Saturday 19 August 2017

Review - Dance: Agnes, Project Arts Theatre, Dublin

Agnes Bernelle
Agnes Bernelle

John McKeown

CoisCéim Dance Theatre turns the Space Upstairs into a dark, smokey, languid cabaret for their tribute to singer, actress and WWII Allied radio propagandist Agnes Bernelle. As well as writing a few gems of her own, Bernelle collaborated with artists such as Tom Waits and Marc Almond.

It's these, along with cabaret classics from Brecht and Weill's Threepenny Opera which the CoisCéim dancers, three men and three women, illustrate with surpassing grace and intensity. Though it's more than illustration.

David Bolger's energetically restless choreography creates the feeling that, as Bernelle's songs play, the cabaret diva's drawling voice is speaking through the dancers' bodies.

It's a darkly comic litany of songs beginning with 'Mack the Knife', and taking us through the maze of what Bernelle calls 'the monkey life makes of us.' Stories of criminals, shoplifters, prostitutes, punch-drunk seamen, suicides and even the real power behind Satan's throne. Though they all flow together so seamlessly, each is different, and the emotional key varies continuously.

'Hafen-Kneipe' begins with one of the dancers slamming her bare heels on the floor, a rhythm which is taken up by the others and drums through this mockingly aggressive piece which builds into a game of boxing musical chairs and peaks in Don King Rongavilla's fierce solo sparring.

'Julia,' a song about a girl 'fed up with crying, more interested in dying than living' is performed with brilliant comic energy by Justine Cooper. Poor Julia, who'll not fulfill people's expectations, is tossed around like a rag-doll by the other dancers who transform themselves into the crowd watching her poised to jump to her death from the ledge of a building.

Each song is a stand-out performance, but it's Marc Almond's 'It Was Me', in which the devil's wife claims the credit for his evil outrages, that is the most acrobatically evocative; with the girls flying across the stage in rope-swings like a trio of witches, and, at the song's feverish height, sitting on the backs of their conquered men-folk.

But there are many captivating moments in this superb, atmospheric, unique production full of humour and subtly natural eroticism.

With Bolger, lighting and setting are always crucial parts of any production and here Maree Kearns' set and costume of silk slips, black waistcoats and what looks like a huge mirror transported from some old Parisian bordello, lit by the inimitable Sinead McKenna, create the timeless medium in which these incredible dancers turn motion into exuberantly dark poetry.

Irish Independent

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