Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dancing in the Streets: contemporary dance in public art.

There have been a slew of new dance and public art initiatives which tackle issues of place and identity. Three recent initiatives where dance has been put to work addressing concerns that artists have about their lives, their art and their environment are ‘Niche’ by Fearghus O’Conchúir, ‘Between Earth Sky & Home’ by Ríonach Ní Néill and ‘Not A Fish’ by Anne Cleary & Denis Connolly. Sometimes seeking attachment, sometimes seeking to confound, these artists have used contemporary dance and performance art to relate a series of encounters in some unlikely settings.

O’Conchúir’s ‘Niche’ was performed in the Project Theatre recently. It is a theatre-based 4-hander presenting work devised and first performed out of doors, under the cranes and scaff of a docklands skyline. ‘Niche’ tracks the search for ‘a place’ for locals, workers and a resident choreographer. It offers an audience an unsentimental take on the quest for niche, represented with determination and cool discipline. O’Conchúir has a blog documenting his journey towards ‘Niche’

Artist in the Community Ríonach Ní Néill’s evocative ‘Between Earth, Sky & Home’ was devised with a cast of 4 professional and 15 young dancers from north Clondalkin. Referencing the wide-open landscape of west Dublin, the work offers insights into the young dancers’ lives alongside the adult dancers’ reflections on childhood and adolescence. The performances were accompanied by an exhibition of sketchwork of the local area commissioned by the young dancers. South Dublin County Council hosts links to film and documentary footage of the work on the arts pages at

Film and visual artist’s Anne Cleary and Denis Connolly were invited to give a ‘Body & Film’ seminar at DanceHouse. An aspect of the work involved taking their cameras and dancers outdoors creating an impromptu encounter with the world outside the centre. The work culminated in the creation of ‘Not a Fish’ a challenging short film, which generated a broad debate about art, participation and representation. The finished work includes a text documenting the encounter and the subsequent debate. More on Cleary and Connolly’s work can be seen on their website

It is interesting to see that as large as these projects are in scope and aspiration they draw support in a hybrid fashion. They rely on local authority and arts council funding (including South Dublin County Council and Dublin Docklands) and garner support by partnering with agencies such as Create or Dance Ireland and organisations including Project Theatre. We can expect more of these enterprising collaborations in the future.

And finally, in the interest of the future of collaboration and a treat for anyone keen on what is described by the Washington Post as ‘the source of epochal revolution in the scope and purposes of art’ was Liz Lerman’s series of presentations on Critical Response Process organised by Bealtaine, the Dublin Dance Festival, the Abbey and Create. US choreographer Lerman has fine-tuned her working theory over the past 30 years and has tested it in the fields of business, art and science (amongst others) in order to find a working process for collaboration between experts in diverse fields. Credit is due to choreographers John Scott and Ríonach Ní Néill for submitting their works to the rigour of critical inquiry. More on Lerman’s techniques and company The Dance Exchange at

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