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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: Night Dances

Night Dances, by Emma Martin/United Fall. Image, United Fall


You can sift through Night Dances finding references to Emma Martin’s other works. Including a veiled woman on a white horse during the opening moments. But they only draw attention to themselves as references. Finding the trees, you might not see the forest. Which turns out to be rather sparse. Artspeak promising hot, sweaty energies. Martin’s choreographic quartet posturing and posing but looking far more tame in a universe inhabited by Oona Doherty's Hard to be Soft or THISISPOPBABY'S Party Scene. Jonas Krämer stalking downstage, removing safety ropes evocative of a boxing ring, throwing a confrontational glare beyond the fourth wall. But is he really watching us? Is the fourth wall not his mirror? Krämer alone in a studio, or a bedroom, enacting a dress rehearsal for a display on the dance floor later? All swagger and shapes. Pops, flails, and strutting in silence; the gaze fixed, the expression defiant. Movements bleeding in and out of contortion as Krämer desires approval whilst pretending he doesn’t care. A Hammer Horror styled organ score by Daniel Fox cranking up the volume towards the end, but offering little of excitement or interest.

The arrival of a Billie Barry styled troupe sees seven young dancers shifting the gaze from private to public. All cute sass, shorts pants and mile high pony tails, they strut to the stage, strike a pose and claim it as their own. Performing impressive gymnastic floor routines, synchronicity, snap, and positioning might suffer from excited nervousness, but sequences are performed with youthful vigour and lots of gravity defying flips. What that has to do with fury, rebellion, hope and freedom might leave you baffled, but dancers Anne-Marie Lambert, Sarah Kathleen Lambert, Romie Rose Moynihan, Casey O’Reilly, Tiffany Owens, Annie Jane Tarzan and Gabriella O'Neill Visibelli are each fabulous and deservedly cheered off the stage. Seceding it to Ryan O’Neill with their brazen stares. O’Neill crafting the most moving of the four pieces. There, but not there. Conversing with the music performed live. Movements bursting from the conversation. Not the polished performance of the professional but the impulse that gives rise to shaping something. Each movement an experiment organically leading to the next. Creating flow. A pattern. A sequence. A statement. Overhead a broad, circular light looms like a portal to heaven, or an alien spaceship. Beneath which O’Neill dances alone as if his sanity depended on it. Nothing big, just digging deep against a dynamic score by Fox, playing live with Brian Dillon and Jamie Hyland. Stephen Dodd's atmospheric lighting hugely successful in adding texture and weight. Katie Davenport's one focus design less so.

Night Dances, by Emma Martin/United Fall. Image, Sean Breithaupt

In the final sequence a coven of three, ghostly Salome’s arrive in veils which are soon discarded. Robyn Byrne, Aoife McAtamney and Jessie Thompson’s individual and collective routines melding strip club with night club at times. The blaze of red, the seedy shadows, twerking and other conventional tropes showing a loose synchronicity. Their solos, like individual showcases, merging with lots of loosely coordinated group work. Some imaginative flourishes standing out even as they never take your breath away. Till it all dissolves in a durational rhythm, rising briefly to a loud, thumping finish.

Premiering in 2021, an underlying tension links Night Dances quartet. Or rather its two diptychs. Two contrasting male solos as well as two female group pieces. A contrast suggesting women dance together, men dance alone. The feminine public, the male private. Krämer, like a younger version of O’Neill, dancing by himself, the more mature O’Neill dancing for himself. The young dance troupe and trio of older girls creating a more challenging contrast around sexualised innocence. But that’s the thing with Martin, she’s unafraid to risk it. The indefinite. The unclear. The interpreted and misinterpreted possibilities. It’s a tidy position, creating work open to multiple readings. Yet if Night Dances was ‘anything goes’ there’d be no need for its programme promises. In which Night Dances promises a ferocity that will grab you and kiss you hard. It certainly grabs you, but only to graze its lips past your cheek with the flimsiest of brushes.

Night Dances, by Emma Martin/United Fall, presented by Dublin Dance Festival and the Abbey Theatre, ran at The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2024.

Night Dances features in Cork Midsummer Festival 2024, June 13 - 15.


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