Monday, 27 October 2008

Niche: Audience response

I asked some people who had come to see Niche to respond to three questions: What did you see? What did you feel? What did you think?

Many thanks to Eithne Doyle for these answers:

Niche = A place of retreat or retirement

What did you see?

I did not see a place of retreat or retirement. Rather, I felt that in that dark space there was a sense of cosmic loneliness.

What did you feel?

I felt the young men were living “kidult” lives, relying on games to communicate with one another. They seemed confused, wary of human contact while, simultaneously, longing for it. They appeared not to know their place in the scheme of things and consequently were unable to find their niche. Maybe their niche was pretence. The woman, on the other hand, though she was a remote and solitary figure, was methodically carving out her space, attending to the practical things – as women do – preparing food and sorting clothing but passively, almost mechanically. Her world and that of the
young men never met.
Technically, the piece was superb. I liked the fact that there was no background music. Instead, the dancers provided their own living sounds thus adding hugely to the physicality of the work.

What do you think now?

Is “Niche” a comment on the changing landscape of Dublin’s Docklands? Are these young men reflecting the sense of loss and dislocation caused by the destruction of the old neighbourhoods? Or are they just confused by the changing role of men in our society and by their inability to find their place in that society.

“Change is not made without inconvenience even from worse to better”

Eithne Doyle

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Finding his own niche dancing on the streets

Colin Murphy's article about Niche in today's Irish independent

Finding his own niche dancing on the streets
Saturday October 25 2008
One afternoon during the summer of last year, Fearghus Ó Conchúir put on his black overcoat, put the hood up, and walked out into the rain. He was looking for something.

He wandered through Dublin's northside till he found himself on a corner in the docklands, on Guild Street, where the pavement was wider. He took out his mobile phone, turned on the video function, and propped it up so it was watching him. And then he started dancing.

He danced for 10 minutes, took a break, and danced again. Some people walked by, giving him a wide berth. A woman sitting outside her house called him over.

"You want to be careful of that," she said, pointing at the phone. "It'll get robbed." And she asked him what he was doing. A passing car stalled, and the driver asked him what he was up to.

He was up to a few things. He was dancing. He was researching. He was rehearsing. He was recording. He had been given money by Dublin City Council and the Arts Council to develop choreography on the theme of 'bodies and buildings'. The body of Dublin was changing, he believed -- not just the physical city, of buildings and infrastructure, but also the typical, individual, human body.

Ó Conchúir wanted to explore this in dance, and so he would spend his morning developing dances in the studio, working with his ideas about different bodies, and then, in the afternoons, he would try these dances in different places in the docklands, to see how they felt, and how the environment changed them.

That work has ultimately become the show Niche, which plays tonight in Dublin's Project Arts Centre, and next Saturday in the Mermaid in Bray.

But at that early stage, Ó Conchúir wasn't thinking of getting it into a theatre.

"The thing about performing in a theatre is that it's people who are comfortable coming to a theatre who will come to see it," he says. "To do it on the streets is a way to let people stop and watch as long as they want to."

Many of those who passed him dancing simply ignored him. "It's interesting what level of strangeness people will accept," he observes, wryly.

Others would watch from afar: office workers smoking outside their building; or builders on construction sites. "It pleases me that there can be a place for art alongside the everyday. I like that it was okay for me to do my thing alongside people smoking, or building, or pushing the pram, or whatever."

Having worked on his own, he decided to bring in some other dancers, and produce a show. But as he was due to put the finishing touches to an Arts Council application, he fell ill, and missed the deadline.

He was devastated. He knew the time was right for this show, and didn't want to wait until the next funding round. So he decided to try fundraising himself.

He sent out an email: "You can help me make a new dance piece. I am looking for 500 people to donate €100 each," it said. Once he had 10 positive replies, he knew the piece would happen -- though he ultimately received just 50 donations. (The rest is being made up by in-kind donations of theatre services, and his own money.)

Paradoxically, he found it empowering to say to people, "I need help, can you help me?"

It provided a way of bringing other people into the project, and forced him to think more about communicating and sharing what he was doing. (All of this early work, including the Guild St video, is documented on his blog, He calls his funders 'the Optimists'.

Despite the bleak economic prospects, he says he too is optimistic for the arts: "We made this piece on a shoestring. We found a way to use the limited resources at hand to make something that I hope is beautiful and engaging. There is something that is optimistic for me about being able to do that."

Niche features four dancers, a motley collection of artefacts cluttered on a bare stage, and no music.

"Music often tells an audience what to feel and think and I'd prefer to let you make your own mind up," he writes in a programme note. "And besides, there's lots to listen to: the sound of plastic bags, of jumps, of effort, of traffic in the distance... "

He describes how the docklands environment inspired the dances: sites there can be strewn with rubbish; looking at abandoned objects, he would wonder where they had come from.

"What's the story behind that child's buggy in the middle of that wasteground?" he might think.

Niche, he says, is "a dance about finding your place". It may sound eccentric, but that fits. Ó Conchúir's method is a celebration of the eccentricity that flourishes in the city, of the ways people forge an identity amidst the turbulent cross currents of economic and social change. Ultimately, everybody needs to find their niche.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Michael Seaver's review of Niche

In this section »
Perfect parables of futility
The Irish Times writers review the latest in the arts world


Project, Dublin

Choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir didn't set out to create a dance about the current financial difficulties, but it is just one pretty apparent reading of his latest work, Niche . The hour-long dance sets out to examine the common search for a personal niche and a safe refuge from the perils of ordinary life, but it sheds more light on what happens when one abandons that cubbyhole and when individuality is replaced by mutuality.

As the audience finds its own personal space on Project's benched seating, three male dancers - Mikel Aristegui, Stéphane Hisler and Matthew Morris - walk on-stage with a chair and mark out their space, emptying bags of possessions and creating individual enclaves so that a coat slung on a chair-back becomes a tent-like barrier. These spaces become refuges where the performers retire from the dancing to read a book, glug on a water bottle or lie face-down with a hood pulled over their head.

But this isn't where they are happiest; instead, they prefer to feel integrated and attached to the other dancers. At these moments, the movement is at its most joyous, like an arms-around-shoulders chorus line of kicks and lurches that roars camaraderie and bonhomie.

Throughout the proceedings, a solitary female, Bernadette Iglich, drags black refuse sacks of clothes and cardboard boxes along the back wall of the stage, ignoring and ignored by the other performers.

The resonance with today's uncertain financial times isn't just through the despondent street-life surroundings, but rather through a deeper sense that social moorings have disappeared and the moral framework that binds people must be recreated. Leaving behind the selfish exuberance of the Celtic Tiger for more stringent realities, the relationship between individual goals and the means to achieve them has become disjointed.

Similarly, in Niche , the dancers are drawn out from the relative comfort of their heaps of possessions to rediscover the informal rules that bind them, and finish up by creating a slow trio that shows a reassuring co-dependency.

But Ó Conchúir's theme is universal and his thoughtful choreography is robust enough to take any number of readings, whatever the context. Until Sat


Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Folk inspiration

Having previously posted that video that didn't directly inspire Niche, I thought I should share some of the vintage footage (gleaned from youtube) that we really did use as inspiration. Attitude as much as steps were gleaned from these videos. Having learned lots of Eastern European folk dance when I was at the United World College of the Pacific in Canada, this kind of dance has a personal resonance for me. Learning it when I was 18 and 19, it was the beginning of my discovery of the how important dance could be in my life. For Niche, however, I was interested in how these folk dances permit men to dance with each other, regardless of their sexuality.

This one is a couple's dance - an older man and woman - but it's still a favourite, particularly the weighty bounce of the woman while her partner does his flashy steps. This section inspired a little duet for Matthew and Stéphane.

More men dancing in the city

Mikel sent me this link and it reminds me what men dancing in the city could look like, as well as outing influences that I hadn't dared acknowledge. It's also a colourful contrast to the restrained tones of Niche!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Extra niches from Dan Dubowitz

Reuben's niche

From Dan: "This was the mausoleum built by Mussolini's son-in-law, number 2 in the regime, for himself.
Mussolini killed him in the end and the unfinished mausoleum lies incomplete on the top of the hill overlooking Livorno. This is one we need to visit together some day."

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Final day in the Dancehouse studio

An excerpt from one of our final run-throughs is the studio. This is a bit of what I call Babushka (Matthew and Stéphane) and Stick duet (Matthew and Stéphane with Mikel joining in)

Friday, 17 October 2008

Matthew and Mikel go Niche crazy

Matthew and Mikel went walking near Dalkey last weekend and filled with notions of place-finding inserted Matthew into a sea-side grotto. I see the perverted Venus rising but I also remember that many religions place their special statues in secret places. Ave Maria. When I imagine niches in the city, it is instructive that I usually think of them as places for one person at a time - a special place for a special person. Maybe there can be group snugs too.

If you're easily disturbed don't turn your computer on its side to view this image.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Mitch's photos from Niche rehearsal

Mitch (Jonathan Mitchell) took these pictures for me in rehearsals. Press needed clearer images than the beautifully grimy ones he's already taken for me outdoors and which I've used in the posters. I'm glad of the opportunity to get him in the studio with us, since as a former dancer, he can read the movement and capture its idiosyncrasies.

This is a picture of a moment I called Scheherazade. In the middle of the section we call Mudra, when the men are in a tangled connection of hand holds, Matthew finds his arms crossing his face and does flirty eyes as if above a veil. Scheherazade colours some of Matthew's other material too but this one is seen only by the other dancers - a private recognition.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Three+1 Barnardo Square: Niamh's photos

Still more, high quality pictures of the Barnardo Square screening from Niamh O' Donnell's camera. It's great to see the film taking it's place amid the light's and bustle of a Dublin Friday evening.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


I've asked people to send me pictures of their favourite niches in the city

Here's Rachel's:

And Matthew's Angel

And some people in London, making a seat where there wasn't one

This is from Dominic, an image by photographer SARAH JONES called The Park (II), 2002. (Courtesy Maureen Paley, London)

In the Studio

We (Bernadette, Stéphane, Mikel and Matthew) are in the studio together for the last rehearsal period in the run-up to the opening of Niche. Mikel is joining us at this stage, not having been part of the process to date, and he's asked us all what the piece is about. I was interested that people didn't reply by saying what they thought the piece meant. Instead they talked about what they had been through in the development of the piece and how the experience of Dublin city was an intrinsic part of what they'd been through. Our job now is to maintain that openness to the life of the city as we take the work into the theatre.

While we were talking in the studio, two of the trees from the park ajoining Dancehouse were felled by the council. We couldn't help but have those changes influence us in the studio.

So now we have some sawdust piles to play with. Bernadette told the council worker that we were making a dance and he offered her more sawdust if we needed it.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Three+1 Barnardo Square More photos

These are James Kelly's photos of the Culture Night screening of Three+1. Seeing the work happen as the city's night life goes on is an important for me. The two can exist side by side. It's also important as I take this work into Project in the shape of NICHE that I can maintain the sense of the city's life going on outside as we make a particular place for the dance within the walls of the theatre.

Architect Will Alsop on the Public Realm

Today the situation is more open and the opportunity exists for the artist to redefine the space itself rather than simply produce work to be sited by others. The role of the artist in determining our external experience is essential. Without
the artist, the role falls to the landscape architects and/or the urban designers. Current art practice goes way beyond the idea
of the object placed in space. Appropriately, the content of our “public realm” must reflect the people who use it by going way
beyond a town councillor’s view on what ART is.

The idea of public space as something other than a surface to connect two front doors is radical. The work of PUBLIC ART
through its rich and diverse activities sets out to question the nature of this space --- that every town & city has in abundance ---- and programme it as opposed to designing it. The distinction between these two activities is vital. One is about
beautification, which often degenerates into style or heritage. The other is about reclaiming the space for genuine public use.

If the street could be the city art gallery, then why not a school? No shops but markets? No theatre but a continuous
performance? The public realm has the ability to liberate many of our treasured institutions in such a way that they could be
redefined. This is the work of the artist and architect, alongside the rest of the community.

This extract from Will Alsop's contribution to 'People Making Places: Imagination in the Public Realm' raises a distinction between programming the public space rather than designing it. This distinction is useful for a performance based artist like me but it also suggests that the engagement with the public realm needs to be dynamic and evolving rather than monumental and immutable. Of course that dynamism may not be only expressed in human bodies. I'm thinking of Sarah Browne's wooden rainbow near Lurganboy as part of the New Sites, New Fields project for Leitrim sculpture Centre. The structure was erected in a field, an expression of the collective energy that created and assembled it. Having survived the Irish weather for a few weeks, it has collapsed. It's rise and fall has an expressive dynamic that participates in the public realm rather than attempt to determine that space.

See Sarah's account of the building and collapse of the rainbow at:

More of Will Alsop's piece at

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Don Sheehan's exhibition Urbis Modo

Broadstone Studios sent me an invitation to see Don Sheehan's photographic exhibition Urbis Modo. It's a collection of photos taken at night in Dublin between 1998 and 2008. Many of the images of people in various states of intoxication but they struck a chord with me because they also depict people nestling into the inhospitable surfaces of the urban space. In stupor and dereliction, people find a niche and make the city adapt to their overwhelming need to switch off and pass out.

There's a link to the online gallery below.