Virtuostic, one dark, the other light bursting with irrepressible humour, this contrasting double bill Us choreographed by Zoë Ashe-Browne and Stroke Through the Tail by Marguerite Donlon from Ballet Ireland may well be the stand-out show at this year’s Dance Base Fringe. A daring assertion as it’s the first piece this reviewer has seen but there’s no doubt as to its exquisite excellence.
May well be the stand-out show at this year’s Dance Base Fringe
Ballet Ireland is the only professional ballet company in Ireland though the brilliant dancers are international. Both pieces are by female choreographers, of whom there are few enough and it is interesting how this female sensibility informs the first piece in particular.
Us reflects on displacement from home. Noises off suggest a train station, people, whether migrants, refugees or asylum abandoned in a place of transit. Zoë Ashe-Browne's choreography is startling, full of angular, unexpected poses, hugely experimental and exciting informed by her classical ballet experience as a dancer but also studying under modernists like her mentor, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Alain Platel and Crystal Pite.
The dancers bring their own experiences of having to adapt to a new country and living with people who are initially strangers and having to get on. The men jostle with each other, there’s rivalry and a frightening moment when the group lift the female dancer and almost drop her into the audience. A sense of abandonment, dislocation and loss pervades the piece. Unfortunately, the lack of emotional connection between the dancers means that the audience fails to empathise with them until we understand that the dancers’ numbness is indeed intentional. This is redeemed when a woman cradles a bundle, suggesting a baby, only for her to shake it out and we see it’s only a shawl, symbolising her loss.
The second piece, Strokes Through the Tail choreographed by Marguerite Donlin could not be more different. Danced to Mozart’s Symphony No 40 in G minor, echoing its mood and beats minutely, is a sassy, irreverent take on all the tropes of classical ballet including a nod to Swan Lake, the men wearing long white tutus, their hands folded in front, as they mince the instantly recognizable cygnets’ dance – but there is much more as the dancers bring their own individuality to the fore and we get to know them as characters. The only female, danced by Kesi Olley-Dorey, is in black long-tails, with a wonderfully expressive face, adding knowing looks to the audience as she bosses the males about. This laugh-out-loud piece is also technically impressive, showing Donlon’s choreographic influence from William Forsythe and Meg Stuart.
You are guaranteed to leave the auditorium uplifted.