'Bird with boy' at Dublin Theatre Festival
October 8 2012

Rachel Donnelly

Clattering over a forgotten and darkened cobbled street on a bicycle is one of the more intriguing ways to arrive at a theatre festival performance. In keeping with their flair for theatrical innovation, junk ensemble's latest rendition of Bird with Boy (winner of the award for Best Production in last year's Fringe), has been re-located from its original home in the dungeons of Kilmainham jail to a crumbling Georgian mansion on Henrietta Street.

This is a corner of the city where dear, dirty Dublin still lives and breathes. Stepping inside the building, which dates from the 1700s, a sense of time is muffled by the admixture of contemporary elements against a historical backdrop. The audience are seated in two groups on long wooden benches lining each side of the entrance hall. A leg appears over the bannister from the first floor, signalling the beginning of a dextrous, close-proximity duet from Eddie Kay and Justine Cooper that moves through the hallway, causing audience members to tuck their feet in under the benches for fear of tripping up the performers.

From this tightly- executed opening, characterised by choreography that recalls ghostly stop-motion in its syncopated sequence of gliding movements, the performance migrates through the faded rooms of the house, all bathed in candlelight, two audience-groups witnessing the same scenes in a different sequence.

The scale of the piece and the complexity of its structure are impressive, with live musical accompaniment from musicians Tom Lane and Brian O'Connell and a cast of nine creating a series of simultaneous vignettes stretching over an hour-long performance. Featuring established Dublin-based dancers Liv O'Donoghue, Kay, and Cooper, along with six young boys from Company B, there is an affecting mix of the accomplished and the unconsciously gauche in this piece that highlights the theme of frailty at its centre. In particular, a scene with O'Donoghue balancing young performer Tom Kellegher on her shoulders as he fumbles to gather her hair in feathered clips is sweetly touching.

The performance is shaped by the nature of the building, the audience entering parts of the house to behold filmic scenes that give the impression of already being in progress. In one room, a small boy (Kellegher) sits atop a stepladder, the three adult dancers tethered by strings to his hands, acting the role of a miniature puppet master; in another, O’Donoghue and Cooper grapple with suppressed violence in a blizzard of beanbag pellets while the audience looks on in white earmuffs.

At times, the audience enters a room first, switching roles from the discoverers to the discovered as the performers follow afterwards. This cycle of interlocking scenes played out in tandem in different parts of the house creates the feeling of having stumbled in on a cyclical narrative being played out endlessly.

Footage of old films, loose pages from dismembered books, and signs of secrecy (a key hidden in the hollowed-out interior of a book) contribute to an overall sense of a buried story trying to out itself. However, despite the lines of some intrigue being drawn, it is never fully clear what the narrative is. Some scenes feel slightly truncated, the audience being summoned to leave the room on an abrupt note. Nevertheless, this is a minor criticism of a piece that is admirably ambitious in its scale and structure and imaginative in its use of space and theatrics. This spirit of experimentation and unabashed theatricality is junk ensemble's strength as a company, and is a characteristic that marks them out as vibrant contributors to the contemporary dance scene in Dublin.