Mary Nugent is just so sweet. Taking the time to thank everyone for coming before they enter the auditorium, she’s just so grateful knowing the great, personal effort it took for everyone to get there. If Nugent sounds playfully patronizing, it’s because she is. She’s also foreshadowing what lies ahead in her super smart, new show “Don’t Be Looking!!!” a dance theatre exploration of disability in which it’s perfectly okay to look. As a matter of fact, it’s insisted upon. Reversing polar opposites, Nugent wants to engage you in a conversation on disability. But mindful you really don’t quite understand what that is, she gently, playful, laughingly, but unquestioningly, sets about bringing you to a greater understanding of it by letting her body, and wheelchair, do the talking. As well as the bodies of dancer Leonie McDonagh of Ponydance, along with dancers Marion Cronin and Sarah Ryan.
Brief introductions remind you that you’re always only dealing with people at different levels of speech, movement, flexibility, and history. There’s no one size fits all. Yet for the disabled, the wheelchair can make them invisible. But it can also be murder on the dance floor from San Francisco to Skibbereen. In a series of cleverly executed bar routines, the versatility, and limits, of the human body are seen as fluid and flexible: some have more, some have less. Yet only the ones in the wheelchair get the patronising pats on the heads. Even though they, like us all, are capable of untangling their own knots, or of asking for help if they need it, or of telling you where to go if you keep on pushing. Same when it comes to walking. It might take a disabled person a little longer, but so what? There never was a one pace fits all anyway. Throughout, a fractured, snappy soundtrack with voiceovers, coupled with some onstage dialogue, adds information, and colour, to the depth the physical sequences explore. Yet by the time you get to the wheelchair slalom you realize Nugent and her crew have pulled off a neat little trick: making you notice that you’d stopped noticing any real differences.
In “Don’t Be Looking!!!” it’s all about bodies, where only the range, and speeds, of movements are different. Which was always the case anyway. Yet even if “Don’t Be Looking!!!” reminds us that it can take longer to get places when disabled, or old, or especially young, “Don’t Be Looking!!!” still takes a little too long on some of its sequences, which the prolonged silences often make seem even longer. Taking a walk a mile in my shoes approach, “Don’t Be Looking!!!” shows much more than it tells, and tells it so much better because of it. In the end it keeps it simple and slow, creating its own energy, focus and intensity in the process, transporting you to a world at once unfamiliar yet familiar. One where, even if it’s at a different pace, and in different ways, everyone is born to run, arm in arm, and smiling. An enlightening, entertaining and engaging production.
“Don’t Be Looking!!!” by Mary Nugent, runs at The Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2017 until September 16th
For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival or Project Arts Centre