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  • Chris O'Rourke


Amanda Coogan in Possession. Image by Patricio Cassinoni


Even Possession’s pre-show announcement sounds hollowed by the ghosts of our Celtic past. Complimented by a haunting, musical dissonance composed by Linda Buckley, played and sung live throughout. Against which a huddle of writhing arms gradually assemble in the centre of the traverse. At one end of which a mobile of white, motionless clothes-hangers hover over a woman sitting at her desk writing incessantly. From the Artspeak programme you gather guidance, or tunnel vision. Possession is inspired by deaf playwright Teresa Deevy’s play of the same name which Deevy described as a ballet based on the mythological story of Queen Meabh from The Táin. Who was fuelled by a desire to posses the brown bull of Cooley. Created and performed by internationally renowned performance artist Amanda Coogan, performed with collaborating artists Alvean Jones, Lianne Quigley and the Dublin Theatre of the Deaf, Possession also claims to speak to the expressive potential of ISL (Irish Sign Language). The programme claims a lot of other things too. But we’re not here for the programme.

What stands out most through all the justifying jargon are two words: Amanda Coogan. Who, like a conductor, transforms the space the moment she enters it. Parading towards the writhing mass with strutting confidence, Coogan owns the space, her body, and everyone else’s as they follow her articulate lead, trying to emulate it. Throughout, no words are said. No words are necessary. Yet nothing is silent, nothing is still. Like some mystical coral, arms undulate without touching, which, over time, evolve into shared gestures and patterns. As the group opens up, turning to face a three headed being, gestures and expression no longer flow aimlessly. Rather, they cohere to become language, communicating in silence across distance. Similarity, not synchronicity, underscoring a shared vocabulary in which voices are individual and distinct. Some whispering, some declaiming, others annunciating, some too fast, too slow, or not clear enough. A language belonging to the initiated from which outsiders try to piece together meaning. Often an everyday experience for deaf people which is here reversed.

Possession. Image by Patricio Cassinoni

Throughout, Coogan’s signature trademarks are much in evidence. Durational extracts see coloured cords flailed with intensity. One of many images that touches on ritual. Echoed in cultural references grounding the past, and the ancient past, in the present as when two bulls prowl the stage preparing to fight. A neat subversion courtesy of some noticeboards allows a modicum of text into the mix, as playful as it is helpful. The result might not be visually groundbreaking, even allowing for Coogan’s encompassing set, like a refugee tent with clothes littering the wall, but it has its own quiet power. As does movement and gesture.

Part of a programme begun ten years ago to reclaim Teresa Deevy from obscurity, Possession proves double edged in that regard. To call Deevy’s contribution a libretto is to play fast and loose with what constitutes a libretto. Also, its grounding in The Táin tends to muddy the authorship waters. What emerges most is Coogan’s passion for Deevy and, therefore, Coogan herself, along with her passion for ISL. If, as Marina Abramovich claimed, there’s a distinction between performance art and theatre, in Possession Coogan seems happy to subvert both. If theatre is at least one body performing in a space to at least one other body, Coogan is less about the performing body so much as the body as performance. Present. Sensual. Distinct. Communicating with other bodies without speaking. The body as immediate as now and as ancient as myth. Ensuring that if multiple interpretations of Possession exist, many more will come into existence with each new performance. And each new spectator.

Possession, created by performed by Amanda Coogan, performed with collaborating artists Alvean Jones and Lianne Quigley, composer Linda Buckley and the Dublin Theatre of the Deaf, runs at The Project Arts Centre until Feb 24.

For more information visit The Project Arts Centre


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