Company’s latest offering transforms everyday struggles and mutual supports into spectacle
It is just before lunchtime at CoisCéim’s studio off O’Connell Street and the dancers are running through steps for a scene from Pageant, the company’s new show, which has been choreographed by David Bolger and Muirne Bloomer.
Bolger and Bloomer are in the thick of it, but on the rehearsal floor they are just another two bodies among seven; they are dancers as well as choreographers for Pageant, which transforms everyday life into spectacle.
The atmosphere is relaxed and remarkably democratic. As the men play out their parts, their female partners correct them, count them back to time, and make suggestions. The women are corrected in turn when the spotlight is on them.
“Keep it weighted,” is a popular refrain. “Am I doing that wrong?” a repeated question. The ensemble are rehearsing without music, but they are listening to each other’s bodies instead, using the mirrors that line one side of the studio to keep time together.
As lunchtime approaches, frustration gives way to focus, and the dancers start from the beginning of the scene again.
This time an original Latin composition from Ivan Birthistle provides a soundscape to the physical drama of personal struggle and mutual support that the dancers play out in a series of simultaneously unfolding duets.
In its raw rehearsal form, there are no costumes, set or lighting to give clues to a narrative unfolding, but there is something instantly relatable about the bodies’ alternate jostlings and leanings-in. Is this balance of togetherness and individuality not the essence of human relationships?
Table of origin
As the dancers break for lunch, Bolger and Bloomer discuss the origins of Pageant. “It was actually at a table like this that I first had the idea,” Bolger says, indicating the spread of mugs around us. The pair were working on the opening ceremony for the Special Olympics in 2003, which they had been commissioned to orchestrate.
“We were sitting around the kitchen table using domestic props to figure out the flow and pattern of the movement on a microcosmic level,” he says. “And I was documenting all this in my journal. A couple of years later I came back to it, and thought this idea of ordinary objects standing in for something bigger was really interesting.
“But what if we approached it backwards, traced the large idea of the pageant back to the ordinary, to domestic life.”
Bolger called Bloomer and the pair began discussions and improvisations for the performance that would become Pageant, with a public showing in workshop form as part of Culture Night last year.
At first the duo were unsure they would dance within the piece as well as create it.
“It is difficult,” Bolger admits, “to choreograph and direct from within, but because the whole idea of the show [takes its inspiration from everyday life], the subject matter needs to come back to the story of the dancers, the story of the show, the history we carry with us, and us as a natural part of it.”
“It also helps that there are two of us,” Bloomer interjects, “It makes it easier that we can take turns in stepping out – but because of the nature of the piece the other dancers are involved in the conversation, too. We are not just handing down the choreography to them, they bring themselves to it as well.”
During the interview Bolger and Bloomer communicate in gestures and glances that betray a shared history. They have known each other since they were teenagers and have been dancing together for over 20 years, so the dynamic is relaxed. Bloomer is happy to let Bolger do most of the talking, but her interjections are full of pithy assessments of their work together.
“One of the things that defines Pageant, I suppose,” Bolger says, “is the fact the dancers we are working with – and ourselves, of course – are all what you would call mid-career dancers, and dancers we have worked with many times over the years. It is really important we all know each other so well, because the whole nature of the show is about life experience, really – family, children, love, loss – and they have that whole range of living and none of us is afraid to to bring to the table.”
“There it is: the table again,” Bloomer jokes, referring to the piece of domestic furniture that has morphed from Pageant’s physical starting point into an important metaphor for the show.
But lunchtime is over now, so the pair push back their chairs from the table. They stand up and stretch languidly and return to work with the rest of the dancers.
Pageant is at Civic Theatre, Tallaght on March 12th, Draíocht, Blanchardstown on March 14th, and Town Hall Theatre, Galway on March 19th