January 16, 2022

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Evaluate: Dancing That Unfolds Like a Prayer

Review: Dancing That Unfolds Like a Prayer

The choreographer Oona Doherty grasps that in everyone — and in each physique — there’s a level of pressure between onerous and smooth, robust and weak, pleasure and ache. For all their posturing, her characters, nameless working-class youth from Belfast, ache. And whereas her motion language creates an exacting bodily entity, transcendence comes by way of an inside battle: preventing the onerous to search out the smooth.

In “Hard to Be Soft — A Belfast Prayer,” impressed by the town she grew up in, Doherty explores the trauma brought on by the Troubles, which lasted round 30 years. Unfolding in 4 sections, the work, tenacious but ethereal, begins and ends with shape-shifting solos through which Doherty embodies younger males from Belfast — with an air of machismo, she snarls a lip, digs her arms deep into her pockets and stands stooped, her again curling into its pelvis. She takes a couple of steps, a sauntering form of stroll identified regionally as a dander.

However step by step, as her mannerisms evaporate, she turns into greater than a macho physique. She has described “Hard to Be Soft” as a physical prayer, and moments have an otherworldly impact: What’s trapping her? What’s attempting to flee? It’s the soul, the essence of a spirit.

With the opening tableau that includes wafting incense, the theater — the brand new Irish Arts Middle — even smelled like a church. (It was the primary dance efficiency within the house, however that also didn’t warrant 20 minutes of monotonous speeches.) The rating, by the digital musician and composer David Holmes, had a liturgical really feel as choral music mingled with voice-overs that seize the sound of chaotic avenue life.

Within the rating, fights erupt as Doherty — her blond hair slicked again in a small bun, a gold chain bouncing towards her chest — crumbles and rises from the ground as if floating between a dream and a nightmare. All of the whereas, the lighting provides the set, basically a tall white cage that opens on one aspect, a haunting, angelic glow. Is it heaven or purgatory?

And is Doherty laughing or crying? Doherty has an uncanny capacity to quiet her options so abruptly that, immediately, her face can develop into as nonetheless and peaceable as eyes staring out at you from an icon. The way in which she makes use of her eyes is likely one of the most arresting issues about her — generally they gleam brightly; generally they’re lifeless.

A blackout provides approach to the second part, through which a feminine voice-over talks about overcoming the “tragedy within the partitions” by dressing “it up with glamour as a result of we now have to make gentle of tragedy.”

For the ladies of Belfast, she says, trying good is a type of armor. It’s additionally empowering. Eight younger girls from Young Dancemakers Company swirl into the house, circling the stage as if marking territory with forthright, punctuated steps to a gradual percussive beat. Sporting black leggings and vibrant satin jackets, they’re boldly defiant. Doherty calls them the Sugar Military for a purpose. (To fill their ranks, she finds native dancers in every metropolis she excursions.)

Impressed by the women she went to highschool with in Belfast who, as she wrote within the performance publication Draff, practiced disco dancing for competitions, Doherty’s strident, robust military echoes her reminiscence of them: “Wiping sexuality and shapes out into house like weapons.”

Right here, maybe, they wanted extra stage time to find how to attract their particular person energy right into a shimmering unit. One of the tender moments comes after they break aside, laughing and falling over each other to convey the innocence of girls within the making — some there, others on the cusp.

Within the third part, John Scott, a veteran Dublin choreographer, and Sam Finnegan — each naked chested, with protruding bellies — slowly make their approach to the middle of the stage like sumo wrestlers. A voice-over hints on the relationship of father and son. An embrace quickly turns into extra tense, extra loaded — one pushes, the opposite pulls — as the way in which they use their weight and flesh (once more, finding the stress between smooth and onerous) hints at grief, at battle. When Scott briefly cups the again of Finnegan’s head, we see not simply love however the anguish of it.

Bodily, “Exhausting to Be Mushy” wasn’t a fantastic match for the Irish Arts Middle theater. It appeared cramped and sightlines have been spotty for each the opening solo and the duet, a lot of which passed off on the lip of the stage. However the ultimate solo, through which Doherty enters with a tough fall onto the stage, was glittering.

Performing once more as a younger Belfast man, she step by step slips between misery and calm — a form of resignation — as flickering recollections take over her physique and the sound of melancholic strings fills the air. Doherty echoes moments of her first solo as she patiently paints the story of a person’s life by way of a dance. Or is it a bodily prayer? In “Exhausting to Be Mushy,” it looks like the identical factor.

Exhausting to Be Mushy — A Belfast Prayer

Via Jan. 23 on the Irish Arts Middle; irishartscenter.org

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