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Minseach review: Sibéal Davitt embodies carefree wildness with sean-nós and contemporary dancing

Dance: Minseach’s unsettled structure reflects Davitt’s own hazy identity as an artist


Project Arts Centre

Minseach is a solo dance work by Sibéal Davitt that struggles to find its identity. Moods swing, movement sequences are abandoned midstream, and drama lurches in different directions throughout the 50 minutes. Yet that uncertainty is its very point.

Minseach’s unsettled structure reflects Davitt’s own hazy identity as an artist: a sean-nós dancer, she also holds a master’s degree in contemporary dance. Balancing all the influences in her dancing is a constant artistic concern, particularly when drawing on the tradition of sean-nós.

A form of Irish dance, it allows complete freedom, the stomping feet contrasting with soft arms and torso. There is none of the rod-straight arms seen in competitive dance, or indeed the rules and regulations. Sean-nós dance, like sean-nós singing, is rooted in individuality and freedom of expression. So how is that individuality compromised when it becomes a form of entertainment?

The TG4 talent show Glas Vegas, which Davitt won in 2009, is a touchstone throughout Minseach. Projected on to white blinds at the back of the stage, clips show a younger Davitt in full look-at-me performance mode. The glitzy aesthetic is reflected in Molly O’Cathain’s tinselly set, hanging strands of plastic strips evoking cheerleaders’ pom-poms. Five different sized boxes that serve as mini stages evoke a daytime television gameshow.


Interviewed on Glas Vegas, Davitt expresses wide-eyed hopes for viewers to look past competitive Irish dance and Riverdance to discover sean-nós. Looking back now, she can see the obvious tension between packaging sean-nós for general entertainment and its essence in freedom and self-identity.

She answers through her dancing. Towards the end, Davitt turns her back to the audience and remains still, apart from her bare shoulders, which perform a beautifully articulate dance punctuated by shoulder blades that glide under her skin from spine to arms. Here it is as if she has transferred her dancing feet to her shoulders.

Various solos come and go, from confidently driven steps and contemporary-dance sequences backed by thumping music, to a precarious solo on a sponge-topped small box. Davitt needs to constantly adjust her balance as her feet sink into the sponge, all the time reaching upwards with her hands. She is literally struggling on uncertain ground as a jig quietly plays in the background. It is one of several depictions of vulnerability that Davitt is unafraid to express. Later she contradicts a voice-over that describes her as confident, both socially and artistically.

Minseach is the Irish for a she-goat, which Davitt portrays literally and hilariously at one point. More generally she embodies its carefree wildness and weirdness. But a quick switch of letters creates the word misneach, meaning courage, which she has to constantly find.

The crux of the performance lies in two heartfelt dances to a reel by Cormac Begley, one in a contemporary style full of gorgeous tiny movements of her arms completely embodying the music throughout her body, the other in a wonderfully fluid and free sean-nós style. Staying true to herself as a person, it seems, will provide the artistic ballast for aesthetic conundrums that might come Davitt’s way.

Minseach is at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, until Wednesday, December 13th

Michael Seaver

Michael Seaver

Michael Seaver, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a dance critic and musician