Friday, October 7, 2016

Brokentalkers, 'The Circus Animals' Desertion': Visions of the Future

What will it take to get over the romance of nationalism? Brokentalkers' delve into the occultism of W.B. Yeats for answers. Photo: Futoshi Sakauchi

Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
Oct 5-8

A few thoughts on The Circus Animals' Desertion coming up just as soon as I visit Hawaii ...

What should we learn from the past, when the present often seems on the brink of war? 

W.B. Yeats’s last published poem, The Circus Animals’ Desertion, is a curious point of return for Brokentalkers’s new dance theatre production. Essentially a career retrospective, Yeats acknowledges early highlights but ultimately his failure to find inspiration later in life. Coming from a master, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, that might be an astonishing admission of failure: the inadequacy of prior devices on the eve of destruction. 

Moments of crises have propelled playwrights and directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan in the past, and this, their most searching work to date, looks to Yeats’s occultism for answers (it begins with the resurrection of a dead body onstage). This takes a lot of notes from A Vision, a study by the poet folding astrology and history into a portal to infinite timelines.

That explains this production's strange overlap of sufferings: a stone-faced singer’s memory of an abusive father, and a dark struggle between figures in animal and human masks. Jessica Kennedy’s brutal choreography puts dancers through rituals of union and separation, set to Sean Miller’s decadent score for strings that even borrows from the words of Cathleen ni Houlihan (“They will speak their names forever”).

What will it take to get over the romance of nationalism, when dangers of pitting nationalities against each other are extreme in the present? Brokentalkers know all too well that to recycle previous reports isn’t enough; the truth has to be made strange, or uncanny, to take hold. That makes this, a transcendent portrayal of radicalisation, quite potent. Distilling images of slaughter and sacrifice into stirring new visuals, this may amount to more than art. If we’re not careful, it could be a prophecy of dark times ahead. 

What did everyone else think?

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