David Zambrano featured free-range performers mingling in the audience who themselves were wandering in the wide-open seatless SS Michael John. Out of nowhere solo dances began in response to a soul classic by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Gladys Knight and others.

Zambrano asks the dancers to move in the same way that soul singer sing: fullsome, profound and laden with emotion. Although he wants the audience to see details up close, he isn’t happy with just showing us clenched muscle and sinew. The individual solos were truly soulful and the full-on expression and occasional hysterics extraordinarily moving.

Ríonach Ní Néill also wanted intimacy between punter and dancer in her work-in-progess Phrases from a Lost Year, at the second Re-Presenting Dance programme in association with Dance Ireland. Seating the audience on cushions in the middle of the studio floor and using a mirror on one wall, she played with perspective, moving the dancers around and eventually performed on both sides of the seated audience.

Jean Butler’s improvisation thicker than thiswas a further step away from her step-dance past into her contemporary dance future. She began by simply bouncing up and down on her toes, her arms and torso gradually loosening until they were flailing like a rag-doll. Like a loosening of her stiff-upper-body-self, she showed remarkable discipline in evolving fragments into a coherent thread.

Ingrid Nachstern’s Watch . . .Eshas developed more of a sense of itself since its premiere last year. An exploration on male identity, it parallels incarceration with societal restrictions that imprison contemporary men. Armed with briefcases and furrowed brows, the men – Gary Carolan, Michael Cooney, Carl Harrison and Ezekiel Oliveira – map out the relentlessness and drudgery of a nine-to-five existence through square-bashing and repetitive hand gestures.

Artistic director Laurie Uprichard was appointed in 2007, but she hasn’t to date tinkered with the festivals formula: based at Project with headliners at the Abbey, a childrens programme with The Ark, screenings and workshops. Although arriving from the hotbed of New York, she also hasnt shifted the festivals aesthetics, which remain firmly rooted in European contemporary dance.

This year’s contributions from Quebec-based artists, like Danielle Levielle, Helene Blackburn and Jose Navas, slipstreamed into this programme. As funding opportunities decrease, support from international cultural agencies is more important than ever, but, so far, Uprichard has availed of that support without diluting her vision.

Judging by audience figures, Dublin Dance Festival’s transition from bi-annual to annual was smooth. Nothing feeds a festival like sold-out shows and the clever marketing of a well-balanced programme ultimately paid off. The challenge for Uprichard is in maintaining the current standard as funds decrease. But ending the fortnight with sold-out houses (in a recession) certainly gives hope for the future.