Article: Towards A Choreography Of Change

by Thom Shaw

A microphone is strapped firmly to a woman's wrist using parcel tape and a wooden splint. The wire eventually finds its socket in a large amp, presided over by a musician with a look of the death metal about him. The equipment produces rock and roll style oscillations of reverb and feedback as the woman negotiates her limited performance space and the somewhat cumbersome appendage, whipping it about her like a playful rat would its tail.

In the churchyard outside, people are clustered about, drinking Guinness from plastic glasses in the balmy evening air as children weave snakelike path through them. A large black dog (Wilson, a Labrador I think, and, so I'm told, something of a local celebrity) trots amongst the sinking tombs whilst back inside the deconsecrated church punters either stand and watch or sit at small tables or on low, woven stools. This is a Mamuska night, a bi-monthly evening of performances, installations and shared works in progress, with a loose, UN stylised cabaret structure and an emphasis on ease for all involved. Mamuska may be just one string to the Daghdha bow but it's one which could be seen to represent much of the company's practical philosophy; it manages, in one fell swoop, to cherish and blur the performative, the social, the multi-disciplinary as well as the need for the public to get involved or not. It does all this with clarity and a level-headedness that is often lacking in events similar.

Daghdha is multi-headed to say the least, combining the educational, the professional and the social, and with projects and initiatives spreading out simultaneously in all directions. On first inspection it all seems rather confusing, but at the company's heart there is a clear sense of purpose and a sturdy conviction in the mission.

It is the deconsecrated church on John's Square in Limerick, which acts as Daghdha's central space and, therefore, a physical realisation of their social dynamic. Members are free to come and go, making use of technical equipment of the library, to negotiate use of rehearsal space or simply to make coffee. The public are encouraged in for performances and sharing and Mamuska night recognises the importance of engagement. Perhaps more importantly the company's activities allow for dis-engagement, they recognise that for the public to make connections and choreograph their own involvement, this is by no means a compulsory requirement or, indeed, a measure of successful outcomes.

Davide Terlingo: In a way it would be easier to define the company through our individual interests rather than through our initiatives. In broad terms, one of the key points is a shift from “dance” to “choreography”; another is a broadening of the definition of choreography to all systematic processes of arrangement and change. Brought together under this common framework, a number of Daghdha associated artists have a good degree of freedom to pursue and share different interests. Frankly the range is very broad, however, we are all united by share goals and a strong desire to directly engage with society.

My contribution comes in the form of a Cultural Programme with a broad independence from main dance production activities, which remain the core occupation of the company. Since full time opening of Daghdha Space in February 2006, I have been developing formats aimed at stimulating both company members and public participation. Daghdha is neither a rigidly structured institution nor a collective of independent artists. For instance, the cultural programme develops according to a long-term business plan that I follow decidedly, however there is a lot of fluid reshaping as facts evolve with time; it seems a contradiction but it works. As I mentioned before, all the activities are organically integrated within one common vision. There is equality in the relevance of our views…

TS: In terms of the malleable Daghdha space, and I'm thinking with reference to Mamuska in particular, how interested are you in non-theatrical theatre setting? Are you drawn to the idea of a grey area between the social space and the theatrical space?

DT: The theatrical space is a social space; I don't see a conceptual distinction between the two when discussed within a sociological context. Differences are based on definitions of use. The Daghdha Space has a set up that allows theatrical uses, however it remains above all a social space. In my daily programming of the space I always think in terms of social dynamics and interactions, I consider individual psychology and perception (who are the users?). My vision is constantly shaped around a specific aesthetic sense, a sense of fluidity and exchange. I organise the shape to reflect this vision, to create a landscape that opens new mental and physical opportunities. I see my work as facilitating an endless flow of events, from making a cup of coffee to presenting a major arts festival. I am not actively trying to blur boundaries; I focus on creating a choreography of relations that encircles both audience and artists. Mamuska Nights shouldn't really make sense and shouldn't really work and yet they do because they are a structured choreographic act. Here, I apply choreography to a social context, preparing the foundations and the grammar for a common form of expression. As you have seen, Mamuska is such an odd mix of people, ages, interests, social backgrounds, art forms and expertise. What gives consistency to the night is the overall invisible structure that repeats itself each time: nobody really knows what is going to happen at Mamuska (including me to a degree) and yet everybody comfortably knows what it is all about.

Extracts from Dance Theatre Journal, volume 22 number 1, 2006.