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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Misunderstanding of Myrrha

The Misunderstanding of Myrrha. Image by Fionn McCann


Created in collaboration with visual artist, Alice Maher, Junk Ensemble's highly anticipated The Misunderstanding of Myrrha kicked off Dublin Dance Festival's 2021 Winter Edition with considerable style. Using the Greek myth of Myrrha as a jumping in point it sets about revisioning Myrrha as a defiant feminist who refuses to be broken. Cursed by Aphrodite into an incestuous relationship with her father, later abandoned by the Gods and transformed into a myrrh tree, Myrrha here is given voice and agency. Dancer Julie Koenig strutting a little less than an hour upon the stage, signifying some powerful reclamations. Mostly.

Pared back to basics, The Misunderstanding of Myrrha finds Junk Ensemble engaging in some visual and performative decluttering; a handful of props, a musical score, and a solo dancer on a relatively empty stage. Koenig strutting, but never fretting. Unhurried, like dawn breaking, she follows the call of Denis Clohessy soulful score showing amazing synchronicity throughout. Turning in tight circles atop a narrow column she balances her large crown of thorns, whose wintry branches stretch impossibly far casting a rotating circle of shadows. Climbing down and relinquishing her burden, Koenig executes simple movements infused with an assertive authority, awash in Stephen Dodd's mesmerising lighting.

The Misunderstanding of Myrrha. Image by Luca Truffarelli

Establishing circular patterns as a recurring motif, Koenig lifts her top to reveal her red midriff, visually establishing the womb as a site of interrogation. Reinforced by a mesmerising moment in which Koenig, seated on the floor, knees bent, legs apart, a mound of earth strategically placed, pours a potion releasing dry ice that gushes and pools like blood, or moonlight, evoking both the menstrual and lunar cycles. The image, like Maher's crown, pure visual poetry. Punctured when Koenig begins to speak. Even in French the didactic explanation misses the point: that the image had said everything that needed to be said, and then some. Instead, Koenig shifts from looking like the cool kid who doesn't have to say a word to looking like the pretentious kid who insists on telling everyone how cool they are. Skittering back into the darkness like a spider, or an embarrassed child. Normal service soon resuming.

In a slow, prolonged sequence burial and renewal are both evoked before pounding, tribal rhythms establish a heartbeat. Koenig hugely impressive using repeated movements striving towards a trancelike release. The spell slowly cast. The body shaping the air around it. Channelling energies that fill the room as…Koenig stops and walks away to release ropes suspending driftwood above the stage. Dancer and dance disappearing into technical support the last image you take away. To say it all ends with a whimper would be to oversell a whimper.

The Misunderstanding of Myrrha. Image by Luca Truffarelli

Jessica and Megan Kennedy's simple yet powerful choreography, developed with Koenig, alongside Maher's marvellous minimalist design, sees both looking mesmerising as they channel dark pagan forces. Leaving it to Clohessy's sublime score to embrace the mist and the voice calling from within. Throughout, the reclaiming of Myrrha, and all mythic women reduced to tales or trees, is keenly realised. Koenig owning her body. Owning the space, and performance, with a casual confidence. Becoming her own rescuer. Her deportment stating confidentially; 'I'm not here to dance for your pleasure. I'm rewriting the world through the body while rewriting the body. Channeling unseen forces. Be grateful I'm allowing you to watch.' Indeed, watching The Misunderstanding of Myrrha often feels like something of a privilege.

The Misunderstanding of Myrrha, by Junk Ensemble, a Dublin Dance Festival Commission, presented in partnership with the Abbey Theatre, ran at The O'Reilly Theatre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2021.

For more information visit Dublin Dance Festival 2021.


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