Saturday, October 7, 2017

United Fall, 'Girl Song': Past Generations

This dance-theatre production is poised between oblivion and resistance. Can it avoid straying into one or the other? Photo: Luca Truffarelli.

Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
Oct 6-8

A quick review of Girl Song by Emma Martin coming up just as soon as I watch my television ...

Poised on the edge of her chair, an older woman sits staring at a television. In the articulate shape of Joanna Banks, she’s stuck in a limbo of seeing, within a production that makes her seen. Such is the irony of choreographer-designer Emma Martin’s absorbing new work for United Fall, which considers a history of women dancers being observed.

Having cast four performers from different generations, this starts with a bravely banal quartet. For a few minutes we look on as figures sweep and hoover the vast expanse of a grimy beige room; a suspicious display of domesticity. Martin isn’t afraid to craft slow and unembellished images. 

If anything, that restraint makes the more kinetic sequences electric. Justine Cooper’s stirring solo begins with the discovery of a showgirl’s headpiece, and moves then into samba-like shuffles and slinky sidesteps. Traditionally, these manoeuvres might titillate but in Martin’s revelatory choreography they’re freighted. This isn’t an unnecessarily punishing look at women’s bodies either. In Cooper’s extraordinarily controlled performance, she’s poised between oblivion and resistance.

Elsewhere, the production can go either way. Stephanie Dufrense gives a haunting solo about waltz and romance, ending with a lone woman’s trudge through the world, but its tragedy overpowers its resilience. The youngest player, Grace O’Hara, occupies an innocent world of her own, even throwing tinsel across the stage. It’s hard to know what it means.

The production lacks clarity in its final moments but we mightn’t expect that from Martin, who’s moved so far from the obvious allegory of Dogs (2012) towards intense abstraction and existentialist dread. Imagine if Ayn Rand made dance-theatre.

What did everybody else think?

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