Thursday 19 September 2019

Dancing to the military beat in a theatre of war

Soldier Still Pavilion, Dún Laoghaire Tours until Nov 22

The cast for Soldier Still by Junk Ensemble. Photo: Fionn McCann
The cast for Soldier Still by Junk Ensemble. Photo: Fionn McCann

Katy Hayes

Junk Ensemble have created this intriguing dance theatre piece that elegantly demonstrates the ability of movement to interrogate the traumas of war and the experience of the individual soldier.

The show was created out of a series of interviews with current and former soldiers from the Irish Defence Forces, the British army and the Bosnian War. It is conceived, directed and choreographed by Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy, in collaboration with the cast. There are four dancers, Karl Fagerlund, Lucia Kickham, Julie Koenig and Stephen Moynihan. The show also features Tom Clonan, former captain and press officer of the Irish Defence Forces, now military commentator.

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This is a mash-up of dance, design, script, music and voice-over, and communicates on a visceral level. Clonan is symbolically dressed in an army uniform at the top of the show. My function was "to organise and manage the application of violence," he says.

Stand-out elements include Kickham's retired soldier, compulsively exercising as she pounds the roads in her boots with 40lbs on her back. The four dancers strongly assert their individuality, but also their collective identity as a group. Sometimes all four move like a single organism, the choreography often jerky and jittery; the dance style is inherently dramatic. One sequence exquisitely demonstrates the effects of bullying and isolation. Another shows the two women trying to leave the army, and getting summoned back, by invisible threads. The experience of killing at close quarters is described in voice-over.

Sabine Dargent's set design installation features drips from the wall, that under Sarah Jane Shiels lighting, at times seem like blood, at other times like harmless pastels. The show exposes the vulnerability of the soldier's body. A dancer removes a body stocking, which is hung on a hangar like skin. Dancers' bodies are heaped on top of each other, like discarded waste.

Engaging with dance theatre requires the audience to mute their desire for verbal articulation, and to accept concepts and story at a more instinctive, subconscious level. If you can do this, the 70 minutes of Soldier Still will tell you deep things about the army, about its destructive energies, about its guarded machismo. "Come back," says Tom Clonan in various contexts throughout the show. It seems men and women can leave the military, but it doesn't so easily leave them.

Everyman, Cork, Nov 13 & 14; Dance Limerick, Nov 22.


Young adult musical takes centre stage

Chromatics Mill Theatre, Dundrum Until tonight

This new Irish musical has bundles of charm. Written and composed by young Dubliner Shauna Carrick, who is also musical director and plays piano, it is a superb achievement indicating great ambition.

Presented by Polliwog Theatre Collective, it is specifically targeted at a youth audience. The story involves a group of friends who have just graduated from college. They each have challenges: a young couple face an unexpected pregnancy; a lad comes out to his mother as gay; a daughter copes with being the carer for a parent with Alzheimer's. Romances bubble in this gossipy cauldron.

There are a number of good catchy songs, including the opener (also reprised at the end) 'Step into the Fray', as well as a classical musical number, 'I Will Play this Part Forever'. Director Andrew Keates does a fine job with scant resources; clever use of mobile phones and umbrellas give style to simple settings. Standout performances are Hannah Brady as Lily and Gary Tighe as Noah, but the young cast all hold their own.

We've had plenty of YA novels, but less material of this sort makes its way on to the stage, so this feels extra fresh and original. It is a view from inside middle-class Dublin youth. Well worth taking a look.

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