03 October 2013

Dusk Ahead at Dublin Theatre Festival
by Brian Lavery

Without the distractions of language, dance productions can occasionally blend movement, sound and imagery into a uniquely powerful sensory experience. The latest from junk ensemble mixes that magic cocktail to perfection.

Created and choreographed by twins Megan and Jessica Kennedy, the hour-long show is delicately beautiful, clever and frightening. Themes of twilight uncertainty and blindness run throughout, starting with the opening, where a blindfolded trio grope forwards in a fog, towards the sound of bells rung by two other dancers.

In lighthearted sequences, like an ostrich ballet, the cast of five crouch and creep like a troupe of woodland creatures, with hips and elbows out, shoulders shrugged, in tightly scripted movements. To the Kennedy's credit, this material stays endearing without succumbing to kitsch. When a dancer steals the chair from under his cello accompanist for a prop, it's not just for laughs; he has real issues to work out with the furniture.

These moments are appropriately overshadowed when the dancers fall into moments of threatening intimacy, even as an ensemble. In one of the most striking smaller pieces, the shortest female and tallest male dancer perform an enraptured duet while locked in an endless kiss, even as they twist around and climb over each other. Meanwhile, at the side of the stage, another dancer tears and squeezes pomegranates to pieces in front of a microphone: a scarlet stream of juice falls through a spotlight, and the fleshy sound is carried over the stage.

Denis Clohessy's prerecorded score has the gentle harmonics and insistent thrum of Glass or Nyman, but isn't too serious to indulge in pizzicato strings with tuba, either. Zoe Ni Riordain plays live cello on stage, and the dancers occasionally join in; they wouldn't be out of place as a quirky folk band on the side stage at a summer music festival.

The set and lighting, by Sabine Dargent and Sarah Jane Shiels, use golden strands of illuminated elastic wires, stretching from floor to ceiling, to give Project Upstairs the feeling of a secret forest. Taken altogether, it feels like the exploration of something deep and primal, and the dancers on stage have their finger right on the pulse of it.