Carried aloft towards a floating military jacket, Tom Clonan appears to be returning to his old life as an army captain. In reality, the author known for exposing sexual assault in the Irish military now finds himself in Junk Ensemble’s excellent new dance production, Soldier Still, which attempts something extraordinary: a choreography that charts soldiers’ training for violence.
As Lucia Kickham’s woman jitters anxiously through her drill exercises, it is clear that usual routines are to be made uncanny through Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy’s choreography. This, their most explicitly political work, suspends the absurdist visuals of past productions, favouring instead Sabine Dargent’s sparse warzone-inspired set. Musically, Denis Clohessy’s clawing strings hint at the impending psychodrama for men and women going to war and bringing the experience home with them.
Onstage, Clonan’s captain watches on, instigating violent duets and quartets between dancers whose movements are guarded and anxious. The military cultivates a masculine culture of intimidation, we’re told, and it’s frightfully realised. When Julie Koenig’s woman seeks entry into the rest of the group, she’s initially warned off with barks and jostles. The reprisals then become ruthless and hard to watch in an attack that, literally, gets under her skin. Even when the attackers are gone, her body is still suffering.
Throughout, the dehumanising aspects of the production are particularly stirring. Fernando Balsera Pita’s soldier, whose face has become unrecognisable by being cloaked in tape, has found a mask to hide his blood-soaked persona from view. Yet in a duet with Geir Hytten’s man, their lifts loosen from detached training exercises into a more intimate embrace, a rare moment of human contact and connection that vacates the piece as quickly as it arrived.
Spiralling towards its end, Junk Ensemble’s mapping of violence reaches a natural conclusion. A visceral quartet plays out like a brutal tournament, dropping bodies one by one, but the person left standing isn’t declared the winner. Instead, Clonan’s captain gets an icy and angular solo demanding “Come back,” even though everything’s fallen into ruin. The military order cries out in a lonely wasteland. His act of destruction is complete.
Soldier Still is on until 14 September 2017 at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Click here for more details.