Dublin Dance Festival: there's a movement going on

Highlights include ‘Giselle’, Robyn Orlin, ‘Ion’ and, of course, dancing AI

Akram Khan's Giselle with the English National Ballet and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre provided an unusually lavish opening to this year's Dublin Dance Festival. After that production closes on Sunday night, the festival's more modestly scaled programme will kick off. The first highlight is undoubtedly choreographer Robyn Orlin's solo for Albert Khoza. "Don't miss it!" festival director Benjamin Perchet said to me last week. As if.

Orlin is a hugely political artist, fearless in the face of authority and dismissive of comfortable conformity. A white South African, she has created works for Paris Opera Ballet as well as in Johannesburg townships, through the years targeting apartheid, Aids and South Africa's broken democracy.

Her titles are loathed by word count-deprived critics, but she claims they are a way for audiences to enter her world. Khoza's solo is called And so you see . . . our honourable blue sky and ever-enduring sun . . . can only be consumed slice by slice . . . (but her most memorable title is Daddy, I've seen this piece six times before and I still don't know why they're hurting each other . . .). Some have railed against her directness – subtle she ain't – a trait she blames on her nationality.

Christos Papadopoulos's Elvedon was a surprise hit of last year's festival, a slowly evolving study in fluid collective motion, inspired by Virginia Woolf's novel The Waves. The Greek choreographer returns this year with the company that he co-founded – Leon & the Wolf – in Ion, another exploration of movement dynamics between bodies. Ions are unbalanced atoms that react to their immediate environment, and the piece explores unconscious group movement and the minuscule shifts and adjustments that affect the overall pattern.


Starting point

In contrast, Lea Moro takes still life painting as a starting point for (b)reaching stillness, a study in non-religious forms of resurrection set to, and often in opposition to, Mahler's Resurrection Symphony.

Those who see Patricia Guerrero's Catedral can bank their bragging rights and in the future claim they saw her perform when she was only 27. A rising star in the constantly evolving flamenco tradition, her Catedral depicts a woman coming face-to-face with religious and social realities. There'll be more boasting after Yvonne Rainer's visit at Imma. She was a seminal figure in New York's 1960s post-modern dance movement, and this is rare opportunity to see three of her classic works and hear her pre-performance talks.

Irish artists include Oona Doherty (Hard To Be Soft – A Belfast Prayer), Liz Roche (Wrongheaded) and Junk Ensemble (Dolores) as well as the ever-popular First Look programme, where audiences get a sneak peek at new work. This year it features Ruairí Donovan, Jessie Keenan and the Tipperary-based Iseli-Chiodi Dance Company.

A screening of Akram Khan's film Can We Live With Robots? will investigate how we can live with robots and engage with artificial intelligence. If that idea appeals to you, then head to see Dancing Artificial Intelligence at the Science Gallery. It is, according to the programme, "more than a robot" and is learning how to dance through interacting with people. Another film, Bobbi Jo Hart's Rebels on Pointe, tells the story of the all-male Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and will whet appetites for their visit to Dublin next October.

Rich pickings

As ever, there are rich pickings off the main programme, with family events including Emma O'Kane's A Life of Play, a performance project for children and grandparents, and Phillipe Saire's Hocus Pocus at the Ark. The ever-popular Top 8 Street Dance Battle celebrates street culture in Meeting House Square, while in Ballymun, Philippa Donnellan and dancer Lee Clayden will create BODY OF WORK/ What's the story? with members of the local community.

Last year, following #WakingTheFeminists, attention turned to gender bias in festivals, and in DDF’s programme male choreographers outnumbered female (although historically there has been a healthy 50:50 split). This year Perchet draws attention to the fact that the main programme features seven female choreographers and four males.

Dublin Dance Festival runs until May 20. More at dublindancefestival.ie