IMHO, I think there doesn’t need to be a point for watching dance and I think it’s murky territory when a dance show engages in literalisms. A dance show about Roger Casement sounds like it would be literalism-mania, so I entered with trepidation but was surprised at how this show actually played out. I mean there were scenes where people fell over to represent soldiers dying in the war and that kind of stuff but not too much. At its best, the show was contrasting the deadness of Casement’s body with the sexuality of living people. At one point Matthew Morris, who sports a Roger Casement-esque beard says ‘I’m Matthew Morris’, which seemed to confirm that the show might be more about the biography of the artists rather than of Casement himself. What if this Irish republican hero was gay (recent evidence suggests he was, despite my 6th class teacher Mrs. Guerin insisting it was ‘British lies’). They have fun with this. Particularly a song that riffs on a line from Casement’s diaries ‘deep to the hilt’. And by the end of the show we become removed from politics altogether and the atmosphere feels like we’re just hanging out with friends in a city somewhere after a club. Looking at shiny walls, and shaking a big sheet so it looks like the sea. The images are pretty and suggest a contrast to the life of a man shot dead for smuggling guns. Or maybe not. Maybe Roger had his lighter moments too. He liked butterflies after all.
So the show made sense. But movement wise there was something predictable about a lot of the choices. How many times in Irish contemporary dance do we see people applying sways, or stumbles or falls to their choreography. And this piece had its fair share of each. And I’m not just saying that cause it’s my bugbear. I’m saying because it makes me question the urgency of the project.
There was a clear and interesting dramaturgy. And as an idea it made sense. So I wonder why the movement didn’t respond to this in a more interesting way. Did they even have to ‘dance’? Some of the more interesting movements for me were when the dancers shared a laugh together. Or when they stood around and compared heights.If the piece was looking at biography, why didn’t we see more of the dancers’ personalities in the movement. Or maybe the exploration of sexuality could have been more interesting. It is possible to be unique.
I would diagnose this as a problem of a work that wants to be good and so it isn’t great. Overall, the show was benign and charming and definitely good. And I enjoyed it. But… ye know.
Dick for DRAFF
Butterflies and Bones, as part of The Casement Project by Fearghus Ó Conchúir, runs at Project Arts Centre until October 22nd. [thecasementproject.ie] image: Stephen Wright