Choreographer David Bolger gives gesture to the ballads of Agnes Bernelle in a dazzling tribute.
Project Arts Centre
My review of AGNES by David Bolger coming up just as soon as I give a damn that I can't reach top C ...
"My songs always tell what this crazy life does".
Throughout AGNES we hear the brusque Bernelle - a spy, dancer, cabaret singer and one-time director of Project Arts Centre - and her sultry voice sneaking up on the complete implosion of mankind. It's a raw talent that the intelligible CoisCéim Dance Theatre can do more than just give tribute to but to realise in their own considered physicality. After all, choreographer David Bolger has an in with the woman of the evening; she was his neighbour.
An opening scene begets glamour - poised women waving fans, the reveal of an antique mirror. Then, as Bernelle's voice swings the filthy melodies of Brecht and Weill, gestures sink into the crude allure of cabaret chair dancing. It leans unsettlingly into aggression as performers scuffle to songs about beer halls and brawls (the fists of street-dancer Don King Rongavilla keep firing long after the music ends), eventually making an advance on Daniel Cainer's scrolling piano ballad about a hunt for a criminal on the road to Marseilles.
The mood shifts in a flash with a song about celebrity as Justine Cooper's prized turn as a starlet crawls fretfully after a moving spotlight. She's launched into the air with a comic cry but the lyrics send her plummeting to a startling end. Meanwhile, the debonair Nick McGough pimped out in pumps, with men whistling at his intimidating heels, stumbles at first but steps suavely into a satire of objectification.
It's Bernelle's songs about femininity that are the most visceral. Emma O'Kane's lush movements while draped over a chaise longue eventually twist and wrench her from a pronounced sexuality, leaving her back facing the audience, her saddened face barely visible in the cracked antique mirror upstage. She's later ensnared in a chillingly cold spotlight, moving to the brittle lines of the Tom Waits-penned Broken Bicycles, its affect embodied in the lyric: "Somebody must have an orphanage for these things nobody wants anymore".
Bolger knows how to line up a finale as women wickedly take flight, the creaseless movements cascading one after another in time with Bernelle's snarling voice knocking down, one-by-one, the male-authored atrocities of the world. The bubbling aftermath is indicative of affection for the siren at hand but it's drenched in sentimentality - a weakness the choreographer can be prone to - too dependent on the music to guide the action.
It is the closest you'll feel to Berenelle, realising her ballads in bodies that pulverise but also smuggle an honesty - the fabulous flaws of humanity. In the dazzle of an upheaved society there was Agnes, and now there is CoisCéim.
What did everybody else think?