Genius isn’t always recognised straight away. Much like the blue unassuming chair plonked onstage in the vigorous co-production between CoisCéim Dance Theatre, contemporary music group Crash Ensemble, Fishamble Theatre Company and Galway International Arts Festival, Eileen Gray’s talents have been slow to materialise. The title, we discover, is a nod to the Irish-born designer’s opinions on architecture but it also suggests the possibility to discover a 20th century revolutionary edging slowly into public consciousness since 2009, when a chair of her design went for €21.9 million at auction.
Of course, there’s a shifty businessman (Ronan Leahy) to take full advantage, scheming to patent a design for mass production. That would inevitably lead to modifications to the result of painstaking labour that, in David Bolger’s industrious choreography, combines shop-floor lift and handle with a pursuit of perfection. Deirdre Gribbin’s alluring score suspects the breadth of the artist’s search for inspiration, as the Eastern howls of clarinet and gong chime with Gray’s discovery of the Japanese idiom of lacquer screen-making. Rich movement and music suggest a visionary, though Gavin Kostick’s script reveals that the journey towards modernity wasn’t easy. “Who will help me put the past out of the present?” utters a troubled Gray nicely played by Ingrid Craigie.
Unfortunately, the collision of art forms isn’t always harmonious. Under Bolger and Jim Culleton’s direction, dancers, musicians and actors often pull focus from each other. Of the devices vying for attention, it’s the dramatic material made of Gray’s life that is the biggest offender. Leahy and Kate Stanley Brennan are often led in to play raucous representations of figures from Gray’s life, their deliveries unnecessarily heightened as if to keep up with the vigour of the music and movement. They are not to blame when Kostick’s script contains a séance and artsy expletives such as “Everyone knows that Picasso has the biggest cock!”.
How much of an open invitation is this when Gray and her vitriolic lover are speaking in insider theatrical metaphors (“If you were Agamemnom …”)? Appropriately, there are more modest approaches in the stage design, as Maree Kearns’s scenery and Sinéad McKenna’s lighting dutifully introduce the artist’s iconic works.
While it’s nice to think that it takes the disciplines of all these artists to try to put shape on Gray’s pioneering works, the over all effect is unsatisfyingly virtuosic. That goes against the designer herself, who withdrew her name from the labelling of her work. Gray knew well that that there’s no need to shout; art speaks for itself.
Invitation to a Journey is on until 24th July 2016. Click here for more information.