ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

Posted: June 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms, Shoreditch Town Hall, June 8

These Rooms

Justine Cooper in These Rooms (photo: Pat Redmond)

In the pantheon of dance commemorations commissioned by 14-18 NOW, These Rooms, which remembers an incident in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, is not a lavish spectacle like Akram Khan’s XENOS, nor a staged narrative with a literary source like Gary Clarke’s The Troth, but a theatrical rendering based on archival material and witness accounts that takes history’s many facets into account. A collaboration between ANU and CoisCéim Dance Theatre and presented as part of this year’s LIFT, These Rooms doesn’t try to glorify the dead but to bring them back to life, to give them a chance to explain what happened. In the North King Street Massacre there were casualties on both sides; the voices of victims and survivors are heard amid the rush and adrenalin of the promenade performance created in the maze of spaces in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. While Owen Boss’s meticulous designs that Ciaran Bagnall has lit suggest the rooms in which the original action took place, the costumes of Niamh Lunny, the hair and make-up of Lucy Browne and Chloe Bourke and the musical indications of Dennis Clohessy and Carl Kennedy place the events on the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre in 1966, making These Rooms a commemoration within a commemoration. Tragedy in the face of loss never descends to the level of melodrama but is rendered in profound states of danced gesture, while grief and despair are matched with bleak humour and resilience. All eight performers are note perfect in their emotional involvement: Justine Cooper, Damian Gildea, Úna Kavanagh, Niamh McCann, Jonathan Mitchell, Robbie O’Connor, Emma O’Kane and Matthew Williamson.

These Rooms does not aim to trace the entire scope of the Easter Rising, but takes one of the key skirmishes — where Irish rebels had occupied numerous small buildings and had barricaded the streets — as a simulacrum of the bold attempt to establish an Irish Republic. One of the controversial aspects of the North King Street Massacre was the indiscriminate nature of the killings; whoever lived in the houses was considered a rebel and the British troops were given the order to take no prisoners. Yet one of the transformative elements of the production is the portrayal of death, however violent, as a moment of release. The image of Williamson’s filigree hands and wide-eyed, slow-motion tumbling down the stairs after being shot is memorable.

The violence in the street is constantly suggested by the tensions between the men and women inside. Threads of stories are started then interrupted by our urgent relocation to another ‘safer’ room or corridor only to be reprised and resolved later; one cohort might see the representation of a story the other will hear recounted, but by the end we have all taken in the full picture. The audience both observes and participates for the direction of David Bolger and Louise Lowe invites us to join in the action — whether it’s sitting around in the pub, blowing up balloons, playing darts, dancing with the women, responding to questions or eating bread and jam.

Before the performance starts, the audience is divided into two cohorts that follow two separate narrative paths, one nuanced by the perspective of the Irish rebels and the other of the British troops. I start in the pub while Caterina starts in the barracks of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The sheer complexity of the logistics for the eight performers to make these two threads coherent for the audience is breathtaking for neither cohort is aware of the other until we meet in the pub to watch the 1966 tickertape parade on the bar’s television screen. Having witnessed a view of the events from the inside — particularly through the experiences of the women who in their support for the rebels had to bear the brunt of the violence and its consequences — this solemn filmed memorial appears to smooth out all the pain of history. And the story of a British soldier who thought he was being sent to France and was unprepared to kill civilians reminds us how much ‘official history’, no matter from which side, is heavy with silences.

Honouring the dead is itself a minefield of codified ritual pitting the political power and authority of the state over the privations and losses of those directly affected. These Rooms brings these two aspects into stark and uneasy cohabitation. After watching the televised parade we are ushered out the door with a solicitous word of encouragement. There is no place for applause.

CoisCéim Dance Theatre: Swimming with my Mother

Posted: June 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on CoisCéim Dance Theatre: Swimming with my Mother

Choreographed by David Bolger, artistic director of CoisCéim Dance Theatre, with his mother Madge. Lighting Design: Eamon Fox, Sound Design: Ivan Birthistle & Vincent Doherty, Video Artist: Jym Daly.

Pavilion Theatre, Brighton Festival, May 18

A green wooden bench stands centre stage with a red towel rolled up like a pillow at one end, the kind of wooden bench you might find at any municipal swimming pool, but the story begins at the seaside. White gulls are flying on a black screen and the moon rises slowly up the screen from the rolling surf of the stage while Madge and David, mother and son, arrive in the dark, he dancing at the end of her hand as if he will never stop. As they swim together on the bench, Madge’s recorded voice, as sonorous and rolling as the waves, begins her story: I helped him to swim in the sea. I was always in the water. Naturally when I had children I wanted them to swim too. They swim the crawl. David went to the pool when he was two. They thought he looked like a fish. When you’re in the water you can clear your mind of any worries you may have.

David improvises a dance on a swimming theme, watched by his mother as if she is making sure he is safe in the water, then they both lie on the bench, agelessly kicking their legs while behind them on the screen the water is splashing. A whistle blows and the indefatigable boy finally takes a break. Madge gives him a banana and wipes his hair and face, not forgetting his ears. He is in playful mood and partners his mother, wrapping her in the red towel. Madge continues: I went to dance school so I learnt a few little steps. I got the part of a little bunny rabbit but I got stage fright and couldn’t go on.

We hear a big splash, then the sound of bubbles under water. Mother and son appear like fish in slow motion dancing to the Aquarium section of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. He partners her gently by the arm, keeping a filial distance. I think of partnering my mother and it would be just like that. They come up for air and dry off, looking in the mirror to make sure the hair is just right. I continued dancing until I had babies, then my dancing days came to a little halt. David and Madge are now on the ballroom floor. They look together at something off stage, then he dances for her with an imaginary partner, abandons himself to a little tap routine in his bare feet, then offers her his hand. They dance together as he mimes the Nat King Cole song, It’s Only A Paper Moon: “It’s only a paper moon, stretched over a canvas sea, but it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me.” Perhaps this is what she and her husband had danced to before David’s birth. He lets her rest, does another little routine by himself and sits on the bench looking at the moon. Mother and son take hands, then move to opposite ends of the bench, facing out into the night. Some kind of rupture is in the air. He repeats a movement he did earlier, fishtailing along the bench closer to his mother. He puts his head on her shoulder and ends up lying lifeless in her arms. She stretches him out on the bench and gives him artificial respiration. Caught in the undertow for too long, perhaps, but now they are swimming again, now treading water. David’s voice: Madge took me swimming in the night, looking at all the lights in the distance. We were out quite a while, but you always felt safe with Mum. “I think I still do,” he adds with a smile. Madge has set the bench in the other direction, like a diving board, ready for his lesson. He steps up and she pushes him in. The sea scares me, he says. I get panicked about fish. I feel I’m in their world and the water freaks me out. He looks wet now with perspiration; she wipes him down. I was determined they were going to swim properly, she recollects. The wave took me way out. My husband swam but he wasn’t a great swimmer. David’s in the undertow. My husband had a problem with his lungs. He’s been dead 16 years and had emphysema at the end of his life, so maybe he didn’t enjoy swimming as much as we did. She gives David the rolled-up red towel in which she has hidden a gold medal. He finds it; one of his perhaps, but he puts it around his mother’s neck. Nat King Cole sings Unforgettable and he dances with her. It is her music but their dance: time is stretched over two lives, wrapping them up together. “Never before has someone been more unforgettable in every way.” He dances all around her; she moves in swimming gestures that he copies, keeping close to her. He lays out the red towel on the bench. She sits and takes off her shoes: It was my father who taught me to dance. Now they are both in their bare feet, just sitting together, watching the sea and listening to the sound of the gulls.

After the warm applause David talks about a commission he received to make a solo and he thought of the story of how his mother got him to swim. His teachers had demonstrated how to swim on dry ground, so he decided to make a film of dancing in the water. Madge speaks: “Thank you for the applause and all that.” She talks about the film, Deep End Dance, directed by Conor Horgan with original music by Michael Fleming and filmed by Richard Kendrick in the pool where she taught David to swim. We see the film. David appears at the poolside in a suit; he is given a nose plug and goggles and Madge pushes him into the pool fully dressed. The rest is shot underwater. He dances like a fish, somersaults, does handstands, pirouettes, pushes himself up from the floor to the surface, sinks back down and lies on his side as if on an underwater couch. He is in his natural element. Madge plunges in to join him in a beautiful, watery duet after which he sinks to the bottom again, as if to rest, and she returns to the surface. Not for long. She dives down again, grabs him by the hair and heaves him up to the surface. The mother will not allow the element that has united her with her son for so long to separate them now.