Too few nuggets and not enough alchemy
Irish Modern Dance Theatre’s double bill, currently running at the Project Arts Centre as part of their Project 50 celebrations, makes for something of an uneasy marriage. On the one hand you have a classic work that is short, tight and ultimately delightful. On the other you have a new work that's long, loose and uncharacteristically disappointing. The former is ‘Night Wandering’ by legendary choreographer, Merce Cunningham. The latter is ‘Precious Metal,’ by one of Ireland’s foremost choreographers, John Scott.
The double bill opens with Cunningham’s shorter work ‘Night Wandering,’ first performed in 1958. Exquisitely danced by Merce Cunningham Dance Company member, Julie Cunningham, and Irish Modern Dance Theatre member Kevin Coquelard, together they craft a subtle, simple yet sublime duet. As patterns emerge and movement sequences unfold, the sense of the dichotomy at the heart of the duet comes to the fore. Two become one as bodies merge, crafting new possibilities and discoveries, where arms can both rise and fall at the same time. Yet interlinked bodies face a restriction of movement, urging separation and release at times, as Coquelard breaks free to perform a series of jeté. Tension and rest dominate throughout, richly informed by Bo Nilsson’s dissonant soundtrack. Spells of silence contrast with fractured scoring, yielding impulses to movement found in both silence and sound. The final image, beautifully realized, perfectly merges tension and rest, bringing both dancers together in a delightfully tender moment, utterly exquisite for insomniacs, somnambulists and deep sleepers alike.
If ‘Night Wandering’ shows all the hallmarks of being the finished product, ‘Precious Metal’ far too often resembles a work in progress. Indeed, the notion of process seems to dominate, with design by Eric Wurtz suggesting a silhouetted backstage area, with a rehearsal table and clothes rack to the front. Throughout, it’s as if you’re witnessing a process of discovery, a physical and verbal stuttering to give shape to movement and sound. With dancers often counting, or describing movement sequences, as well as pointing out body parts, the components of both dancer and dance are very much explicit. Yet economy and selection are not words these dancers seem to have in their vocabulary. With what seems to be an "anything and everything goes" approach, as would be expected in the discovery process, the unfinished rehearsal keeps on giving, with several routines overstaying their welcome. Yielding moments that are interesting, as well as many that are less than interesting, it frequently feels like watching dice being rolled, wondering if the next roll is going to deliver.
Like his most recent production, the utterly brilliant ‘Lear,’ Scott again merges Kevin Coquelard, Ryan O’Neill and Mufatau Yusuf with a female outsider. Yet what worked brilliantly in ‘Lear’ doesn’t work near as well here. Scott’s trio of dancers share a history, a choreographic shorthand and inbuilt understanding which Valda Setterfield fit into perfectly in ‘Lear.’ But Florence Welalo’s inclusion in ‘Precious Metal’ makes for an uneasy dynamic from the moment of her entrance. Her insistence that the audience sing as she talks endlessly about a star, or perhaps it was style as some thought, broke the flow and rhythm, feeling like a tirade or a lecture, and not a particularly interesting one. For the most part Welalo looked far too often like the proverbial third wheel, even if, on occasion, as in her finger to lip routine with Coquelard, she showed moments of promise.
John Scott is one of Ireland’s most innovative and exciting choreographers, but ‘Precious Metal’ cannot be considered his best work, especially when compared with his extraordinary ‘Lear’ and his wonderfully eccentric and exciting ‘Feathers.’ In its search for alchemy ‘Precious Metal’ can indeed be funny, exciting, and inventive, just never funny, exciting nor inventive enough. Still, there is precious metal to be found here, but you have to sift through a lot to find it. When it reveals itself, it can yield some startling, wonderful and unexpected moments. Its penultimate image being a case in point, reminding us of the standard which Scott himself sets, and against which his work should be measured.
Irish Modern Dance Theatre’s double bill of 'Night Wandering' by Merce Cunningham and 'Precious Metal’ by John Scott runs at the Project Arts Centre as part of Project 50 until December 10th.
'Night Wandering' will be danced by Merce Cunningham Dance Company members Cedric Andrieux and Cheryl Therrien from December 8th to 10th
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre