Tuesday 23 April 2019

Arts Review: Dance Tardigrade at Samuel Beckett Theatre

Tardigrade, Tiger Dublin Fringe
Tardigrade, Tiger Dublin Fringe

John McKeown

Watching Philip Connaughton's strange, miniature, multi-disciplinary extravaganza is like witnessing the ritual antics of some lost Amazonian tribe. They seem to mean something but you can't quite put your finger on it.

It really shouldn't have, but there's a ticklish coherence to this bizarre concoction, its making influenced by Hieronymus Bosch, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, post-modernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard, and "all things luscious and green." Humorously conceptual, unashamedly instinctual, cumulatively spellbinding, it unhurriedly unfurls a hatchery of surprises across a mere forty-five minutes.

Connaughton says that with composer and musical director Michael Gallen and dancers Ryan O'Neill and Lucia Kickham everything fell into place from the beginning, and it certainly has that air of inevitability which often accompanies a genuinely inspired work of art. Like God, good art moves in mysterious ways. But a show involving a video of a dog on a web-cam, a man with a four-sided TV on his head, a naked man painted pink (Connaughton) delivering a micro-biology lecture while dancing to his iPod makes God's activities look eminently transparent. Perhaps it's the sheer disparity of what Connaughton brings together, and the way he interweaves them, which accounts for its captivating effect.

There aren't many dance pieces which celebrate microscopic fauna like the tardigrade, the incredible, highly implausible aquatic animal which is the subject of our pink man's running lecture. Tardigrade comes from the Latin for 'slow walker' and the creature's ruminative behaviour is reflected in the three dancers and the exotically clad singers who take up various positions around the space to make their odd but beautiful trilling, murmuring, choral susurrations. The Prima String Quartet plays Michael Gallen's beautifully pensive composition invisibly, their heads materializing through the image of a forest on the screen toward the close. As the show progresses the dance sequences become anything but pensive, and the three dancers are as slick with sweat as Turkish wrestlers, and smeared with the pink man's paint who hurls himself around to what must be a play-list of the cheesiest Eighties disco.

Like the tardigrade Connaughton's piece is an exceptional creation, and more than the sum of its weird parts.

Irish Independent

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