It is November, the month of Samhain, the ancient Celtic festival marking the transition from summer to the darker days of winter. But a pop-up live winter edition of the Dublin Dance Festival (DDF) should lighten spirits
Three of the four companies performing throughout the month are local, but the mini-festival is headlined by Compagnie Maguy Marin, which is set to infuse this winter edition under its director, the dancer and choreographer Maguy Marin. She is a veteran and quiet warrior of modern dance, first in her native France in the 1980s with a group of likeminded artists and then acclaimed internationally. Her mix of innovation, collaborations, risk-taking, political conscience and passion for the art form sometimes divides audiences but she always acts on her principles, continuing to test boundaries. The company will present her iconic work, May B, an homage to Samuel Beckett, first produced 30 years ago, a type of homecoming with this Dublin premiere.
Marin’s relationship with Beckett began when she was a young dancer with the Bejart Ballet in Brussels. “As a classical dancer I was drawn to the texts; I thought he was very aware of the human body, like me.” In his work, she also found an affirmation for the notion that all human bodies are not models of idealised perfection, in fact often the reverse and she wanted to experiment with that difference. The affinity continued and she approached Beckett seeking permission to use the texts as a basis for making a dance piece. “I think,” Marin continues, speaking from Paris where she is premiering a new work, “that he agreed and indeed encouraged me, even though I was young and unknown, because I was coming from that angle, from that focus on the body and movement. I was looking at this instinctively, as a dancer and choreographer and he might not have been approached in this way before, well certainly not in France.”
What became May B did not happen overnight. “I was then developing as an artist and person, immersing myself in Beckett’s texts as I created the piece...it took me 10 years to finally get there.”
May B is not an interpretation of any one play, and includes as Marin was quick to point out, “only one line of text, the opening of Endgame”. Familiar figures like Hamm or Pozzo will emerge from the raggle taggle cast of characters as dance, gesture and music lead the way. Schubert, a favourite of Beckett and the more contemporary Gavin Bryars will be the main composers. “As in dance I always feel the musicality and the poetry in his work and loved that precision. Look at Quad,” she exclaims, “it’s like a dance.”
Marin continued to feel his influence in several works that followed, specifically in her adaptation of his Worstward Ho. “I like the way he would play with and explore the concept of exhausting possibility.” She references the French theorist and philosopher Gilles Deleuze who had also noted this trait in Beckett. “All that relentless excavating, to find the variations within,” and then she laughs “and the humour…think of Molloy and the stones.” For audiences here who missed the only other Irish performance of this resonant work in Enniskillen in 2015, it will be a revelation, evoking the human and the uncertain.
Marin’s alignment with the marginalised, prompting the relocation of her studio mid-career to a disadvantaged area of Lyon, seems to reverberate in the work of Catherine Young and her festival show, Floating on a Dead Sea. The work emanates from her visits to Palestine, her work with local dancers and her observations on everyday life, the constraints and transgressions, the resilience and joy. Again, with connective threads to Marin, she reflects on the uncomfortable, on the unequal realities of the body politic. As well as a piece exploring the policy and reality of direct provision, Welcoming the Stranger focuses on the migrant experience. Commissioned as part of the 1916 centenary commemoration events, this work was then invited to open the Ramallah Dance festival. Her shared experience of life there through her work with local dancers, the challenge of conserving their traditional culture prompted her to make a documentary film and a stage work commissioned by DDF in partnership with Backstage Theatre. A collaboration with Palestinian dancers now resident in Ireland is matched with the ghostly presence of recorded remote partnering with dancers in Ramallah.
“It’s a hybrid,” Young says, “dance, film, spoken word and music. These last two years of creating bridges and connections in lockdown have been extraordinary; auditions on rooftops over zoom, rehearsing remotely.”
Young often refers to this work as “bearing witness” and The Misunderstanding of Myrrha, by Junk Ensemble, is also a form of giving testament. This commissioned festival piece is a collaboration for dancemakers Megan and Jessica Kennedy with visual artist Alice Maher and composer Denis Clohessy as they reimagine the Greek myth of the accursed Myrrha. Destined through the trickery of the goddess Aphrodite to fall in love with her father and bear a child Adonis with him, Myrrha’s fate was included in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a series of mythic tales of gods and transformations.
This notion of transformation becomes central to this vivid retelling; the fleeing Myrrha is further mistreated by the gods and turned into a tree, her tears of shame now its seeping resin. The visualisation of woman as tree is not literal, but Alice Maher’s intricate design of silver birches aloft a pillar promises to galvanise audiences. They will follow Myrrha, in her once muted female voice telling her own story as she moves through cycles of grief, shame, trauma and hope. Megan Kennedy notes that performer Julie Koenig in the role of Myrrha is “the perfect mix of strength and vulnerability”. The piece is underlined by Clohessy’s score, which is played mainly on organ, the instrument’s textured layers promising to capture the tones from shame to hope or as Jessica Kennedy suggests, “we will feel with her and be with her on her journey through and beyond her trauma”.
Demos, Liz Roche’s offering also has a Greek subtext, invoking the ancient civilisation’s sense of democracy, collective and shared place. “I was always interested in making a piece which explores the dynamic and the patterns which emerge when groups of dancers and musicians interact and engage together,” she says. Crash Ensemble, for whom a score was specially written by David Coonan, are her collaborators for the project. And while the work was viewed in the summer digital festival, Roche notes, “I really wanted that physical presence”.
She is very conscious of the recent absence of touch and speaks of feeling moved by dancers “even standing close together”. She recalls too “as a dancer I always loved to be moving with other dancers; I loved the energy, the cueing one off the other. I always felt we were crossing a line together”. Yet, she admits retaining fragments rehearsed during the period of restriction. “I discovered I wanted to hold on to that tension created by that distancing.”
As for the music, presence is a huge factor: “With Crash Ensemble, the interaction of these musicians with the dancers and Crash’s own great sense of performance is vital to the piece.” Although not quite on the scale she had dreamed of, “demos will still feature eight dancers and three musicians live on stage”, she says, “amazing”.
Jazmin Chiodi is the newly appointed director of the dance festival. Appointed during the pandemic she is “delighted to inherit the legacy of this winter edition, left to me by Benjamin Perchet and I really look forward to celebrating again the uniqueness of the performance space and to connecting with our festival audiences”.
The Winter Edition Dublin Dance Festival runs from November 2nd to 27th