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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021

A Piece Of My Heart, part of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film.

Choreographer, dancer, singer, and artistic director of Irish Modern Dance Theatre, John Scott is the kind of multi-talented polymath for whom jealousy could easily get the better of you. An artist you'd love to hate if he wasn't so gifted, likeable and generous. Characteristics that informed all aspects of the Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Launched in 2019, Scott's personal crusade to promote Irish choreographers on the global stage began as a labour of love to challenge limiting, confused, and often negative notions about Irish choreography and identity. The inaugural Dancer from the Dance Festival in 2019 proved a huge success. Then came COVID in 2020. Scott, unwilling to let a little thing like a global pandemic slow him down, moved the entire festival online. Doing so again in 2021, offering workshops, films, discussions, and a series of curated, short choreographed performances to show what Irish, or Irish identifying choreographers in Ireland or abroad, have to offer. Whatever their age, locality, or ethnicity.

As the third Dancer from the Dance Festival, online from July 5 to July 9, has just been brought to a close, the festival's growth over the past three years has been staggering. Never a man backward about coming forward, Scott's determination has this years festival shining a light on some of our finest choreographers, and dance film makers, positioned as part of a global practice and historic tradition, commanding form and space with the very best. And doing so with a self-assured swagger.

John Scott, curator and artistic director of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film.

Workshops this year, focusing on Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe and Trisha Brown, were defined by inclusiveness and innovation. A series of facilitated discussions with Irish choreographers dug deeper into their practice. If Zoom and spatters of academic jargon could momentarily make discussions feel like working from home, their liveliness and accessibility was what struck home most. There was nothing here to intimidate those not choreographically versed, and a good chance they might well be afterwards. While films like Joan Davis with Mary Wycherley’s mesmerising In the Bell’s Shadow, and longer performances, including the gorgeous Tilt, opened up serious interrogations it was the wonderful Gatherings that took the main plaudits. A daily series of short, choreographic calling cards rich in choreographic diversity, reflecting screen dance, live streamed dance, and works in progress from up and coming choreographers, ending with a lonely looking, if joyous céilí to bring it all home.

At The End, We Begin, part of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film.

Often featuring choreographers dancing their own works, Gathering highlights include Kristyn Fontanella's Plurabelle in which found and form marry in the spatter and slap of footsteps in the rain. Zoë Ashe-Browne, with choreographic collaborator Aaron Shaw, deliver the erotically charged Asa creating flow from touch and impulse. Mintesinot Wolde's Indian and Flamenco influenced, I'll See You In The Green challenges expectations of what constitutues dance by Irish choreographers. As does Tobi Omoteso's darling daddy/daughter dance off in which everyone's a winner when life is about Play. The sensuous sign language of Róisín Whelan's At The End, We Begin opens into a semaphore of the soul. Orlan McCarthy's Forest Gump-ish running for release sees the inner made manifest in Mind(e)scape. The unsettling Cliabh, a word alive with multiple meanings, sees Fearghus Ó Conchúir establish simple patterns evoking tensions and unease, Ó Conchúir capturing so much with so little. The simplicity of A Piece Of My Heart by Justine Doswell might initially seem like a warm up exercise negotiating people and space, but like its imaginative opening there's much more to this joyous delight steeped in charm and simplicity. Morleigh Steinberg's curiously shot Reconstruction sees an often headless, restless body, and equally restless images, jarring for your attention. Restlessness informing up and coming choreographer Mufutau Yusuf's work in progress Òwe – An Indigenous Way of Knowing.

Butterfly Dance, part of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film.

Traditional Irish dance informs several pieces, but its the range and complexity of interpretations that's most revealing. Morgan Bullocks beautiful Butterfly Dance sees traditional Irish dance transcending ethnicity. Nic Gareiss soft shoe shuffle gathers pace in Solo Square Dance to a Hank William's Luke the Drifter styled spoken word sound score. Ciara Sexton's delightful duet, (with a well timed swan cameo) Fáinne Óir channels the lushness of Riverdance and makes for a fascinating contrast with the delightful The Blue Heart by Anne O'Donnell, its sea swim ending still up for debate. The brilliant, generational study Modh Rúin (In Secret) by Ríonach Ní Néill/Ciotóg, interrogates Irish language, women, and culture in an English speaking environment, moving from the past towards the future, in which some masking tape speaks volumes.

If, at times, it starts to feel like a get together over at Grandma's, suggesting an inclusivity omitting anything that might disturb, a little kick ass soon reestablishes equilibrium. Beginning with the standout The Becoming in which costuming and the body unleash wild, violent energies against which a spoken word mantra, and Shane Nolan's hammering score, don't so much collaborate or contribute as compete. And lose out within the first few seconds to up and coming choreographer Simone O'Toole's powerful choreography and Mollyanna Ennis' searing performance. Croí Glan Integrated Dance Company's Armour Off, choreographed by Caroline Bowditch, sees ageing, mobility, and attitudes towards both taken to task in a knockout performance by Linda Fearon. Oona Doherty and Luca Truffarelli's The Devil, arguably Truffarelli's most visually accomplished short film to date, might see Doherty and her doppelgänger trading in cinematically conventional images in a tale with a conventional twist, but Doherty's compelling performance hits a raw nerve with the whole, like a movie trailer, suggesting much more to come.

The Becoming, part of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film.

Which is what Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021 was really all about: what is to come. Suggesting that Irish choreography, like being Irish, like dance itself, and dance on film, is everything you thought it was and everything you thought it wasn't. And lots in between you never thought possible or never thought of at all. Shaping identity, and dance, well into the future. One hopes many Gatherings will be available online. In which case, check them out. And make sure to pencil Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2022 into your calendar.

Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021 ran online from July 5 to July 9.

For more information visit Irish Modern Dance Theatre.


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