Reviews DublinNationalReviews Published 25 April 2016

Review: Embodied at the GPO, Dublin

General Post Office ⋄ 20th-22nd April 2016

“It exposes the pressures felt on women’s bodies”: Chris McCormack reviews Dublin Dance Festival’s collection of works by female choreographers.

Chris McCormack
Embodied at the GPO, Dublin. Photo: Luca Truffarelli.

Embodied at the GPO, Dublin. Photo: Luca Truffarelli.

In 1916, the rebel Padraig Pearse stood on the steps of Dublin’s General Post Office (GPO) and read aloud the famous Proclamation calling for an Irish republic free from English rule. Pearse, sensitive to the inclusiveness deserved of a fight for independence, began his address: “IRISHMEN and IRISHWOMEN …”.

One hundred years later, Irish women’s histories are dogged by the constitutional delivery of women as home-makers, the horrors of the Magdalene Laundries, and a steadily divisive debate on reproduction rights. In that respect, Dublin Dance Festival’s new commission for seven female choreographers to respond to the Proclamation inside the GPO could be a most excellent do-over.

This dance trail, directed by Liz Roche, allows us explore the site where the rebels held their ground in 1916. A vast hall of high-reaching columns and green marble panels is among the attractions on a sight-seeing tour, though you’d expect dance to dig deeper. The sharp Jessie Keenan, clad in scarlet, nimbly paces atop a raised platform in her solo Her Supreme Hour. With martial arts-style shapes, she parses fragments of the Proclamation (eerily broadcasted through the hall by sound designer Robbie Blake). Keenan lends to the recent wealth of information about female fighters in 1916, with sly allusions to inequalities in the present (“… having patiently perfected her discipline”). But stature alone, of the dancer and the iconic hall of the GPO, seems to be the focus of a piece that doesn’t quite transform.

There are other choreographers who find the past as catalyst for change. The piercing Liv O’Donoghue, suspicious of male domination of discourse, delivers a new vision of the future in The 27th Manifesto: a document drawn on speeches by women throughout history, from Mary Wollestonecraft to Beyoncé, is heard in a biting voice-over by Gina Moxley. Taking advantage of the setting, O’Donoghue issues us stamped envelopes containing the new doctrine. But most compelling is the reveal, with dollops of white paint onto perspex glass, of a ghostly projection of a mysterious female leader sermonising in unknown surroundings.

Can these quite literal interpretations of the Proclamation and the surroundings really stir? Jazmín Chiodi’s The endless story of trying to make new out of a single self uses the GPO gift shop as a site for a fumbling critique of materialist values. Sibéal Davitt doesn’t fare much better in Fógraím / I Proclaim, which uses the 1916 rebel’s Morse code transmissions as means to devise a sean-nós dance. There’s no denying the electricity in Davitt’s step as she summons a brief release, before sensing defeat in a conclusion that forces its pathos.

The gruesome arrival of avant garde warrior Olwen Fouéré is welcome in such circumstances. The Walking Pale, presented by junk ensemble, is a tough exploration of the radical against traditional expectations of femininity. We look down on an alley where Fouéré, her bloody back turned to us, shuffles like a beast to the tribal and psychedelic music of Ray Scannell. As she holds up a long cloth covered in spoons and drags it forward, she imaginably carries with her the spoon-fed female of generations’ past, discouraged from independent thought or action, towards change.

The most striking intervention is not a dance performance at all but Luca Truffarelli’s video piece Here and through. This single shot of a woman (Liv O’Donoghue) in a boat steered down the river Liffey to a monstrous drone (by sound designer Federico Ortica) could very well be a pointed reference to the exodus of Irish women to England to access abortion.

Embodied feels more effective when it exposes the pressures felt on women’s bodies in the last 100 years, as opposed to literally holding the Proclamation and the GPO to task. Though you’d forget the latter in Emma O’Kane’s gorgeous finale. Performed on the roof, with Dublin’s Spire lighting the scene from above, 160 Voices uses as material the results of an anonymous survey asking women what they are willing to risk to have their voice heard. To the soft piano of Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty’s score, O’Kane dutifully embodies the contributor’s wishes, with their sacrifices (their means, their welfare benefits), desires (to relieve the homelessness crisis, to pay for weight-watchers), and politics (waiting for a 32-county republic). The dancer stretches upward to send a rare, honest and diverse hearing of women’s opinions into the stratosphere. It’s not the first time the GPO has been used as a beacon.

Embodied was staged as part of the Dublin Dance Festival. For more information, click here.

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Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Embodied at the GPO, Dublin Show Info


Produced by Dublin Dance Festival

Directed by Liz Roche

Cast includes Jessie Keenan, Sibéal Davitt, Emma O'Kane, Olwen Fouéré, Ray Scannell, Luca Truffarelli, Liv O'Donoghue, Jazmín Chiodi

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