Dublin Dance Festival

June 5, 2011

Project Arts, DanceHouse,

and other venues

May 13–28, 2011

Performances reviewed: May 22–25


Four zany dancers of Ponydance. Photo by Brian Farrell, Courtesy DDF.


Maybe only in a country where pubs embrace both debauchery and family fun could Ponydance Theatre Company spread mayhem and delight in a tiny upstairs bar. A cross between the wit of Saturday Night Live and the anarchy of DanceNoise of the 1980s, the group comprises four zany dancers. In their collectively made Anybody Waitin’?, artistic director Leonie McDonagh sets the tone with her tough-sexy-girl act. Not since Gwen Verdon has being seductive been so wickedly funny.

And there was a story—loosely that McDonagh is trying to attract a guy for her bff Paula O’Reilly, who will then “trap” him. Paula is the kind of chunky girl who struts her flesh with great finesse. (Tracy Turnblad of Hairspray has nothing on her!) Then their two fey pals, Ryan O’Neill and Duane Watters, tag along and hook up with each other in the end. The four make raucous use of audience participation (“put this lip gloss on me when I call you”) that keeps the rest of us laughing our heads off.

The dancing combines Broadway kicks, Vegas bumps and grinds, punchy arabesques, and a hasty fish dive (between two guys). All four are good dancers, but that’s almost incidental. Their irony-drenched antics (e.g. asking who wants a date with Paula, telling volunteers to change clothes in a tiny folding tent) bring us to a pitch of delirium.

The other two performances I saw at this two-week festival were eminently sober. Both seemed like elegant, even eloquent exercises that didn’t quite stretch into fully realized pieces. Balbir Singh, who has studied with Akram Khan in England, juxtaposed a kathak dancer and a contemporary dancer in Decreasing Infinity. Though the inventive blending of forms highlighted both similarities and differences, the two dancers stared straight ahead, keeping things a bit clinical. Two musicians—tabla player John Ball and human beatbox Bigg Taj—sat on either side of the stage. The only spontaneity came from Taj, who reacted to the dancers by conducting the air with quick, emphatic hand movements as he made his sounds.

Compagnie Sui Generis, a group from France directed by Emmanuelle Vo-Dinh, showed two works, each impressive in its consistency. In Fractale, three people in bathing suits stood facing each other, never leaving their spots. One reached out and touched another, then withdrew her hand. Then the second dancer did the same, then the third. This went on calmly, studiously, each time with eyes following the hand. Gradually the reach-out-and-touch turned into a curved gesture that engendered a curved response. So the three became momentarily entwined, though always pulling back. Nothing else changed. It was sort of mesmerizing but also pretty thin stuff.

, Vo-Dinh’s second piece, was more satisfying. Alexia Bigot and Cyril Geeroms performed a phrase in unison, each staying in their half of the space. It began with a thumbnail in the mouth as a pensive gesture and grew into a Trisha Brown-like phrase, all soft precision. Two dark-clothed vocalists paced, each in a narrow vertical path upstage and downstage at either side of the space. Their vocalizing expanded from breathing—very organic. Camille Kerdellant, stage left, sometimes sounded like a mounting sneeze that never happened. David Monceau, stage right, sometimes sounded like the subsiding of laughter that never was.

Bigot and Geeroms repeated the phrase with their own variations, working themselves into a lather. She, sensual and fierce, became queen of the jungle—still staying confined to stage right. He, stage left, bounded up and smashed to the ground. The most dramatic moment came when he jabbed his elbow, drill-like, into the ground, stunning the vocalists into silence. A momentary thrill and a sweet relief. At the end, as if to emphasize the lack of connection between the two dancers, a beam of light cut through the center of the stage from front to back.

Other events that rounded out the festival included master classes, a film showing, a panel discussion on criticism (in which I participated), and an illuminating discussion with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s choreographer Lin Hwai-min. (Unfortunately I had to miss Cloud Gate’s performance, which was the centerpiece event.) Sadly, festival director Laurie Uprichard has decided this is her last year. Since 2007 she has brought to Dublin Dance Festival the same devotion, taste, and vision that she lavished on the Danspace Project in New York for many years.