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  • Chris ORourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2017: Girl Song

Girl Song. Photo by Luca Truffarelli


The Child Within

Part slow moving art installation, a greater part dance, United Fall’s “Girl Song,” created by Emma Martin, strives to be many things. An investigation of the lived experience, and plasticity, of femininity and self, grounded in the body and viewed from various ages and perspectives, “Girl Song” arises where the inner and outer worlds converge. Built around an evocative and eclectic music and sound design by Tom Lane, a wonderfully articulated lighting design by Stephen Dodd, and a thought provoking series of costume designs by Catherine Fay, “Girl Song” inhabits a space, designed by Martin, which seems part warehouse, part inner landscape, part padded cell. Indeed, there are a lot of moving parts in “Girl Song.” Yet they all revolve around one compelling, choreographic centre whose gravity binds them with a loving cohesion.

In “Girl Song,” performers Joanna Banks, Grace Cahill, Justine Cooper, Stephanie Dufresne, Ruby Rose O’Hara and Fiona Quilligan chart a woman’s journey from childhood through to later life. Pausing at different stages along the way, “Girl Song” references much of the female lived experience, brilliantly illustrated through some clever props and Fay’s excellent costumes. Boiler suits and hoovers highlight the drudgery of domesticity, a Vegas showgirl’s high-feathered headdress suggests fantasy and desire, TV’s falling from the sky train women in expectation, stimulate their imaginations, or lull them into lethargic forgetfulness. Travelling backward over four distinct life stages, “Girl Song” begins with a graceful and dignified older woman elegantly, and eloquently, feeling around the walls of her mind, and ends with a young, pre-teen girl already in her wedding dress. In-between “Girl Song” unleashes two mesmerizing dance solos, by Justine Cooper and Stephanie Dufresne, and one beautifully realized duet that are simply out of this world.

While unquestionably a mutli-disciplinary production, “Girl Song’s” strength lies in its dance. Exquisitely and superbly choreographed, “Girl Song’s” potent movement sequences overflow with soft-spoken poignancy and heartfelt tenderness. Throughout, “Girl Song’s” choreography doesn’t so much flow as gently ricochet and rebound, restarting constantly, always heading off in unexpected directions. Cooper’s superb solo sees her snap, scuttle, swivel, stamp, as she moves and gyrates through an eclectic soundtrack, her body seeming to channel-hop through a range of physical articulations. Repeated moments emerge, as when Cooper draws herself from her chest outward, in constantly evolving and revolving sequences you never tire of watching. Cooper’s woman become conscious of her aging, who wears abdominal pulse belts to keep herself toned, still resonates with her inner child, a wild, free, uninhibited spirit looking for expression beyond the costumed roles assigned to her, her fist raised in solidarity and defiance.

A defiance shared by a slightly younger girl in her polka dot dress, unsure of the silver figure she is both drawn and repelled by, beautifully conveyed by Stephanie Dufresne. Like Cooper, Dufresne delivers a stunning and richly articulated solo you never get tired of watching. Ever new, ever reinventing, Dufresne also finds repeated sequences while moving in unexpected directions. A brief duet sees both dancers converge near the end as signature movements dissolve into a common vocabulary.

Always, at the heart of “Girl Song,” is the child within. A young girl with large, daring, and sometimes fragile dreams pressing against the world that presses against her resilient smallness. A young girl, both within and outside of themselves, these performers seek to honour, celebrate, protect, and nurture. A celebration of girls constantly interrupted, and who constantly interrupt, “Girl Song” is an unequivocal gift of love for young girls of all ages. Heartfelt and stunningly beautiful, with dance sequences you could watch for days, “Girl Song” weaves an irresistible magic making it essential viewing. It may be one of the smaller shows of the festival, but “Girl Song” has one of the biggest hearts, and certainly some of the best choreography to be found anywhere.

“Girl Song” by United Fall, created by Emma Martin, runs at The Samuel Beckett Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2017 until October 8th

For more information, visit Samuel Beckett Theatre or Dublin Theatre Festival 2017

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