by Mark Keane
I have a confession to make: I don’t "get" contemporary dance. I know in my position it's folly to admit such a cultural faux-pas, but it would be disingenuous of me to blather along here and pretend otherwise. Every time I'm at it – admittedly only a handful of performances - I just wish it was more like that dance David Brent did in "The Office"; which is not what I'm supposed to be thinking. Afterwards, I choose to nod sagaciously, say that it was great, everyone usually agrees, merely adding to my Emperor's New Clothes impression of the artform.
And I'm not unique. Contemporary dance is polarising; a multi-textural, cerebral style of performance that alienates people so much that they prefer to stay clear of it rather than even take a peek. In layman's terms; it's nonsense. Clearly that's unfair -- as a medium, it is just as valid as any reaction against the stylistic rigidity of its predecessors, just like new forms of music, visual art, etc. So what is one to do? Give up? Programming director, Davide Terlingo, instead wants people to just go with it.
"There is a perception of contemporary dance that it is very far out. A lot of people will go to see a film or a piece of theatre or a concert but it's harder for them to say 'let's go see a dance show'", he acknowledges. "This is something that we at Daghdha are re-addressing. We have a very humane approach to dance; it's about the people and a lot of projects are about social enquiry."
This is where the upcoming Mamuska Night comes in. With its informal mix of short performances, club style athmospherics and the odd glass of booze, the irregular night has been a hit since it inception over two and a half years ago. It's an accessible "in" for all us dance novices, but Davide insists that it's more than just reaching out to new blood and it's certainly not dumbing down.
"There are around 10 performances under 10 minutes duration, with a break between each. People can chat and wander around during the shows. The policy is to programme both professional artists and those who are less experienced. The real reason for it is to give local artist a real chance to experiment, away from the pressure of being on the stage. The environment is so informal that people can interact with the artists and it takes it out of the stuffy, black box, performance arena. It's really a place to rethink how they see the show and how artists present their work."
So that's what the audience can expect, but what about the wider significance of the night? As a bridge building exercise with those outside the contemporary dance community, does it yield some new fans? Davide peppers his answer with a few home truths.
"Dance is such a wonderful art form, but a lot of the people who come to Mamuska may not be intersted in seeing dance in another context. I understand this because sometimes I find it hard myself! But Mamuska is a way to redefine how people relate to contemporary art forms. It doesn't always have to be so detached from the people. It is possible to be creative and experimental, but at the same time be very open and accessible."
This particular Mamuska Night was revived as part of the Excursion Performance Festival which takes place in three venues across Limerick from November 30th to December 3rd. The festival mixes visual art, dance, film and other disciplines in what is another reminder of the strength of Limerick's arts and cultural scenes with its healthy retinue of performers and patrons. Daghdha's relatively new and pristine space in John's Square is one of the venues, but Davide feels there could be a few more made available for the vibrant art scene, which is something of a regular gripe among Limerick's artisans.
"We could have a few more around the city", he sighs, "because there are a lots of artists, a real creative dynamic here and a real enthusiasm in the audience. We have had everything from EVA to the UL in the Daghdha Space. It's great to have these collaborations, but we also have to look after our own place with the education programm we have here. A couple more spaces would allow for the potentials in the city to be fully realised."
Beyond the Excursion weekend, Daghdha's own dance based Gravity and Grace Festival takes place from December 13th to 17th and will feature a performance choreographed by Daghdha director Michael Klien. A busy festive programme then, but the immediate focus is on Mamuska. Tell us again, Davide, why the Mamuska Night is a perfect introduction?
"Mamuska is the best place to start and to be inspired. It's free in and you can leave at any moment so what's the worst that can happen? But if you come to Mamuska, you will come back."
The Clare People
Tuesday 28 November 2006
by Mark Keane