Her Mam and Dad might love to love when it comes to space and time, but young Francis Footwork just loves to dance anytime of day or night. Along with her best friend Right Back At Ye, and King Two Left Feet. In Francis’s world everyone loves to dance. Everyone, that is, except Colonel Headbanger. He hates dancing, and sets out to trick the king into making dancing illegal. As he puts his evil plan in motion, can Francis persuade him not to destroy everyone’s happiness just because he doesn’t know how to be happy himself? In David Bolger’s “Francis Footwork,” presented by CoisCéim Dance Theatre, one girl’s dreams of a once upon a dance floor sees her setting out to save her starlit world. If it all sounds a little magical and wondrous, that’s because it is. As well as being one of the most exquisitely choreographed and beautifully produced pieces of dance theatre to be had anywhere.
When it comes to creating works for younger audiences, and for audiences young at heart, few attain to the exacting standards of CoisCéim Dance Theatre. Throughout, "Francis Footwork" sets out to educate both overtly and covertly, invariably enlightening while it endlessly entertains. From the outset director and choreographer David Bolger knows, and wants his young audience to know, that the experience has already started even before they enter the theatre, and isn’t confined to just the stage. A lesson wonderfully conveyed by a superb Emma O’Kane, meeting her young guests in the foyer and plugging into them by way of a corded headphone, prompting her to dance. And her young partners to experience any intimidating walls between themselves and the performance dissolving in a warm, embracing inclusivity.
Christopher Ash’s simple scenics, looking like a gig rig on a dance floor, along with his superb lighting and projection designs, craft a wonderland of magic, garnering ooh’s and ahh’s at regular intervals throughout. Not least for some split second timing and pin point precision. An exactness seen right across the board, whether it’s light and sound cues, rolling vinyl across the floor, framing a phone in a square of light, or executing some intricately involved dance routines. Denis Clohessy’s music and sound prove deeply engaging and versatile. As are Maree Kearn’s costumes, which might appear to be the soul of simplicity itself, yet they evoke a resonance that speaks to both character and story.
If production values are near flawless throughout, where "Francis Footwork" genuinely excels is in exquisite choreography exquisitely executed. Under Bolger’s direction, Emma O’ Kane, Cristian Enmanuel Dirocie, Jonathan Mitchell and Ivonne Kalter deliver some spellbinding, split second solos, duets and group sequences that are simply glorious to look at. An eclectic dance palate foregrounds contemporary, hip hop, krumping, and break dance, with Bolger bringing everything together into a singular visual spectacle. Even so, some Fosse-esque articulations, replete with classic bowler hat, confuse some of the younger, and maybe even older, audience members.
Productions aimed at young audiences can sometimes set their standards low, knowing young imaginations can readily compensate for what’s not there. Bolger goes in the complete opposite direction in an attempt to fire their imaginations to even greater heights. At every level of production and performance "Francis Footwork" aims for excellence, understanding that these early experiences go to shaping our future pundits and practitioners. Produced and performed to CoisCéim Dance Theatre’s exacting standards, "Francis Footwork" is a wondrous tale wondrously told, which speaks to dance, to fighting your fears, and to not getting too attached to your mobile phone. Something one or two teachers might pay closer attention to, sending out the wrong message to their impressionable charges when seen flicking through their phones in the dark.
Like dance, "Francis Footwork" is for everybody, both young and old. So give your child, or your inner child, an early Christmas treat. Joyous, uplifting, and miraculously magical, "Francis Footwork" might well have you feeling a little bit starstruck.
“Francis Footwork,” written, choreographed, and directed by David Bolger, and presented by CoisCéim Dance Theatre, runs at Draíocht, Blanchardstown until November 7, before transferring to The Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire for November 8 and 9.