Irish Timeswriters take a look at the world of arts

Draíocht, Blanchardstown

Tackling the concept of the consequences of human actions is an ambitious aim for a piece of contemporary dance that transcends time. How do you convey the idea that there are consequences to actions if there is no clock ticking away marking the time between them?

Strictly speaking, the Derry-based company Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company doesn't really achieve this. What it does achieve is a sense of a very diverse group - Steve Batts, Ursula Laeubli, Noam Carmei, Ayesha Mailey, Daniel Weaver and Emily Welther - held together by their interactions.

Choreographed by Wolfgang Hoffmann, Consequences feels like a group of students in a shared house: each projects a strong individuality and style, as well as an oddly lighthearted sense of seriousness not yet weighed down by the responsibilities of adulthood. A stage mapped out in graphic shapes by construction-site tape (design by Raiko Epperlein) includes a stool and writing desk and a table and two chairs - all seats very low, also indicating a sense of youth.

Daniel Weaver frequently added to his own sound design by playing live on a slightly out-of-tune electric guitar - underscoring the student digs atmosphere: warm, relaxed, familiar.

Several sequences stand out, however, to underscore a theme of consequence: two dancers wrap themselves in a length of dark blue cloth until they are both trapped in the middle; unable to move, they topple to the ground. The female dancer, once the man has freed himself, continues to squirm about like a wounded seal. Another has a man and a woman in discussion building to argument as two other dancers wrap them in cassette tape. Once finished arguing, they cannot move and must tear themselves loose.

The most spectacular element of the piece came after this, as the man, left alone by all his fellow dancers, remains sitting at the table by the back wall, against which a projection shows him as if in a daydream. The woman with whom he has just argued, as well as all the rest, all floating in and out of the moving image.

This segment was superbly accomplished - the piece could nicely have accommodated more of the same. Christine Madden

RTÉ Cór na nÓg

RTÉ NSO/Markson

NCH, Dublin

Humperdinck - Hansel and Gretel

Eduard Hanslick, one of the most celebrated music critics of the 19th century, was no fan of Wagner and his operas. So a negative verdict on Engelbert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel, a work with an undeniably large debt to Wagner, was to be expected when Hanslick reviewed the work in 1894 in Vienna, where, he dutifully recorded, it was as rapturously received as it had already been in Germany.

Hanslick describes Humperdinck's new opera as having had "a success such as no other German opera has enjoyed since Nessler's Trompeter von Säckingen," a work which clocked up over 900 performances. And he quotes the view of Wagner's son Siegfried that Humperdinck had written "the most important opera since Parsifal". For Hanslick that was "An irritating pronouncement, and the worst of it is - that it is true."

Many of Hanslick's reservations are still pertinent, but the music's charm has proved more potent and long-lasting than I suspect he would either have liked or predicted. But Hansel and Gretel, with fully grown singers taking the roles of the children, and frequent contradictions between the weightiness of musical tone and the lightness of dramatic content, still presents considerable challenges.

Friday's concert performance by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under Gerhard Markson was more a demonstration of, rather than a solution to, the issues involved. However, Wagnerian the music may be, there's a lightness of touch needed in handling the oh-so-familiar fairy-tale material. Markson's po-faced approach, and weighty orchestral presentation was sadly matched by the over-projection of Mairéad Buicke's Gretel, whose basically pleasant voice simply fatigued the ear when used with such unyielding consistency of volume.

Fiona Murphy's Hansel was less loud, and modulated with a little more variety. But neither of the leads managed to inject any persuasive child-like qualities into their singing. Make no mistake, the singing was strong. But it was all terribly unsubtle.

The work was done in English, and, paradoxically, it was a singer born in Munich, mezzo soprano Yvonne Fontane as the witch, who brought plausible variety of expression to the words. Owen Gilhooly blustered in a kind of pantomime way as the Father and Deirdre Cooling-Nolan was largely incomprehensible as the Mother. The contribution of the young voices of RTÉ Cór na nÓg was delivered with affecting sweetness. Michael Dervan

Beth Nielson Chapman


In a cannily re-vamped venue, more spacious and minimalist than before, Beth Nielson Chapman brought a knapsack full of shiny baubles, all the better to brighten these ever-shrinking days. The venue still suffers from significant sound interference from the front bar and temperatures uncomfortably low for a Friday night in December, but with her 6 piece band, Nielson Chapman creates a full and fulsome sound.

Her own guitar and keyboards buffeted by the hard grafting of her son, Ernest, on keyboards and backing vocals, her daughter-in-law on bass and sundry percussion and a sinuous mix of flute, whistle and electric guitar. She's a musician hell-bent on catching the zeitgeist, imbuing her music with a search for soulfulness that grates every bit as much as it soothes.

With her latest double album, Prism, to draw from, Nielson Chapman runs magpie-like through the gamut of world affairs, in neat medley, ranging from Shalom Alecheim to Bhavani and Bad-e Saba.

Nielson Chapman seems to covet the clothing of everyone bar herself. Crossing the all-American MOR balladry of Years, Every December Skyand Seven Shades Of Bluewith a formless kind of spiritual search suggests a musician who'll follow any path, as long as it's different to the one she's travelled before.

Nielson Chapman's greatest strength lies in a voice that's part Jennifer Warnes, part Shania Twain. When she decides to rock out, she does it better and with more originality that many of her contemporaries, but such interludes are all too rare in a set that's burdened by so much meaningfulness that it might belong in a church hall.

She confides that All I Havehas been the perfect backdrop to countless marriages and numerous conceptions. It says it all. Chris de Burgh might have made the same claim about Lady In Redin his day, but such saccharine does little more than induce diabetes over prolonged exposure. Too worthy for words, Nielson Chapman's musical compass is so right on that she's in danger of losing her own identity in her rush towards nirvana. Siobhán Long