Choreographer Oona Doherty understands that in everyone – and in every body – there is a tension point between hard and soft, hard and vulnerable, pleasure and pain. For all their consequences, her characters, faceless working-class youths from Belfast, are sore. And while her moving language creates a precise physical entity, transcendence comes through an inner battle: fighting the hard to find the soft.
In “Hard to Be Soft – A Belfast Prayer,” Inspired by the city she grew up in, Doherty explores the trauma caused by the Troubles, which spanned some 30 years. Divided into four parts, the piece begins and ends with shape-shifting solos, in which Doherty embodies young men from Belfast – with the air of a machine, she pouts, digs deep. hands in pockets and stood stooped, her back arching into its pelvis. She took a few steps, a kind of walk known to the locals as a stroll.
But gradually, as her style fades, she becomes a more masculine body. The girl has described as “Hard to Be Soft” as a physical prayer, and other worldly moments: What’s trapping her? What is trying to escape? It is the soul, the essence of a spirit.
With its scented opening act, the theater – the new Irish Arts Center – even smelled like a church. (This is the first dance performance in space, but that still doesn’t guarantee 20 minutes of monotonous speeches.) The score by electronic musician and composer David Holmes provides a sense of worship. service like choral music mixed with narration. Record the sounds of the chaotic street life.
In the soundtrack, the fight breaks out as Doherty – her blonde hair pulled back into a bun, a gold chain bouncing around her chest – shatters and rises off the floor as if floating between a dream and a a nightmare. Meanwhile, the light gives the set, which is essentially a tall white cage that opens to the side, a haunting, angelic glow. Is it heaven or purgatory?
And is Doherty laughing or crying? Doherty has the uncanny ability to silence her features so suddenly that suddenly, her face can become as still and peaceful as eyes staring at you from an icon. The way she uses her eyes is one of the most attractive things about her – sometimes they sparkle; sometimes they die.
The blackout gave way to a second season, in which a female voiceover spoke about overcoming “tragedy within the walls” by dressing “it’s so captivating because we have to unravel the tragedy. “
For women in Belfast, she said, good looks were a form of armor. It also empowers. Eight young women from Young dancer company swirling into space, circling the stage as if marking territory with frank steps, punctuated by a steady beat. Wearing black leggings and a bright satin jacket, they dared to defy. Doherty called them the Sugar Army for a reason. (To fill their rankings, she looks for local dancers in each city she visits.)
Inspired by girls she went to school with in Belfast who, as she wrote in drawing performance publication, practicing disco dancing for competitions, Doherty’s tough, tough army recalls her memory of them: “Erase sex and shape weapons in space like weapons.”
Here, perhaps, they need more time on stage to discover how to channel their personal power into a shimmering unit. One of the most tender moments comes when they part, laugh and fall over each other to convey the innocence of women in the making – some there, others at their peak.
In the third installment, John Scott, a veteran Dublin choreographer, and Sam Finnegan – both topless, bellies protruding – slowly enter the center of the stage like sumo wrestlers. A voiceover hints at the father-son relationship. A hug soon becomes more tense, more loaded – one pushing, the other pulling – as they use their weight and flesh (again, locating the tension between soft and hard). ) indicates grief, conflict. When Scott nudges Finnegan lightly on the head, we see not only his love but also his pain.
Physically, “Hard to Be Soft” is not suitable for the Irish Arts Center theatre. It seemed cramped and the view was obscured for both the opening solo and the duet, which mostly took place on the stage. But the final solo, in which Doherty came in with a massive fall to the stage, was sparkling.
Reprising her role as a young man in Belfast, she gradually slips between grief and calm – a sort of resignation – as flickering memories invade her body and the sound of melancholy ropes fills in. full of air. Doherty recalls moments of her first solo as she patiently paints the story of a man’s life through a dance. Or is it a physical prayer? In “Hard to be soft,” it feels the same way.
It’s hard to be soft – Belfast Prayer
Through January 23 at the Irish Arts Centre; irishartscenter.org
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/14/arts/dance/oona-doherty-review.html Review: Dance opens like a prayer