Actions: An Evening of Men in Motion

It may lack focus, but this performance of past dances side by side is razor-sharp

Actions: An Evening of Men in Motion
Peacock, Dublin

It's a shame we don't see more nights of repertory from Irish dance companies. Opportunities to glimpse at back catalogues have been rare since Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre operated as a repertory troupe in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, companies are constantly presenting new works – thankfully – but apart from one or two revivals, audiences can rarely view past works side by side. Actions: an Evening of Men in Motion gives a more textured view of John Scott's artistic make-up, showing influences as well as choreographic development.

His past works, The Bowing Dance (2001) and Actions (2009) are joined by Irish premieres of The Big Message, which Scott created with dancer Kevin Coquelard in 2012, and Merce Cunningham's Totem Ancestor (1942). Similar subtexts arise – such as self and other, male identity, and script versus improvisation – but what unites all four is a healthy irreverence for theatrical convention.

Cunningham, who died in 2009, was a soft-spoken provocateur who believed that music wasn’t just a metronome for movement, or staging merely decor. Instead, all of the elements had equal independent existence onstage, and typically the first time his dancers would hear the music was on opening night.


Totem Ancestor, beautifully performed by Ashley Chen, is a finely polished gem. All of the movement takes place on a diagonal line, as Chen moves with careful steps punctuated by virtuosic jumps from kneeling to crouching.

The Bowing Dance, perhaps Scott's signature piece, has a simple, but oddly hilarious, premise of the choreographer embodying two characters who describe and perform simple actions. The Big Message is not as lean in its material, as Kevin Coquelard physically splutters out his hopes, dreams and regrets just before the Earth is struck by a meteor.

It may lack focus, but Actions is razor-sharp, as double act Chen and Philip Connaughton chat, dance short snippets and generally act the maggot, as if alone, but at the same time knowing that the audience is watching. A final duet to Meredith Monk's vocalisations and stony-faced departures from either side of the stage suggest more at play beneath the laughs. It's perfectly judged in the conception and superbly performed. Ends Saturday

Michael Seaver

Michael Seaver

Michael Seaver, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a dance critic and musician