Thursday, 25 March 2010

Open Niche: performance at Daghdha Space

Arriving in the beautiful Daghdha space on Monday I was daunted by the amount and variety of participants that I needed to bring together to make the piece work. Six dancers from the MA programme in UL with whom I'd already made a short piece, Lucy Suggate who contributed the demented but fiercely precise energy of her Latin Beach, Ed Schouten's focused duet for Isa and Yesse, and the trio of Maria, Emmalena and Cathy whose improvisation circled the space. All of these contributions had an integrity and style of their own. I didn't want to compromise that integrity but still needed everyone to have confidence that their contribution would withstand the unusual context in which it would be viewed. I had empathy with any uncertainty since I am putting my own work in similar jeopardy.

The Daghdha space has a particular openness. It prides itself on being a space that anyone can come in to. It is not a sealed laboratory. Ironically for someone who professes to be want to open up his work, I found, when confronted by the dispersed energy of the Daghdha space, that I needed to provide a focus and a strong container for the many energies in the room. The sixteen performers felt like a cast of 50, but over the three days of rehearsal the gentle-edged jigsaw of our interaction came together, so that by the performance we knew the song of the unique work we'd created. It's a strange, unconventional song, devoid of the usual arc and cadences but all the more engaging for its unfamiliarity.

Photographs by Markus Voetter

I learned a great deal from the juxtapostions of my material with that of other people. I saw how extreme stillness and action could be held in delicious counterpoint. How layers of detail might be readable.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Open Niche: performance at Pavilion

We opened Niche at Pavilion with the dancers from Dublin Youth Dance Company crossing the space from auditorium to stage to join us during the performance. The ease with which they entered and left the playing space, moving from watching to doing to watching again helped to underline the sense that the dancers are not in a separate world but that we all share the same space, are citizens of the same republic and that our unusual abilities are are as common as the unusual abilities of others.

I liked hearing that some other audience members felt they could have walked across the stage if they wanted to. They understood the invitation to participation that Open Niche implies.

Of course, I wonder how we would really have coped with an unexpected audience intervention and yet, such is my confidence in the performers and their understanding of the work, that the integrity of the piece would have been maintained whoever joined them.

For the performance the DYDC dancers (whom I called the under thirtys to distinguish them from Mikel, Matthew, Stéphane and Bernadette) wore pyjama bottoms that reminded me over slumber parties and also the inner-city fashion for women in Dublin to go shopping in their pyjamas and boots. For the last scene however the dancers changed in to their own glamorous clothes, a contrast to the rubbish bags, the second hand clothing and the crumpled men in the space.

It was a great start to the Open Niche project - great to see the Niche dancers respond to the new energy that the DYDC dancers brought and great also that the DYDC dancers could see up close how such fine and experienced performers go about their craft. This building of connections is an important aspect of the project for me.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Open Niche: rehearsals at Dancehouse

Matthew, Mikel, Stéphane and Bernadette have gathered again in the wonderful studio 4 in Dancehouse and Niche is being transformed in to Open Niche. We were joined this week by dancers from the core professional company of Siamsa Tíre, The National Folk Theatre. I was expecting that Anne, Adrienne and Jo would come but unfortunately injury prevented Jo from taking part so the material we had made together last Autumn had a gap in it. I hadn't intended to have the visiting and local dancers work together physically, intending instead that they would share the same space in their separateness, but this gap invited a response and so I asked Anne and Adrienne to teach some of their traditional steps to Matthew, Mikel, Stéphane and even Bernadette.

That generous sharing of the Siamsa tradition and the responsiveness of the Niche dancers has created a dynamic I did not expect and which I welcome. Anne talked about 'folk' being what people do in the streets and since Niche has been made by what we've seen around us on the streets on Dublin, I think Open Niche can be a new kind of folk performance where the tradition embodied in Siamsa's generous dancers is transmitted to and transformed by new people.