Process as Product
There’s a moment during Irish step dancer, Colin Dunne's solo performance, “Concert,” when you wonder if you've read the blurb correctly. Billed as an attempt to ‘dance’ the renowned Irish fiddle player, Tommie Potts’, 1972 album, The Liffey Banks, the virtuoso Irish step dancer appears, from the get go, to be making a pretty decent fist of dancing to Potts' allegedly undanceable music. Yet the clue lies in the title: “Concert.” For it emerges quite quickly that 'dance' here is being used in a much broader sense. Certainly there’s steps, but there’s also piano and fiddle, recorded conversations and long lingering listenings to Potts' music. Ultimately dance gives way to multidisciplinary concert, with moments of charm, ingenuity and humour. Yet the end result is a performance that yields a mildly memorable soundtrack, and a less memorable dance experience.
Kicking off Dublin Dance Festival 2017, Dunne’s “Concert,” created in collaboration with Sinéad Rushe and Mel Mercier, begins in a beguilingly understated fashion, with Dunne delivering his delightful Idiots Guide to Irish Step Dance, leaving the uninitiated feeling wiser from the outset. Presently he introduces Potts' album and, barefoot, begins a verbal and dance based conversation with both the man and his music. For a time, it all looks like the artist’s process, as Dunne plays with movements, music and sounds looking for something resembling a form. Like the artist’s process, “Concert” becomes less fascinating for those outside it, with tape recorders clicked repeatedly, or long moments spent sitting listening to music feeling like time poorly spent. Throughout, Dunne’s reverent irreverence for the Charlie Parker of Irish fiddlers is apparent, with some charming and humorous conversations recorded with Potts injecting some well-timed and much needed humour. As “Concert” progresses, Dunne appears less interested in harmonising body and music in dance, seeming to steer deliberately instead towards dance informing the music. With his recorded steps and scuffs captured in a reverb loop merging with Potts' playing, dance finally recedes further into the background, as music dominates before fading into the dark.
Like a movie employing long lingering shots, where tiny sized travellers take an interminable time to cross an immeasurable landscape, Dunne’s atmospheric “Concert” can often take a long time getting from one point to another, focusing on the journey rather than the destination, the process rather than the finished product. An approach that can sometimes be successful, but in "Concert" the journey and landscape it crosses are not always as interesting as they might have been. There’s a short distance between tradition and innovation, between repetition and monotony, and “Concert” displays a little of them all. Dunne might be charting new waters here, but the balance is not quite there yet. Yet “Concert” has some delightful moments, never more so than in the duelling duet between Potts and Dunne, as dancer and musician square off to challenge the diddly-eye of tradition and explore newer, less predictable horizons.
“Concert” by Colin Dunne, created in collaboration with Sinéad Rushe and Mel Mercier, runs at The Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2017 until May 20th
For more information, visit The Project Arts Centre or Dublin Dance Festival