The Fall

Conor Madden and Julie Lockett in Ella Clarke's 'The Fall'. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Conor Madden and Julie Lockett in Ella Clarke's 'The Fall'. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

As a member of the Genesis Collective from 2003 until 2011, Ella Clarke spent many hours engaging with the conundrum-based works of the American choreographer Deborah Hay. Initial perceptions of her latest work, The Fall, might suggest a fracture with that practice, with Hay's rarified stripped-back aesthetic replaced with a highly visual prop-filled stage. But looking beyond the surface, the viewer finds that Clarke is still deeply engaged in revealing truth through movement and stepping inside the human experience to question how we are who we are.

The choice of computer-generated avatars as an initial springboard might also seem light years away from Hay's constant reminder to refocus our attention on our bodies' fifty-three trillion cells, which she regards as the centre of our aesthetic knowledge. Performers Julie Lockett and Conor Cillian Madden, first appear before us, all disjointed and jittery, and interacting in an almost melodramatic way. Each limb moves with precision and is driven by a functional goal. Even emotions are switched on and off, so they might smile as they make a gesture, only to resume blank-faced with the next gesture. Living on a space station, the two characters represent an essential version of ourselves, highly evolved into functional beings that compartmentalise movement, feeling, and their very being into artificial constructs. Even the cycle of night and day has disappeared, instead signalled by changing light and an annoying morning alarm.

Another creative point of departure for Clarke was Linda Salzman's image of a man and woman that represented human life on the Pioneer spacecrafts. They were sent beyond our solar system in the early 1970s and the nude figures of a human male and female were to provide information about the origin of the spacecraft, should it be intercepted by other lifeforms. In the 1970s the controversial choice of white, Western figures raised issues around perceptions of beauty and perfection and Clarke reminds us that nothing has changed since: contemporary standards for feminine beauty still privilege women of European ancestry over all others.

By choosing avatar-like figures, Clarke neatly side-steps socially determined images of beauty and efficiency, and indeed, by setting the characters within a science-fiction frame manages to find a purer expression of beauty. Like science fiction characters, Lockett and Madden, might appear to lack depth and emotion. But as physicist Paul Dirac suggests, for an equation to be true, it must be beautiful. If avatar movement is an efficient expression of truth, then shouldn't it also be beautiful?

Yes, according to Clarke. Just as Dirac claims that beauty was a way of discerning the truth, (as much a part of the scientific process as observation) Clarke suggests that the beauty and truth found in the avatar movement are inseparable, a conclusion reminiscent of Deborah Hay's notion of the body simultaneously perceiving beauty and surrendering beauty. Clarke poetically reveals the human experience within the purity of that movement.

Again taking her cue from science fiction, she has created a strange external world, but she has remained concerned with the internal experience of that world, rather than be seduced by the props and technology. She is aided by riveting performances from Lockett and Madden, Jason Byrne's design that accentuates dichotomies such as inert computer screens versus living green plans, and Sarah-Jane Shiels' lighting that underpinned the drama throughout. Carried along in a broad dramatic and emotion sweep, some moments felt jarring, like the short dialogue to dramatic music or the mood-shattering interjection of the Eurythmics' Like Lovers Do towards the end. Small quibbles, because in The Fall, Ella Clarke has created a fable that reveals the poetry of our everyday life and encourages exploration of the internal world that exists inside us all.

Michael Seaver is dance critic with The Irish Times

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Fall by Ella Clarke

4-7 April, 2012

Produced by Ella Clarke
In Project Arts Centre

Written, Directed and Choreographed by Ella Clarke
Performed by Ella Clarke, Julie Lockett and Conor Madden
Designer Jason Byrne
Lighting Designer Sarah Jane Shiels