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.