Jean Butler in 'hurry' at Dublin Dance Festival. Photo: Ian Douglas

Jean Butler in 'hurry' at Dublin Dance Festival. Photo: Ian Douglas

The reinvention of the body and its relationship to space and rhythm, to memory and technique is a risky and potent business for any choreographer. In the case of Jean Butler this is an experiment on her own body both as performer and dance maker, and one which emerges as a lyrical paean to the power of contemporary dance and to the remembrance of movement past.

In hurry Butler is not on a nostalgia trip, her control and focus will not harbour sentiment; so no self-indulgent phrases of dance as a step-dancing princess. Instead there is a confidence and authority shining through the work as she takes time, to reflect, to slowly reassemble and to begin again. Corban Walker’s wall installation of elongated bands of steel wire underlines the discipline at the core of this process  of change but then as though mirroring the fibres of her body, they tauten and expand as Butler's body tenses and relaxes in turn.

For a dancer, reshaping the syntax of movement results in steps, gestures, and full phrases of movement being edited and re-wrought. Then, when these are shot through with a different punctuation, a radically different meaning is created. Jon Kinzel’s direction seems to have coaxed Butler out of herself, as she contentedly switches idiom with greater fluency and less anxiety than in any of the previous forays into this new territory of modern dance.

What the body remembers or does not forget can be both liberating and containing  but Butler demonstrates that she now ready to take elements of the past assuredly with her, mining its riches and fusing them into her new dance vocabulary.

She swivels her torso, advances and retreats across the stage in new found diagonals and shows us the palms of the hands no longer sideways fixed to her sides.  There is an intimation of letting go; tracing the ground intricately with her foot, raising a bent knee and placing hand on her waist, elbows angled,  and then the phrase melts away. Her ponytail bobs up and down to imagined bouncing rhythm  of another time  but then she raises her arms aloft or moves them freely around and allows her feet to propel her at a speed in a skittery reel across the stage.  She is on the floor, her body in limbering elongated stretches and curves, the antithesis of the ‘shoulders back’ vertical position adopted in Irish dance.

A foot is brushed gently, almost absent mindedly off the opposite calf, some deft ankle work reminds us of her technical skills, but it's all a new pace; slow and steady, The frenetic soundsscape of her New York urban world, never mind the distant strains of any jig tunes beating in her head no longer dictating the speed and always there is such purity in her movement.

That relationship to traditional music for an Irish step dancer is always about the beat, and the tempo whether in a subtle slip reel or a percussive hornpipe. In hurry Butler revels in going off the beat, counterpointing the rhythm to break the mould. Inverting the customary Irish step dance stance, facing front and poised for the starting gun beat, Butler takes a different approach to the sequence of Ivan Goff’s uilleann pipes. She lets the evocative sounds of the drones and chanters wave over her as she stands loosely, her body sideways on to the audience, pulsating instincts at bay. It is as if she is letting us read her body from the inside out.

The lighting is decorous, soft and illuminating, adding to an almost poetic feel to the work which though introspective in content it reaches out in its artistry and clarity  Jean Butler has risen to the  challenge as a dancer to retain and radicalise her multilayered history in technique rhythm and pace. We will await her next work with much interest.

Seona Mac RĂ©amoinn is a writer and critic.

  • Review
  • Theatre

hurry by Jean Butler

18-22 May 2013

Produced by Jean Butler, as part of Dublin Dance Festival
In Project Arts Centre

Conceived and choreographed by Jean Butler

Directed by Jon Kinzel

Lighting Design by Michael O'Connor

Uilleann Pipes by Ivan Goff

Music by Jim Dawson

Sound design by Jim Dawson and Jon Kinzel

Costume by Sylvia Grieser

Jean Butler's hurry was performed as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2013