Photo credits: Luca Truffarelli
A powerful Double Bill plays with frames
The individual pieces that comprise the dance 'Double Bill' at The Project Arts Centre, 'Wrongheaded' by Dublin based Liz Roche Company, and 'Hope Hunt' by Belfast choreographer Oona Doherty, share quite a lot in common. Both performances begin less with a bang than a whimper, both play with the framing of their performances, each manages to address issues of particular concern to women and each is unapologetically visceral, powerful and thought provoking.
'Hope Hunt' by Oona Doherty, begins as a black VW Golf, thumping beats through its speakers, pulls up next to the audience standing outside the Project Arts Centre. Well, maybe not quite thumping beats, more like moderately loud, whose power never quite ignites and dissipates as the speakers begin to issue words of dialogue not everyone can hear. Just as it all begins to look like a good idea gone horribly wrong, regulated to complete ineffectiveness, Doherty emerges from the car. And she’s taking no prisoners. Part hip hop, part contemporary dance, part masculine posturing, a male looking Doherty begins dancing through the street, owning it, claim it as her own, defying anyone who has a problem with her to bring it on, challenging them with a stare, a grunt, her body. The visceral count is high as passers-by, unsure if Doherty is a Temple Bar trouble maker or an artist in performance, keep moving with eyes averted as Doherty tries make eye contact and follows them. Daring and dangerous, the sequence ends and Doherty howls at the uneasy audience, intimidating them into the venue for the rest of her distillation of the male.
Once inside, with Doherty safely tucked behind the theatrical frame, the audience seem visibly relieved as she begins her powerful alchemy of breath, body, sound and movement in an effort to channel the male. She races across the stage, pausing to develop sound and gestural patterns overflowing with a frenetic and ferocious energy as Doherty bridges the gap from scheissee to shell suit to Chelsea. Inside the space, music is louder, and Chris McCorry’s remix of Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ opens up a multiplicity of possibilities. If a long sequence with voices and Gregorian chants overstays its welcome a little, and the end fade to black is a little too convenient, in between Doherty’s violent, vicious and vulnerable male sees his hope turn into a howl. like the wail of a wounded animal, in a truly essential and unrelenting experience.
A howl of a different kind emerges in 'Wrongheaded.' A collaborative effort between poet Elaine Freeney, choreographer Liz Roche and film maker Mary Wycherley, the howl in question being Ginsberg’s ‘Howl,’ with the whole feeling like a performance piece built around an act of spoken word protest. A protest not solely directed towards Repealing The 8th, but built from the pain and frustration of women’s experience around the choices available to them around their bodies. 'Wrongheaded’s' energy doesn’t arise from the synergy between all three collaborative pieces, but in the dichotomy that exists between text, dance and image. If text defines repression and the image seeks release, dance struggles with the embodiment of both in an effort to find escape and expression which, under Roche’s masterful gaze, is something to behold.
In 'Wrongheaded,' Roche is also experimenting with form. Split into two distinct sections, 'Wrongheaded’s' opening sequence sees a frame within a frame as the image of the dancers is projected onto a screen onstage, with the words of Feeney’s poem spilling from the loudspeakers, read to incredible effect by Feeney herself. But it’s a slow start, taking a while to gather momentum, being neither dance, nor dance in film. With continuity in performance on screen being constantly interrupted by shifting camera angles and images of ice and rocks and exits to caves, Wycherley’s art house cinematography opens up interpretative possibilities beyond the words and dance alone. Yet the cumulative effect is to enforce levels of distance and abstraction, as if what’s being seen and heard belongs primarily in the head and not the body.
In contrast, during the second section, as the images disappear and dancers Sarah Cerneaux and Justine Cooper take to the stage, there’s an urgency, immediacy and power to 'Wrongheaded' that catches your breath. The words are the same, the movements are the same, but with the cinematic frame removed, there’s a raw, visceral almost primal force in play. Throughout, often conjoined like Siamese twins, Cerneaux and Cooper wrestle and wind across the stage space, trapped, held down, restrained by gentle bonds or repelled in a constant battle for release and survival. Executing short, often snappy series of movements, both dancers are often gripped or overwhelmed by spasms, as if suffocating or drowning in breath and movement to the point of exhaustion, craving release in a truly exhilarating performance.
In addressing the forces behind the modern young male and those which trap, condemn and limit the choices of women, both works attempt to articulate a powerful experience beyond the realm of words. Indeed, both, with every respect to Feeney’s excellent piece, understand the limits of words, but also their importance in articulating experience. Both 'Wrongheaded' and 'Hope Hunt' share a wild frenetic energy, a visceral physicality, sharp sequences of sound and movement that push their respective performers to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to convey something of those experiences to their audiences. And this they do, with 'Wrongheaded' and 'Hope Hunt' digging beneath the sounds and movement to find that living impulse of rage, fear, frustration and defiance with a rawness and a vulnerability that is almost palpable. Not to be missed.
'Double Bill' featuring 'Wrongheaded by Liz Roche Company and 'Hope Hunt' by Oona Doherty run at Project Arts Centre as part of The Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival until September 18th
For further information, visit Project Arts Centre or Tiger Dublin Fringe