The disparate choreography featured in the first week of Dublin Dance Festival had one clear similarity: all spoke – with different voices – to some aspect of interpersonal relationships. Some positive, some negative, they all commanded attention to how self-motivation intersects with broader society, or even just another individual.
After RIOT's festival opening, audiences who heeded Pantibliss were well armed with personal affirmation, and this warm feeling of self-worth and supportive community was topped-up in Liz Roche Dance Company's mesmeric I/THOU (★★★★). A beautifully crafted meditation on connections between individuals, its original inspiration grew from a single yellow panel from artist Brian O'Doherty's One Here Now on the walls of Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh. Over a door, its muted tone and pleasing symmetry quietly contrasts with the busy bright reds, greens and blues on the other walls. Roche asked the dancers to physically respond to what they saw (a common theme was connections) and this act of individual empowerment led to a work rich through several layers, enhanced by the broad brushstrokes of Linda Buckley's music and Stephen Dodd's autumnal lighting. As individual movements led to group consensus, there was much to focus on, but much of the choreography centred on arms as connectors: reaching out, leading the movement or, in the case of a group dance, completely uninvolved, hanging heavy at the side as the dancers move.
In their unison movement they appear to share a common aim but are simply pursuing their own motivations
Less affirming was Roberto Castello's dark, monotonous portrayal of aspirational group-think, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (★★★★). Translated as "we go around at night and are consumed by fire" and set to a constantly thundering soundtrack, it presented four dancers on individual pursuit, insistent yet aimless. In their unison movement they appear to share a common aim – and occasionally interact – but are simply pursuing their own motivations. They are dressed in black, and their journey is captured by different frames of light that change perspective, but continually oppresses.
Liv O'Donoghue's bleak AFTER (★★★★), set at the climatic apocalypse, was performed on the day the Irish government announced a climate emergency. Two documentary makers film a couple at an isolated location waiting for the end of the world, and their unravelling relationship reveals conflicting senses of loss, regret, guilt, self-preservation and love.
Session (★★★★), a new collaboration between ex-Riverdance star Colin Dunne and Belgian-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, is ostensibly a collaboration exploring the intersection between movement and sound. But what shines through is the power of communality, most simply of just being together. Along with composer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Gallen and sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta, they sing and dance together, but it is away from the instruments and dancefloor that most warmth is found. Sitting together on the couch, Dunne and Cherkaoui play a version of charades or entwine their legs in a duet that suggests childish boredom. Their self-deprecation opens up a goofy world as Cherkaoui plays with a theremin, but then the action segues into stunning dancing.
The ending might appear a bit laddish as the four returned to the place that they began the show
A duet for Dunne and Gallen featured razor-sharp unison between step shoes and prepared piano. The different pitches of heel thuds or light toes are in perfect synchronicity with the clanky piano sounds in constantly changing rhythms. Elsewhere a lilting piano riff in groups of seven provides a base for a beautifully flowing solo by Cherkaoui.
The ending might appear a bit laddish as the four returned to the place that they began the show. Eschewing the poetic images sung in the beginning they instead bemoan “all the f**king noise”. On one hand, it could be seen as an appeal to ignore ugliness outside the theatre, but after all the warmth and fun onstage it feels a bit jarring.