Dublin Dance Festival 2017: Extraterrestrial Events
X Files Fandango
There is a sense with “Extraterrestrial Events” that choreographer, Philip Connaughton, is looking to tackle something with heart. Something big. And looking for the right form with which to do it, melding music, opera and dance with striking visuals. Yet there’s often a sense that it’s all a big joke, and much more comedic than all the dramatic talk suggests. Either way, there’s no faulting Connaughton’s ambition in attempting to explore that tension between truth and denial, between reality and fantasy, between what is told and what is believed. Yet Connaughton’s decision to use UFO sighting reports from GEIPAN, a unit of French Space Agency, CNES, as his starting point proves to be something of a mixed blessing. While it lends itself to some strong visuals and X-Files spookiness, comic and dramatic credibility prove unstable. Like the large eyed and squishy, little green beings UFO hunters pursue, “Extraterrestrial Events” ultimately proves elusive, with plenty of sightings of something remarkable, but not enough to establish a close encounter of the third kind.
Voice as much as body becomes a medium in “Extraterrestrial Events” with soprano Kim Sheehan trilling to astounding, and often comic, effect as the disbelieved woman with her flashlight in the dark, relaying stories of alien encounters. Stories that reinforce all the stereotypes of UFO fanatics, crafting a dull dialogue of details, with feelings bordering on the histrionic. Indeed, it sends a shudder down the spine to think if these were the best stories Connaughton could find from the 446 he waded through, what were the bad ones like? There’s nothing new here, it’s all been heard before, and the small screen with text to the back of the stage only reinforces the insignificance of the stories themselves, undermining their inherent experiences. Expressionless dancers Zoé Bernabéu, Kevin Coquelard, Lucia Kickham and Ryan O’Neill, in curious costumes by Emily Ní Bhroin, sporting short, silver haired dreadlocks whilst dressed in boiler suits, run the gamut from executing stunning to questionable sequences, with positioning looking sloppy at times. A recurring motif of arm movements akin to vogue-like sign language or semaphore looked less than stellar, as did a prolonged opening sequence where all four, lying stomachs pressed to the floor, perform the vocal equivalent of re-enacting the morning after a really good night, all lethargy and groans and grunts and growls that drew laughter from the audience. Such is the imbalance, it’s often uncertain if laughter is the undesired outcome, or if it’s all tongue in cheek. Connaughton’s silent appearance, looking all disdain, disbelief, and in desperate need of a fidget spinner for his hands, fuels this uncertain sense of the comic. Yet if it doesn’t all come together, there are moments of genius, with sudden shocks, lights flickering in the dark, and Kim Sheehan’s astonishing voice piercing the veil between what is said and what is felt. Grace O’Hara’s snake skinned special effects are extraordinarily clever, as is Begona Garcia Navas’s lighting design and music by Michael Gallen played live on the night.
If never quite abducted by “Extraterrestrial Events” you’re always certainly intrigued. Like the hoped for aliens, there’s certainly strong glimpses of something potentially amazing, as well as some enjoyable moments and stunning visuals. Yet there’s also a sense that with “Extraterrestrial Events” you’re seeing an artist in transition. One unafraid to push new boundaries, to test himself and his chosen mediums, in the search for new and interesting modes of expression.
“Extraterrestrial Events” by Company Philip Connaughton, runs at The Samuel Beckett Theatre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2017 until May 28th