Invitation to a Journey

July 22, 2016

Photo Credit:Ros Kavanagh

An Alchemy of Stars

****

Collaborative ventures between companies are often risky affairs. Too often their collaboration amounts to little more than a sequence of individually distinct works gathered under the same umbrella, something akin to an art exhibition featuring a series of individual images and scenes thematically linked. What’s fascinating about “Invitation to a Journey,” a collaborative project by Crash Ensemble, Fishamble:The New Play Company and CoisCéim Dance Theatre, along with The Galway International Arts Festival, is the manner in which it strives to create something that honours its individual disciplines of music, dance and theatre, but allows their merging to craft something fresh and exhilarating. The result is one in which, while each disciplines remains distinct, the whole has a feeling of a work by a single artist. A strikingly touching and theatrical production which, if occasionally restricted by its collaborative shackles, sufficiently and consistently transcends them to create something wonderfully unique.

With its embarrassment of riches on display, this collaborative effort is perhaps the only fitting way to pay tribute to the architect and designer Eileen Gray, herself fiercely independent yet often working collaboratively, living a life longer and larger than many. “Invitation to a Journey” leaves the facts of Gray’s life to a detailed chronology at the back of the programme, encouraging those who want to know more to visit the permanent exhibition of her work at The National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks Dublin. Instead, it prioritizes her spirit and ideals. A spirit which saw the Irish born Gray make Paris her home, live through two world wars and Paris of the twenties as well as engaging in practices not traditionally associated with women of the time such as aviation, architecture and design. A trailblazer, openly bi-sexual, her name rose to international prominence in 2009 when one of her chairs, once owned by Yves Saint Laurent, sold for over 21 million euro, making it the most expensive piece of 20th century design every sold. A Modernist at heart, Gray worked right up to the end, dying in 1976 at the age of 98.

Jointly directed by choreographer David Bolger and Olivier Award winning theatre director Jim Culleton, there’s a strong sense of both directors finding common ground in Gray’s passion for exploring the body’s relationship to space and objects. The space and objects in this instance being excellently realised, in accordance with Gray’s Modernist sensibilities, in a stunning set design by Maree Kearns. Both set and movement are wonderfully enhanced by a powerfully evocative lighting design by Sinead Mckenna. Gavin Kostick’s fragmented script crafts individual moments like links in a necklace, with each pearl crammed with details that encapsulate aspects of Gray’s life and her relationships, with the scene between Gray and her lover Damia being a masterclass is economy, power and precision. Wild, passionate, subtle, Deirdre Gribbin’s original score runs the gamut from tribal percussion, to discordant, offering a cinematic sweep that feels at times like a soundtrack channelling both Evan Parker and Bernard Hermann.

True to the collaborative spirit of “Invitation to a Journey” the programme makes no distinction between actor, musician and dancer, designating all as performer. Which is only apt as musicians move through the space, dancers speak and actors execute choreographed movements. Yet each is primarily a master of their craft and dancers Justine Cooper, Ivonne Kalte and Emma O’Kane, often mirrored and mirroring, execute a wonderfully choreographed series of movements built upon an angularity of the body and arms, with the twine sequence being particularly outstanding. Musicians Kate Ellis, who also serves as Musical Director, along with Alex Petcu, Maria Ryan and Deirdre O’Leary were individually and collectively excellent. As were actors Ronan Leahy, Kate Stanley Brennan and Ingrid Craigie, each delivering wonderful nuanced performances.

“Invitation to a Journey” has much to offer those not necessarily interested in Gray. Thematically there’s an exploration of the artist and the fraud, the real and the reproduced, the power plays in relationships and of women striving to assert their identities in a world dominated by men. Theatrically, “Invitation to a Journey” is a visual and audial feast. At times it risks becoming a little too busy in terms of what it might do next, of looking inventive for the sake of being inventive. Thankfully David Bolger and Jim Culleton reign this in, always returning to the heart of the matter. Ultimately, the overwhelming sense is one of some incredible talents working together, stepping back in kindness at times, asserting their own identities and disciplines at others, crafting a unique theatrical experience that, like Gray and her work, is passionate, brilliant, visually stunning while always pushing the boundaries of the possible. A must see.

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© 2016 Chris O'Rourke