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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Dance Festival 2023: The Pretty Things

The Pretty Things by Compagnie Catherine Gaudet. Image by Mathieu Doyon


Dance begins with a simple movement phrase. Similarly The Pretty Things, by Canadian Compagnie Catherine Gaudet. Or so it would seem. Yet its four dancers (not the announced five) are acutely aware it originally begins in the impulse that gives rise to the movement that becomes a phrase. The phrase a container for the original impulse, which can sometimes become a convention, like ballet steps, or Can-Can kicks. Phrases often patterned into sequences then repeated endlessly in rehearsals. And again in performance. Yet how do you ensure the container is never empty? How do you keep the phrase vital and alive? How do you ensure the body doesn’t concede to rote mechanised movements like a lifeless marionette? In The Pretty Things, the tension between dancing the phrase by rote or with freedom, and the relationship between movement and a beat, serve up an impressive masterclass. So physically demanding it might well leave you exhausted just looking at it.

Impulse to movement can arise from anywhere. From a child’s la la lullabying to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, to the cathartic growl of a Death Metal vocalist. In The Pretty Things it’s always to a steady beat. The impulse then translated into a movement phrase. Phrases that risk becoming lifeless constraints that limit expression. Initially, dancers resemble marionettes, their bodies rooted to the spot, performing simple, individual phrases constantly repeated to a metronomic beat. First one dancer, then another, finally all four; changes signalled by a pitched note. Yet in a gentle act of rebellion, executing anti-clockwise circular motions, they draw closer and converge. Frequently sharing the same phrase, sometimes shaking free of it momentarily. Eventually forming a line that rotates anti-clockwise. The line constantly turning, pushing beyond the tension of form, repetition and the body. All to a superb synth driven score by Antoine Berthiaume suggestive of Jean Michel Jarre.

The Pretty Things by Compagnie Catherine Gaudet. Image by Mathieu Doyon

Throughout, movement and music cast a hypnotic spell, with both switching it up when tedium becomes a risk. All the while, the body’s physicality is foregrounded and astounding. Yet it soon becomes a victim of its own success. Coming out of the midway mark it begins to resemble some demented reality TV programme; The Aerobic Class From Hell. Except there is no competition here, only community and communion. Dancers gathering strength from each other, from surrendering to the snap of constant movement again and again and again. Breathing hard, heart pumping, perspiration gathering, muscles aching. Physical intensity mirrored in the music as it all crescendos towards cathartic release.

With The Pretty Things observing feels like a physical experience. Offering a infinitesimal flavour of the lived experience of dancers. The pain, the repetition, the refusal to succumb to rote, the pushing of the body beyond endurance, the practicing of phrases over and over and over, the digging deep and yet deeper to ensure it all remains vital. All the while staying tuned for the next impulse. A celebration of the joy and camaraderie of dance and the dance ensemble, The Pretty Things delivers a glorious triumph of body and spirit. Power, perseverance, passion: not to be missed.

The Pretty Things by Compagnie Catherine Gaudet, runs at Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2023 until May 18.

For more information visit Project Arts Centre or Dublin Dance Festival


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