Monday, February 20, 2012

CoisCéim, ‘Touch Me’: Tables and Chairs

Town Hall Theatre, Galway
Feb 14

My review of Touch Me coming up just as soon as I hand you some keys ...

Upon entering the Town Hall Theatre on Valentine’s one might remark that there’s possibly not a more appropriate evening in the calendar for the cheeky sexual candours of choreographer David Bolger, who two years ago with CoisCéim’s Faun asked the audience for a scarf with which to masturbate. The mood has since shifted for CoisCéim, who have always been exceptional at keeping pace with the cultural shifts of Ireland since their emergence in the mid 1990s. In a culture marked by debt and the wrongdoings of the ‘one percent’, Touch Me points some fingers but thankfully doesn’t give into a polemic. More urgently, there’s an Irish innocence still recovering from the latest fallout between the human and the economic that is seeking symbols with which to pave its future.

With straightened palms the performers measure themselves, registering their heights against the walls of Monica Frawley’s derelict but beautiful set. The performers joyously connect with one another. A point of contact between two dancers becomes treasured as their hands massage and nurture the physical impression between them. Kenneth Edge’s luring saxophone releases brass notes that both linger and fire rapidly, giving the dancers their beat. The influence of the music takes the piece into a radical turn as the heavy strains of an electric guitar sends the performers slamming into the wall, followed by a physical allegory depicting the corporate greed which snatched what capital it could. In the aftermath of this explosive sequence they explore the abandoned space, finding various objects and property, and attempt to renew the relationship between the human and the economic. 

Bolger’s wit comes into play in sharpening the political edge of the piece. At one point Robert Jackson gestures anecdotally as he embodies the sentiments of liberty and leadership of De Valera’s ‘The Ireland I have dreamed of’ speech. Emma O’Kane, both sweepingly elegant and warrior-poised, proves to be a satirical weapon, miming Mary Harney’s unfortunate choice of words: “We did it with the economy, and now we’ll do it with health as well”. But it’s O’Kane’s heroic movements that inspire more, as if Irish liberty has found a new hero in a time when sovereignty and leadership are failed values. It is apt that she is the one who the other performers coat with keys. As they slip and fall to the ground with every shift in her movement, the moment is a sublime one, conveying a multitude of opportunities but also the failure of how to effectively wield them.

The intimacy the title of the piece suggests is that between humanity and materiality. Since Marx, thinkers have investigated and distinguished the commodity, technology and art, and their effects on human development. CoisCéim’s contribution to this discourse is both timely and enlightening. Jen Fleenor and Nick McGough’s(*) close dance on a table and chair is reliant on one always holding the other to save them from falling . During pauses they request that the chair be repositioned, until eventually they instruct it to be removed all together. One could interpret this outcome as a prioritisation of the human over the object or maybe as a human failure to properly ‘use’ the chair. When lanterns in the shape of monopoly houses are placed on McGough’s body and they tumble as he moves it may refer to the weight of the crushing mortgages in this country or as another misuse in human interaction with the material.

(*) I’m probably at the risk of sounding unprofessional but does anyone else think that McGough is probably the most beautiful human on the planet?

Touch Me reminds us of the importance of human interaction in a superficial society but it also poetically proposes a renegotiation of the relationship between individuals and objects. Today’s society is one which failed in the maintenance of this bond. As CoisCéim sift through the wreckage, they find that a new value needs to underlie such a relationship: a virtue to ensure that we engage with materiality in a manner which allows us to access our opportunities as opposed to letting them tumble to the floor.

What did everybody else think?

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