Night Dances: Raucous, loud and sweaty, this is a thrilling hour of relentless dancing and music

Dublin Theatre Festival: Emma Martin shows us that the best response to a challenge is to dance back

Night Dances: Robyn Byrne, Jessie Thompson and Aoife McAtamney in Emma Martin’s production. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland


National Stadium, Dublin
It isn't just visceral payback that causes the opening night's standing ovation, the shared sense of joy and release after a thrilling hour of relentless dancing and music. Night Dances is raucous, loud and sweaty, but the choreographer Emma Martin is no rhetorician and too restless an artist to present just moves.

Instead she carefully frames the non-narrative action, allowing previous creations to seep through. Most obvious are the white horse and rider standing outside the venue, as in the closing frames of her short film I Am Ireland, from 2020. Less obvious is how the dancing body can bypass logical thought to connect to the self, which she explored in Dancehall, in 2015. Underlying most of her work is the way society and religion imprint on the body, particularly the female body, usually through manipulating conventions and iconography into instruments of control.

Night Dances meets these confrontations head on with intensity and intent. Javier Ferrer Machin’s opening solo slowly builds in silence, as if searching for its own rhythm, his body shifting weight and twisting until it crescendoes into a pumping groove of bouncy, flailing arms.

A wonderfully controlled solo by Ryan O'Neill offers a brief respite from the increasing momentum as his slowed-down gyrations magnify details normally blurred in real time

He is joined by five 10- to 14-year-old members of Dance Republic Carlow – Rebekah Boyle, Syesha Lilly Byrne, Millie Rose D’Arcy, Maria Lemos and Olivia Walsh – as Daniel Fox’s music picks up the momentum with sternum-thumping beats and wilful distortion. The excellent young dancers respond with a long sequence of joyously executed freestyle steps, a sense of solidarity solidified through their relentless unison and supportive glances.


A wonderfully controlled solo by Ryan O’Neill offers a brief respite as his slowed-down gyrations magnify details normally blurred in real time. Here is the strongest sense of responding to the music as his outstretched arms embrace the sound coming into his moving body.

A final trio of dancers – Robyn Byrne, Jessie Thompson and Aoife McAtamney – slowly enter with veiled fabric covering their heads. As they begin dancing they shake these off, often violently, as if caught in a trap, and that metaphoric release sparks a rousing breathless final sequence. The best response, they show us, is just to dance back.

Runs at the National Stadium until Saturday, October 16th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival; also livestreamed on Friday, October 15th, then available on demand until Saturday, October 23rd