'Echo Room' presented as part of 'Manifesto' by Maiden Voyage Dance. Photo: Joe Fox Photography

'Echo Room' presented as part of 'Manifesto' by Maiden Voyage Dance. Photo: Joe Fox Photography

'Picture in a Frame' presented as part of 'Manifesto' by Maiden Voyage Dance. Photo: Joe Fox Photography

'Picture in a Frame' presented as part of 'Manifesto' by Maiden Voyage Dance. Photo: Joe Fox Photography

'Fragile Ghosts, Mild Acquaintances' presented as part of 'Manifesto' by Maiden Voyage Dance. Photo: Joe Fox Photography

'Fragile Ghosts, Mild Acquaintances' presented as part of 'Manifesto' by Maiden Voyage Dance. Photo: Joe Fox Photography

Boys dance, more often than not, when nobody is looking or when they have a few drinks inside them. Through its new triple-bill, Manifesto, Maiden Voyage Dance has declared its mission, to break down barriers of self-consciousness, embarrassment or alcohol-induced kicks and encourage more young men to embark on dance as a creative pursuit.

These three pieces premiered at The MAC on an evening when live performance was vying for attention with the crowds gathered for the launch of the venue’s ground-breaking Andy Warhol exhibition. The full house in the foyer was matched by a capacity audience in the Downstairs space, where one could sense a crackle of anticipation over the first glimpses of Dylan Quinn’s Echo Room, Filip Van Huffel’s Picture in a Frame and Luke Murphy’s Fragile Ghosts, Mild Acquaintances.

Joe Fox PhotographyThree years ago, Quinn returned from a long sojourn in England to set up his own dance theatre company in his hometown of Enniskillen. His densely packed thirty-minute piece explores themes revolving around the human condition: male and female behaviour, inter-relationships and responses, the pack mentality, role playing within and between genders. Its content has been inspired by the outspoken critic and radical writer John Berger, the aggressive poetry of Maggie Estep, and Pussy Riot’s fearless challenge on establishment power.

Some ten minutes pass before Andy Garbi’s soundtrack prompts the five dancers – Carmen Fuentes Guaza, Charlie Hendren, Gerrard Martin, David Ogle and Vasiliki Stasinaki – to cease exploring ways of manipulating their bodies around folding chairs. When the mood switch occurs, it shifts into Stasinaki’s mock-sultry rendering of the Cole Porter classic 'You Do Something to Me', the first of a number of verbal interventions in a variety of languages.

Apples are rolled onto the stage. They are gathered, exchanged and balanced by the two women, while their male companions merely sit and observe these female feats of multi-tasking. Then Hendren takes a microphone and embarks on a lengthy explanation of what is being conveyed through dance. Such exposition is entirely unnecessary, however, and only serves to shore up the piece’s welter of messages, while relegating to secondary importance the role of the dancers in their primary-coloured hoodies and trackies.

Joe Fox PhotographyBelgian-born Van Huffel, artistic director of Retina Dance Company, has crafted a distinctive, abstract dance vocabulary, based on pure movement and intelligent physical expression. Picture in a Frame is exactly that, a non-narrative dance picture contained within a stark, white frame, which is precisely marked out on the stage while the audience pauses and waits.

Kevin Smith’s all-enveloping lighting of the black box set is as integral to the overall visual impression as the dancers’ clinical white costumes and the miniature whitewood chairs perched on each corner of the frame. The packaging is completed by a largely-instrumental score, comprising the heady percussion of Pedro Carneiro, the mellow strings of Erik Friedlander, DAAU’s jaunty accordeon and, finally, the unmistakeable voice of Tom Waits, whose melancholic song gives the piece its title.

Ogle and Martin, Fuentes Guaza and Stasinaki, combine persuasively and with incredible physical strength. It would be difficult to find four more different physical types – two small-boned women, Martin all dreadlocks and muscular power, Ogle a veritable giant of a figure. Individually and collectively, they intertwine and separate through the musical segments of Van Huffel’s intriguing journey.

Joe Fox PhotographyThe best is saved until last. Choreographer Luke Murphy, who operates between New York and Dublin, says that it pleases him to make work that will appeal to his friends back home in Cork, who have no background in dance. Using Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces as a launch pad and with more than a passing nod to Stravinsky’s melting original score, he has forged a witty, cleverly structured little story based around a high school reunion.

Old Russian wedding ritual is replaced by modern day drinking and mating games, dirty dancing and fleeting flirtations. Five sharply defined characters emerge, all dressed up for a night out and posing for souvenir snapshots. Bit by bit, their personalities build, still influenced by the same old enmities and allegiances. But the bottom line is that as a group they are inseparable, a fact borne out by a frequent need to fuse themselves into complicated human jigsaws.

As with the best nights out, perfect appearances and carefully controlled poise start to come apart at the seams. One by one, the characters take time out, to gather themselves, to retreat into phases of beautifully expressed introspection. Through skillfully executed changes, their smart clothes are replaced with remnants of school uniform, with the final snapshot a living recreation of the original class photo. While a bell tolls the passing of time, the people and their inner selves remain unchanged from the days of their youth.

Through it all, Christian Fredrickson’s pounding, trance-like score has the effect of making the audience feel like getting down onto the stage and joining in the dancing. Which is, of course, the object of the entire exercise.

Jane Coyle is a Belfast-based freelance arts journalist, critic and screenwriter, who regularly contributes to the Irish Times, The Stage, Culture Northern Ireland and BBC Radio Ulster.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Manifesto by Maiden Voyage Dance

7 - 16 February, 2013 (on tour)

Produced by Maiden Voyage Dance
In The MAC, Belfast (on tour)

Choreographers: Dylan Quinn, Filip Van Huffel, Luke Murphy

Original Scores: Christian Frederickson, Andy Garbi

Lighting Design: Kevin Smith

Costume Design: Llinos Griffiths

Performers: Carmen Fuentes Guaza, Charlie Hendren, Gerrard Martin, David Ogle, Vasiliki Stasinaki


February 2013: touring to Derry, Cookstown, Armagh, Lisburn, Downpatrick