Poised for another phase of redevelopment, Dublin’s Docklands becomes a mise en scène in an initiative bringing together choreographers and urban planners (Photo: Marcel Bassachs).
What activates a space? For Italian translator and dance curator Giulia Galvana, it’s a single step. Her initiative Mind Your Step, a two-day event involving a performance trail and a symposium bringing together choreographers and urban planners, is based upon a singular principal: movement creates centres of activity. Now brought to Dublin in collaboration with dance managers Eleanor Creighton and Argyris Aryrou, its arrival is timely. With the Docklands poised for another phase of redevelopment, this provides an opportunity to explore how public spaces are explored and presented.
The two-hour trail is made up of dance performances hidden away in secret venues. Inside a city council office on the boardwalk, choreographer Catherine Young presents The River Will Still Run to the Sea, a chronicle of the area’s history. A soundscape picks up the sounds of an old neighbourhood of dance halls and young slackers, its vigour found in dynamic dancers (Ivonne Kalter, Anna Kazuba and Kevin Coqueland) whose gestures are quick but soft, like pebbles rolling along the riverbed. The flipping of conference tables into barriers can be read as a shrewd representation of gentrification, with Steve Blount’s tie-wearing bureaucrat standing tall over the scene. What unfolds is actually a touching image of co-habitation, with gorgeous piano by contemporary musicians Deaf Centre trickling into hearing. Young’s choreography is gentle and filled with allusions of a changing social landscape, but it appropriately prefers abstraction towards the end when it makes its shapes outside on the riverfront. Despite interruptions, the unquantifiable river will still run to the sea.
We head for the south bank. Delightfully, crossing the Liffey also means sorting through a constellation of middle-aged women waltzing without music. The sweet display of same-sex and elder-age affection is a hopeful sign towards a changing society, of dated attitudes running quite literally like water under the bridge.
We make our way through the Grand Canal district. Scenoraphically, the trail demonstrates the sheer eclecticism of the area, where making a turn exchanges a row of redbrick houses or derelict warehouses for the corporate sheen of high-rising concrete and glass. This part of the city often comes under suspicion, oscillating between global and local, a soulless commercial sector and an old middle class Dublin neighbourhood.
This sense of incompleteness is archly captured in junk ensemble’s Sometimes We Break. Originally a commission for the Tate Modern, this promenade piece is now fitted amongst wooden scrap and debris in The Factory performance space. Passing a dollhouse decorated with plastic flames, we enter a shed containing fit-up wooden houses and two figures dancing a domestic conflict in the piercing moves of Justine Cooper and Carl Harrison. The event is playful yet cynical in Lian Bell’s design, as two jumpers sewn together bring the wearers in uneasy proximity, and strips of wallpaper are worn like battle armour. The company maintain their standard of fearless choreography; in one turn dancer Jessica Kennedy seemed certain to plummet to the ground but was caught at the last-second by a companion. A sweet bell-chiming score by Tom Lane with accordion accompaniment by Fionnuala Gygax accumulates with a song You Are (My Sweetheart). That need for explanatory parenthesis sums up the performance as a whole. It ends on contradicting notes of “Happily ever after” and delusion, conveying the parts that are missing in between.
A sense of incompleteness archly captured in junk ensemble's Sometimes We Break
Incompletion is a recurring motif on the trail, not only in a domestic context but also regarding commercial purpose. In Low_lying the sardonic delivery of performer Julie Shanley as a real estate agent makes a hard sell of a vacant unit on Castleforbes Street. Filling this void space is a collaboration between dance artist Jessie Keenan, choral director Robbie Blake and live performance artist Ciara McKeon, examining the topography of the Docklands. Images of dilapidation are projected onto thick screens of cling film wrapped tightly around pillars, choral music echoes powerfully, and dance gestures cut with aspiration, reaching desirously into the distance. As a whole it’s possibly too embryonic, its multidisciplinary devices un-synthesized. Yet, its image of the systematic organisation of a line of clay alludes to an instinct to constantly build and re-structure.
The task of rebuilding is more difficult for some than others. Choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir’s Niche was originally commissioned and performed in 2008 during the last days of the boom. Now revived on a street corner at New Wapping Street, Ó Conchúir along with fellow dancers Mikel Aristegui and Matthew Morris create a quiet, funny and utterly moving event about the inadaptability (and adaptability) of individuals to their landscape. With a sensitivity towards homelessness, these figures resemble those left furthest behind by society, mapping out their individual territories in the shadow of a financial district. Its permeability raises other questions of adaptability; as passerbys regularly walk down the street, some staying focused on the path ahead, others stopping to investigate, we see how people navigate their surroundings. In its final images, the three men create shelter for each other with their bodies, a still and balanced display of generosity on the rough pavement.
Along a dance trail that artfully makes the Docklands into a mise en scène, bodies and buildings appear in states of flux. But junctures where braving the construction of a community, a family, or a property feel poignant, as well as surviving the demolition that sometimes ensues. When fresh concrete is poured on the past, in the present and the future, minding your step is crucial.