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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Dance Festival 2021: Childs| Carvalho | Lasseindra | Doherty

Lazarus by Oona Doherty, Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Didier Philispart


When a show is named after its four choreographers rather than their works, you're making a particular kind of statement. But then the company is (LA) HORDE of Ballet National de Marseille. Brainchild of Marine Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer and Arthur Harel, the idea of the collective informs their practice as they set about questioning a variety of artistic disciplines. Juxtaposing works revolving around the body in movement to address often radical contemporary themes. Original premiered in April 2021, this mixed bill features choreographers Lucinda Childs, Tânia Carvalho, Lasseindra Ninja, and DDF Artist in Residence, Oona Doherty. Throwing up some fascinating contrasts, it makes you wish you'd been there as ballet converses with a variety of alternate voices.

Tempo Vicino by Lucinda Childs, Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Théo Giacometti

Beginning with Tempo Vicino by Lucinda Childs you might be forgiven for thinking you stumbled onto a contemporary ballet sequence for a new musical. Something suited to Bernstein's On The Town, with John Adam's Son of Symphony evoking the moods and energies of a street scene. Except this street is a little more restrained for retaining much of its formality, music providing the impulse to which form is shaped in a relatively safe manner. If precision in pose and positioning proves crucial, flow allows more freedom as bodies often move like a murmuration of starlings (birds recurring in each of the first three pieces), in which eight dancers reform into four perfectly harmonised duets. Throughout, the camera invites us in like a studious choreographer, alighting on a scene or dancer as if to ensure things are as they're supposed to be, before flitting on to the next or pulling away. Coloured screen changes and changes in tempo might introduce shifts and variations, including a superb walking sequence, but reverting to the underlying eight becomes four pattern remains intact. If it all looks rather conventional, its beauty lies in its precision and execution, which always look flawless and effortless.

One Of Four Periods In Time (Ellipsis) by Tânia Carvalho, Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Théo Giacometti

Divided into two parts, One Of Four Periods In Time (Ellipsis) by Tânia Carvalho might start in chaos, but it ends in mesmerising harmony. One in which Carvalho's gender fluid costumes use red socks to superb effect. Like an elaborate game of Freeze, dancers initially snap in and out of momentary tableaux, exploring jumbled bodies in stillness as much as in motion. Faces are fierce, frightened, forced to smile as tortured tableaux are shaped and bodies shift through shadow and amber light. A wonderful, chaotic, stop/start subversion that crafts strange and often strangled images. Often the flow of the camera dominates over the flow of bodies, almost as if it wishes it were one. A light and costume change midway leads into a series of entrances suggestive of a gymnastics floor routine performed to a tribal beat. If the camera is initially less intrusive, it's only for a time, often framing movement so you miss the bigger picture. With so many rich focal points informing each other, being told where to look feels restrictive. Distracting as much as informing the harmony developing in the background. One in which the disparate become united, after a final flurry of competing solos, the effect as hypnotic as it mesmerising.

Mood by Lasseindra Ninja Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Théo Giacometti

With crashing thunder and thunderous club beats, the gorgeous Mood by Lasseindra Ninja sees ballet meet the gyrations of voguing and striptease in a series of sparkly, glitter filled snapshots. The camera again looks like it to wants to play too, or at least command the viewing. As three dancers pulse and slink, shoulders, arms, and hips slip their ballet reins, but a twirling dancer visits frequently to remind you. The introduction of a fleet of dancers looking like extras in a low budget, sixties sci fi movie, replete with big blond wigs and bigger boots, ratchets up the fun factor. Which an energised solo in half shadow, leaning more into contemporary ballet, loses a little, even if it loses nothing in attitude. Which is hugely present in a clever shotgun themed duet. A final orgy of candy floss pink and piled high pony tails plays a double hand, cranking up the sex and voguing before leading intriguingly into a costume change. Highlighting the dancer, and their body, along with the forms they explore, as mutable sites.

Lazarus by Oona Doherty, Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Didier Philispart

Ending with Oona Doherty's Lazarus, the best wine is indeed kept till last. Defined by precision and economy, Lazarus employs a recognisable, everyday phraseology that forces us to recognise the scarred, the scared, and the sacred. Voices, harsh and laughing, float over bodies lying like inmates sleeping, all uniformed in white, like a patchwork of cloud in the semi-dark. A Gregorian chant against which dancers rise, pose, shape, and challenge gesturally, sees the secular and spiritual collide. Dancer's looks, sounds, and movements speak to individuals normalised and institutionalised to violence, in all its power, horror, and terror. Given expressive form through a series of shared repetitions and fractured, often angry gestures; hand thrust down the front of track suit bottoms, posing defiantly, running scared. As the siren wails, the body as a site of violence has transformed into one of vulnerability following a journey towards changed perception. A journey of eight haunting minutes, brilliant in its simplicity, that overflows with attitude, power, and perfection.

One thing DDF2021 is making clear is that dance on film is its own unique thing. Less a twin of dance so much as a favoured second cousin. The camera might foster unusual intimacy, or unnatural distances, but it blinds as much as it reveals in its framing and editing, guiding the viewers preferred wanderings by deciding what it can and cannot see in a given moment, making for an entirely different experience. Indeed, films often prove most successful, as in The Love Behind My Eyes, when they fully embrace film making. You might even argue that DDF2021 is less a dance festival so much as a dance on film festival. If some say film is not as good as dance; it's still something good. Often very good. Something more than a document of record. Childs | Carvalho | Lasseindra | Doherty presents not just ways of dancing, but ways of viewing onscreen, important in the current climate and for going forward. Like a sachet of chocolates from a bespoke chocolatier, this hand picked selection speaks to both its individual flavours - some silky smooth, others toffee tough - and the manner in which opposing tastes can inform each other. A little like Dublin Dance Festival 2021.

Childs| Carvalho | Lasseindra | Doherty by Ballet national de Marseille - direction (LA) HORDE, is available online as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2021.

For tickets or more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival 2021.

Dublin Dance Festival 2021 runs May 18 to May 30.


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