Dances Like a Bomb: A funny, tender dance about ageing
In Junk Ensemble's dance, two older people contemplate death, and the rest of their lives. Photo: Luca Truffarelli
Project Arts Centre - Space Upstairs, Dublin Dance Festival
What could it mean, early in Junk Ensemble’s superb new dance, when two older people turn to one another and exchange a knowing nod? They lower and raise their heads conspiratorially, as if broadcasting a silent message.
Society, of course, is cruel when it comes to ageing. The woman and man – the excellent duo of Finola Cronin and Mikel Murfi - circle each other, pinching each other’s skin. He pulls at fat around her upper arms, and makes a “whooshing” sound as if they were wings in flight. She grabs his belly, and calls him a “flob”. The bodily effects of ageing are, in themselves, sources of ridicule.
Fans of Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy’s unsentimental movement might expect this to play out as another one of the choreographers’ preoccupations with violence. Surprisingly, when an early duet sends the dancers in-and-out of elegant combinations, taking each other hand-in-hand, there is pleasantly attractive line and rhythm. This approach heats up into quite the genre-shift for Junk Ensemble: a dance with romantic and light-hearted comic overtones. (Delivered this way, the “bomb” of the title might be taken as a humorous metaphor for an older person’s body ticking down to detonation).
It’s possible the amusing movement has something to with Murfi, one of our finest physical theatre actors. In one absorbing solo, he literally drags his tired body through one day of his life, pulling it out of bed in the morning, and jaunting it from one excruciating social interaction to another. “I will progress whether I like it or not, because I have no choice,” he says.
Murfi’s virtuosity could suck up all the oxygen in the room. However, when he and Cronin navigate each other, both suspended somewhere between yearning and an uncertainty about their bodies, his transitions between the combinations are seen as loudly punctuated, his limbs extended as he slots into his next transformation. Cronin, a veteran of German Tanztheater, neatly disguises such changes. Murfi is stop-start, like a colourful comic-strip brought to life; Cronin’s performance is fluid like a dream.
The comic touches pay off, as they assist with some of the dance’s best opportunities: to see two older people contemplating death, still pulling off their younger selves’ achievements, and getting to voice what they want for the remainder of their lives. Other ideas – a confusing gender-swap; the otherworldly figure sculpted into Sabine Dargent’s set - don’t quite arrive with the clarity they need.
The later sequences achieve a tenderness that is novel for Junk Ensemble. A scene where Cronin hunches into a hospital patient connected to a drip gets transformed into a romantic duet where she is playfully swung around by a loving carer, all while blissfully smoking a cigarette.
Towards the conclusion, each will guide the other, and collapse into one another – falling in-and-out of each other’s care and consolation. They exchange that knowing nod between them. They’ll go towards the end together.
Ends 26th May.
In case you missed it, my reviews of An Octoroon (“An Octoroon: Theatre’s past crimes rewritten as a magnificent masterpiece”) and Constellations (“Constellations: A what-if rom-com with too many parallel universes”) were recently published in the Irish Times.
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