Dublin Dance Festival 2023: The Sudden
The Sudden by Pan Pan. Image Ros Kavanagh
First impressions suggest a rather posh charity drive. Four tables in a line, champagne (non alcoholic), caviar and sushi tapas, and a wall of guests sporting logo’d white t-shirts resembling wannabes for a Wham video. T-shirts distributed to the audience upon arrival. Audience members agreeing to be onstage natter like apostles at the last supper, blurring the distinction between performer and audience, them and us. A clever ruse as the celebration proves to be an opening night reception for a new show. One of many conceits that abound in The Sudden, Pan Pan’s subversive exploration of dance and performance, audience and performer, and of anything with the word sudden attached to it. Throw in some question cards, countless t-shirt changes, an electronic rendering of Smells Like Teen Spirit, what looks like an infant T-Rex throwing a tantrum, and some top class dance sequences and you’re still no nearer to appreciating the imaginative cornucopia that is The Sudden. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Gradually, four dancers take to the stage. Silently moving guests around till their logos begin to form sentences. In the future everyone will be anonymous for fifteen minutes. Guests are then seated either side of the stage as the show that already finished commences. Meanwhile, disembodied voices speak about the imaginary/real show, taking a well aimed body blow at audience members who turn up late. Made sweetly delicious given the horrendous practice creeping in at a number of venues of letting latecomers parade through aisles indifferent to the audience or performers. Here, you get to know what we really think of you. The same holding true for those who leave their phones on, eat sweets, or insist on talking.
By now you’ve probably gathered you’re not in Kansas anymore. Nor are you in Oz. Rather, you’re whirling in that rushing tornado where images whizz by often being transformed before your eyes. Nonsense and sense converging in a thematic and visual eruption whose visual vocabulary is richly evocative. An inter-disciplinary production whose T-shirt budget alone must have been insane. Where the lines between dance, dance theatre and performance art blur.
At its core is dance. A series for solos, some duets, a lot of playfulness and a ton of ingenuity proving a delight. The first solo begins, as dance always does, with exploration. Katherine O’Malley instructed to make a move she hasn’t made before. Make eight more. Add tempo, level, direction, travel. Add music. Add lights. Change lights. Meanings transformed when married to sound and lighting, or to music by Jimmy Eadie. More solos follow. Salma Atari’s whirling dervish as she struggles under layers and layers of t-shirts that tell her story, as if text is restricting her movement. Vitor Bassi’s cunning display exploring virtuosity dominated by back bending, like being riddled with bullets in slow motion, suddenly transformed as Britney Spears hits him one more time to the audience’s delight. Then there’s Mollyanna Ennis. A formidable young talent confirming her reputation as star in the making. Her expression fire and ice, her movements clean, confident and assured, fuelled by fierceness underscored with vulnerability.
And still it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Duets and group pieces emerge, often coming out of left field. Two dancers peeling away layer upon layer of mats to reveal a mirrored floor as a duet unfolds, like cats playing with the discard tape like balls of wool. But let’s stop there. Like trying to nail meaning to a Jackson Pollock, to confine the richness, ingenuity, artistry and imagination of The Sudden to a given is to miss the point entirely. Created by Salma Ataya, Vitor Bassi, Aedín Cosgrove, Jimmy Eadie, Mollyanna Ennis, Grace Morgan, Katherine O’Malley and Gavin Quinn, The Sudden takes you on a wildly inventive journey. Like Pollack, it's likely to demand many viewings, each one sure to reward you. Except there aren’t that many viewings to be had. The smart thing to do would be to make sure you don’t miss this one.
The Sudden, presented by Pan Pan, runs at Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2023 until May 25.