Dublin Dance Festival review: the body politic comes to the fore

Migration and exile are unlikely themes for a dance festival, but they are clearly in evidence during the opening days of DDF

A couple of images stay in the mind from the opening days of the Dublin Dance Festival, after striking performances that are lessons in strong, visual, moving sculpture. There is also an edge to the performances, a body politic, addressing personal and public concerns.

In Patricia Apergi's work Planites, performer by her Greek Aerites Dance Company at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, the enduring image is of five men in retreat, slowly receding to the back of the stage and then casually rising to frenzied movement. The dancers empty their trouser pockets, and from the crevices of their shoes and shirts, their secret hiding places, the stage is strewn with small material memories and talismans. This is not the plundered gold from ancient mythic wars and voyages but the ordinary collection of stuff that keeps the wanderer connected to the home place: a piece of twisted wire, a torn letter or photo, a crumpled photo, a rag doll, a coin, a shell, or maybe a polished stone.

Liz Roche's new work Time Over Distance Over Time, presented in the new open space, The Complex, closes with a parallel image of separation. Fragments of life-size photographs are placed on the stage by the disappearing dancers, all the pieces are present but the physical embodiment of the person is quietly absent.

This theme of migration and exile, of distance and rupture, haunts both of these major works, one almost mythic, the other more contemporary. The Greek ensemble work is more elemental, with five male dancers eloquently creating vignettes of life on the road, propelled forward by unknown circumstance. They create a sense of community carried with them into a new world; they are perhaps a village or tribe, bringing a shared cultural idiom, of folk dance ritual, the echo of a song and other remembered exploits.


At one stage, one dancer takes on the character of an elder, complaining of a bad leg, and then cajoled into reliving his youthful exuberant dancing skills. Their spirits are raised with a mix of jesting and relieved awe. The movement and the pulsating score is relentless; the dancers thrust forward from pelvis and hip, shoulder and neck. With a change of gesture they can create new scenarios: a raised arm can transform a moment of shared fear into one of defiance, pleading for acceptance or demanding of rights. Apergi allows the dancers’ bodies to articulate the message and they use them passionately as we watch dignity crushed and vulnerability exposed. These are familiar images given the current migrant and refugee crisis, and the picture of these five men bonded together in crumpled retreat is powerful.

Bonding becomes a necessity in times of impending separation. The impressive circle created by Roche’s ensemble of six dancers, two men and four women, is bolstered with strong-arm wrapping, closing off any breaches as they spin around. This reflective work is a contemporary perspective on generation emigration, a philosophical approach to the question of distance and time. Her intuitive collaboration with the technology that shortens and underlines distance demonstrates how it can also create additional layers of anxieties for those dependent on it to communicate.

Film and sound designers Luca Truffarelli and Jared Donovan, lighting partner Aideen Malone and composer Ray Harman serve the choreographer well. We are watching facetime and skyping syndrome, flecked with crossed wires and disordered meaning. Dancers voice the familiar, unsettling heartbreak of misunderstanding: "Did you hear that?";"Oh that's better"; "Never mind I will call back." Here again, the dancers represent real and imagined divided communities; families sundered, friendships shelved, siblings separated.

There are wonderful seesawing movements in duets and ensemble moves, mirroring the the ebb and flow of certainty. As Apergi’s ensemble shoulder each other, so do Roche’s dancers cling and embrace, communication needing touch and reassurance in all its manifestations.

Memories are re-enacted here too, the need to relive in the mind, to bring the past with you, to question the motivation for staying or leaving. Memories can of course be unwittingly appropriated, overworked or erroneous. Roche revisits her fascination with photographic memory and portrait, how our visual memory can add or erase people in a recalled photograph, and it’s all beautifully rendered.

Some of that visual magic in these works is also to the fore in two other shows this week. Katherine O' Malley's Bias is a more private questioning, an interior challenge pitting her own body against the environment, in filmed and live performances. There is a shifting landscape of a low tide seashore, where she steadfastly walks out to the horizon. In a series of print dresses she reimagines her shape against rocky outcrops or long grass, as if to understand how best to change or gain perspective. It is a very polished piece of collaboration with filmmaker Mark Linnane and Daragh Dukes' soundscape.

More environmental changes, futuristic and transformative, are evident in Fernando Belfiore's colourful presence in his short solo show at Project, AL13FB<3. Again we see the symbolic power in the possibilities of change with physical everyday objects. Belfiore battens a piece of silver foil as if it were steel, with a speed and dexterity that creates a collision of colour, sparking in the air.