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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Competition

The Competition - An Interactive Feis by Kristyn Fontanella. Image Shaun Vaughan.


From the dance marathons of the Great Depression to the Hip Hop Dance Battles of today, competitions have been inextricably linked with dance. With few dance styles being more competitive than Irish dancing. Indeed, the word Feis translates as competition: the joyous bane of many a parent and child, enduring day long waits in heavy costumes to enjoy a three minute reel for a medal the size of your palm. On International Dance Day 2021, choreographer Kristyn Fontanella's The Competition took the idea of the Feis and added an interactive voting twist. But if it's a neat idea that makes you look closer, its one that's a little too tidy for playing it a little too safe.

Featuring dancers, Laura Lundy, Sarah Fennell, Yuki Nomiya and James Greenan, an intriguing opening sequence built from short individual patterns builds towards a simple, harmonious rhythm, crafted in conjunction with musicians Paddy Kiernan and Dale McKay. Throughout, Fontanella proves impressively adept at moving bodies in space, even if the bodies themselves aren't as visually interesting. On a square patterned floor, reminiscent of a studio for a children's tv show, a motif it confusingly leans into, a series of routines find all four dancers weaving intrepidly and crafting fluid flowing patterns. Creating intricate sequences like manic chess pieces, as in a charming routine about a race towards a call bell, with several routines looking designed to camera.

The Competition - An Interactive Feis by Kristyn Fontanella. Image Shaun Vaughan.

All of which impacts, in true Feis fashion, on which dancer will win. Randomly, without warning, the audience are frequently invited to vote for their favourite dancer. If you believe that public voting really benefits the performer with the largest group of friends, have no worries. The voting is strictly tongue in cheek, facilitating a World of Dance styled 'getting to know the dancer' segment as votes are tallied. Yet there's steel hidden in this voting velvet, as the possibility it might matter brings greater attention to patterns, synchronicity, presence, expression and the positioning of dancers. Yet an MC looking like he strayed in from hosting a children's party reminds you there's no real gravitas to it. A theme echoed in its overarching, childlike fun factor, and strong costume colours, making the whole look unsure of its audience.

While voting is an excellent ploy to improve attention, and makes the online experience far more engaging, it exacts a costly price in revealing many routines that move well but have too little else of visual interest. Even allowing for being rooted in Irish traditional forms, most play it too safe when it comes to the body, already restricted by the camera frame. Even so, as a work for children The Competition's lighthearted approach could well prove highly successful, even if adults might find it lacking variety and sufficient ingenuity. Either way, resolving some serious buffering issues resulting in significant time loss, and some blurred camera work in places, is crucial. That said, The Competition's childlike charm might well lure you in.

The Competition - An Interactive Feis by Kristyn Fontanella, presented by Fontanella Dance Company in association with Town Hall Theatre Galway, Galway Theatre Festival, Nenagh Arts Centre & Dance Limerick, is available online till May 1st

For more information, vist Kristyn Fontanella.


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