Demos: A filmed dance finally makes the stage – and sweaty in-the-fleshness wins out

Dublin Dublin Festival: Liz Roche Company’s piece explores togetherness and separation


O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin
Premiered as a film in May, Liz Roche Company's Demos has finally made the stage as first envisioned by the choreographer and her composer for this piece, David Coonan. An exploration of togetherness and separation that had been planned since 2018, it was finally created within the context of Covid self-isolation, so it could be superficially viewed as art imitating life. But Demos is altogether more universal than a lockdown lament.

Watching the action at last unfold on stage is undoubtedly welcome, but it can be hard to dispel first impressions. The camera’s lens allowed for close-ups whose details are impossible to spot from a theatre seat. But the film was in some ways a sterile, 2D representation of the energy created by live performance, unable to produce physical responses in the viewer the way hearing the screech of skin against floor, as a dancer slides to the ground at the O’Reilly Theatre, makes you wince. Live and filmed versions both have their merits, but sweaty in-the-fleshness will always win out.

The Crash Ensemble musicians' presence adds to the sense of shared connection as music and movement travel together through peaks and troughs

Aided by Coonan’s impressive score, played live and recorded by members of the Crash Ensemble, the dance feels less harnessed than Roche’s previous works. Each dancer’s trigger to move seems less a choreographic direction and more a reaction to other dancers, as energy and momentum are sparked between bodies and the dance develops an inner drive. At quieter moments, stillness magnifies the space between individuals, so that communal energy shuts down and separation becomes paramount. At one point a dancer stands and slowly moves his torso as others try to gently place a hand on him. This ducking and weaving to avoid touch grows until he is guided off the stage, fearful of being touched.

Although there is no direct interaction, the musicians' presence also adds to the sense of shared connection as music and movement travel together through peaks and troughs. These correlations are less successful during two sections of improvised music, where the score loses focus and connection to the choreography.

This is easily forgivable, though, because, overall, Demos equally celebrates connection and separation: the reassuring might of the collective and the ability of each individual to influence that power.

Runs until Saturday, November 13th, as part of Dublin Dance Festival