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  • Chris ORourke

Mother of Pearl

Becky Neal in Emily Aoibheann's Mother of Pearl. Pic by Steve O'Connor


Introducing The Band

A woman stands in an oyster of light, dressed in a flesh coloured, sequinned body suit, holding a large stone over her head with one arm. Around her, sheets of coloured fabric lie draped over chairs and other objects, and three very obvious bodies sitting next to some musical instruments. Looking like a leftover circus, the large stage is awash in pastel pink as a single ice machine breaths an apology of smoke. If the piece of grit that becomes a pearl motif is strong and clear, strength and clarity prove the exception rather than the rule in Emily Aoibheann’s distracting and unfocused "Mother of Pearl." And not in an impressionistic good way, with its exploration of civilisation and nature failing to really ignite. Aspiring towards an interdisciplinary inclusiveness, where performance art, music and several other disciplines intersect, "Mother of Pearl" never quite finds its feet. Becoming, instead, a workaday slice of gig theatre, whose musicians frequently hog the limelight from bodies aspiring to say something more.

Michael Gillick in Emily Aoibheann's Mother of Pearl. Pic by Steve O'Connor

A Renaissance woman and former aerialist with Paper Dolls, Emily Aoibheann has a lot she wants to say and do. Yet if "Mother of Pearl" talks its talk, it staggers when it visually tries to walk it. This despite an excess of coloured fabric and an impressively hard working light design by Sebastian Pizarro, alongside some modest dance and gymnastics of varying intensity. Favouring a scattered focus, co-existing images neither support nor compete, nor craft anything collectively of any great interest. If choreography doesn’t let itself down, it certainly doesn’t attain to any heights. A back bending contortion routine, a duet of handstands on a sculptured frame, and a triple waltz with a large white ball only serve to suggest what could have been. Meanwhile the eye is continual drawn to the well lit band, who constantly distract from the visuals in play.

Cathi Sell and Becky Neal in Emily Aoibheann's Mother of Pearl. Pic by Steve O'Connor

Some surprisingly muscular music by Aoibheann, forgoing sophistication in favour of simple rhythmic structures, reinforces the gig theatre vibe with a rota of simple tunes. Each infused with a kind of youthful innocence and directness. Undecorated bass lines, sounding like a start-up band riffing Pixies or Talking Heads, finds weak visuals adding colour to the music rather than the other way round. A water boiling sequence being a case in point. Played out upstage while the band pluck loudly downstage, performers Cathi Sell and Becky Neal deliver some serious posing, lounging like extras in an 1980s, synth pop music video, looking seriously bored and disinterested. As does a Pan-like Micheal Gillick, looking as if he stepped out from a Duran Duran video to rest against an under performing climbing frame.

Becky Neal, Michael Gillick and Cathi Sell in Emily Aoibheann's Mother of Pearl. Pic by Steve O'Connor

For all its experimental aspirations, "Mother of Pearl" stomps over a lot of well trod interdisciplinary ground. Ground others artists have covered with far greater ingenuity and maturity. By the end, a forced, unconvincing cacophony feels like a throwing in of the towel for having run out of ideas. Which were already poorly developed in the first place. Feeling aspirational and transitional, "Mother of Pearl" shows a lot of heart and ambition. But if its grit shows a degree of polish, it’s far from being a pearl just yet.

"Mother of Pearl" by Emily Aoibheann runs at Project Arts Centre until November 9.

For more information, visit Project Arts Centre.

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