The Piece With The Drums
The Piece With The Drums. Image by Ros Kavanagh
There’s a sizeable contingent who see dance as beginning and ending in the body. For whom sound, especially percussive rhythms, provide sufficient conditions for dance, but not a necessary one. This relationship of dance to sound explored in Coiscéim Dance Theatre’s delightful The Piece With The Drums. The brainchild of drummer Conor Guilfoyle, given vivid life by choreographer David Bolger. Resulting in an untidy production looking unfinished in places. One whose overwhelming joy, along with some stunning dance sequences, almost forgive it falling short of its aims.
Despite high-minded, theoretical aspirations, what emerges is a low key affair. The Piece With The Drums beginning, and ending, without the drums. Opening with a laconic Justine Cooper taking to the stage with the too cool poise of a cabaret club hostess. Even sporting an unlit cigarette Cooper is grace personified; her soft, shuffling saunter, arms extended like a marionette, a presence warm yet distant, detached yet inviting as she goes through pre-show house-keeping. Cooper, along with lights by Eamon Fox, establishing mood and atmosphere. Not for the last time will Fox’s lights prove spellbinding. Cooper also proving spellbinding, her balanced imbalance sequence looking sublime.
Formed from smoke and shadow, Ivonne Kalter doesn’t arrive so much as materialise (those lights again). Not for the last time will Kalter’s dexterous excellence astonish with movements informed by extension and balance. Like Cooper, Kalter is a jewel to behold, not solely because of what she can do with the body, but because of what she can make it express. A flowing duet with Alex O’Neill being a case in point.
The arrival of Guilfoyle introduces some playfulness as a drum kit is cleverly assembled. The introduction of music finding Guilfoyle’s drum score suggesting Buddy Rich more than John Bonham. With a boyish wink, retro hairstyle, and the dress sense of a low-budget wedding singer, Guilfoyle plays a smorgasbord of pieces, many imaginatively realised. Till it begins to resemble the drumming equivalent of Dad Rock. Solos and flourisihes looking like party tricks. Against which Bolger’s choreography can be a revelation. Even as dance often suggests exploratory exercises not having been explored enough. Trust fall routines, amongst others, looking like exercises that have only begun to start evolving into something deeper.
Conor Guilfoyle and Justine Cooper in The Piece With The Drums. Image by Ros Kavanagh
As routines are juxtaposed and beats established it all becomes cozily familiar. Meanwhile, solos provide opportunities for each of the five dancers (originally six, Diarmaid Armstrong having to withdraw last minute) to shine. Opportunities some don’t grasp. A stunning solo following a stand-up routine by Alex O’Neill taps into the rhythmic territory of hip hop with some restrained crunking. If Jonathan Mitchell is always good, his solo doesn’t quite imprint itself. Similarly Ghaliah Conroy whose keening singing changes the energy in the room, and not in a great way. Her voice good but never great; her short routine doesn't do enough to reclaim the lost vibrancy. Conroy not helped by Katie Davenport’s dress design slapping her in the face repeatedly.
Not for the last time will Davenport’s costumes disappoint; who, on her day, can be quite brilliant. As the end approaches, ruffled tuxedos aspire to Jazz era smoothness but look more like the aforementioned low-budget wedding band. Cooper’s party frock, the colour and texture of a rumpled chip bag, captures the inelegance of a second hand debs dress bought at a trailer park from a woman named Lurleen. Along with sickly pale shoes and paler ankle socks to complete the hillbilly chic look. Little of which enhances, or really distracts from, an irresistibly uplifting ending. In which Guilfoyle’s infectious love of rhythm conquers all, proving you can’t keep a good drummer down.
Steeped in old school stylings, The Piece With The Drums interrogates the relationship between the body, the beat and the dance. Choreographically, if movement establishes the body as an extension of, as well as having conversations with the drums, such conversations take place through conventional vocabularies that leave too much unsaid or unexplored. Even so, The Piece With The Drums serves up enough connections to craft an experience of joy. If a drummer’s contraception is his personality, Guilfoyle proves the exception to the rule. The Piece With The Drums might be flawed, but it still lifts you off your feet.
The Piece With The Drums by David Bolger, with music by Conor Guilfoyle, presented by Coiscéim Dance Theatre, runs at Project Arts Centre till Jan 28.