Dissonance Of Surface 1. Caake – Body Wisdom Workshop Performance Tuesday 12th November 8pm


Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

I wrote this blog after the one about Ockham’s Razor’s performance of This Time even though the performance came before and serendipitously (or not) I can see that some of the themes in my blog about This Time align with my thoughts about the CAAKE workshop performance.

Specifically the overlap is in the issues of age, rhythm, care and the removal of the end-gaining stress in the interactive movement.

Most of the performance was a trio by three experienced members of Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company’s long term project for movers over 50 years of age; Dennis Golden, Maggie Hannon and Deirdre Gillespie. They were joined briefly by the two artists who are in residence at St Augustine’s Old School House, Gail Mahon and Marketa Formanova.

Gail and Marketa had led a day long workshop with members of the Body Wisdom Group and those who wished to could choose to perform.

The piece focused on interactive relationships between the performers with typical trio compositional structures formed around duo-solo tensions, the processes by which duets form out of trios, and various ways that individuals roles changed. The clearly readable movement theme had to do with the compression and elasticity of space. The performance was a series of, more or less loose, improvisational scores played out as an exploration of this theme.

Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

The simplicity and playfulness of the performance presence of Dennis, Deirdre and Maggie allowed the process of exploration to be interesting as a performance, with more than an experimental, analytic or abstract feel. There was humour, skill and pathos, and lots of small human stories, played out in both real and metaphoric time and space. Various pieces of equipment were used to make the physical connection between the performers extend into the performance space beyond close physical touch. Sticks like broomsticks, tubes and rope (with handles like a water ski rope) appeared creating three layers of dynamic interaction; literal physical touch, extended structural inter-dependency created by the leaning-in-pushes and leaning-out-pulls facilitated by the equipment and the forms of pull and push that exist in the spatial interactions between people not in physical touch contact, where the sense of pressure of pull and push, flow, resistance and turbulence are played out at a distance.

Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

It was interesting to see how, because of the extension of physical contact at distance provided by the equipment, a lot of the connection at a distance became more intimate and immediately communicative than the non-touching movement in close proximity. The similar themes to those in This Time appeared because of the respect and care for the way in which the various structural inter-dependencies were managed by the performers during the explorations. Effectively what was happening, in part, was a series of challenges to shared physical organisation, not dissimilar to what happens in Contact Improvisation.

Very often when older people dance Contact Improvisation with younger people the rhythm is determined by the younger one with the older one always having to adapt from their natural, often well-organised, tempo to try to keep up with the reactivity and reflex speed of the younger one. In this case, all the trio of performers being over 50, the issue of speed and rhythm didn’t arise in the same way.

Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne

These performers are very competent movers. There is no sense of it being a problem to go down to sit, kneel or lie; no problem with standing up, balancing on one leg, changing direction. There is no collapse or rigidity in the movement or attention. However the natural range of tempo and tonus is, for sure, not that of a 25 year old. Because of the shared understanding of each other’s palettes of speed, tonus, acceleration, reactive speed etc there is no undue stress in the process of adaptation to each other’s movement choices. This means that the particular movement sophistication and understanding of the performers, specific to their age, had a chance to appear and be appreciated. There is nothing poetically limited about a particularly well organised movement down from standing into a kneel and then into sitting just because it takes a little time and has some very consciously organised, and attended to, stages. The knowledge of how to manage that journey with balance and dignity is a true and valuable knowledge. Going faster, and possibly being rushed and less well organised, would be inappropriate. Watching, we didn’t see insecurity, worry, rushing and badly organised end-gaining movement but rather were invited to a particular and well inhabited movement world.

Maggie Hannon, Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie. Image Simon Alleyne


Echo Echo Festival Thanks!

Photo By Simon Alleyne

A huge thanks to everyone involved in Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement 2019! It was an incredible two weeks of performances, classes and events.

THANKS to all of our wonderful audiences and supporters and to all of the community partners and schools who took part in Festival workshops and attended performances.

THANKS to all of the participating artists in this seventh edition and to all of their circles of colleagues and supporters: Collective B (Festival artists-in-residence) – Elsa Mourlam, Sonia Borkowicz, Tomas Novak, Christopher Haritzer, Voland Székely, Alja Ferjan; Ayesha Mailey; Nic Gareiss; Off The Rails Dance – Eileen McClory with Ryan O’Neill, Vasiliki Stanasiki and Hanna Slattne; Echo Echo Ensemble – Ayesha Mailey, Kelly Quigley, Tonya Sheina and Zoe Ramsey with Amanda Koser, Joleen McLaughlin and Stephanie Pawula; Liam Ó Scanláin and David Doocey; Irish Modern Dance Theatre and John Scott – Oona Doherty with Steve Batts and John Walsh; CAAKE artists Gail Mahon, Marketa Formanova and Jane Talbot with Body Wisdom artists Dennis Golden, Deirdre Gillespie and Maggie Hannon; Ockham’s Razor – Charlotte Mooney, Alex Harvey, Faith Fahy and Lee Carter, and all of the Ockham’s Razor crew; Turtle Key Arts – Alison King and team; Ferenc Fehér and David Miko; Bounce Culture – Kwame.

THANKS to all of the Festival Bursary artists supported by Department of Culture Heritage and Gaeltacht and Dance Ireland: Remi Ajike, Eleni Kolliopoulou, Kathy Burke, Fiona Dowling, Yasmin Mello, Maggie Hannon and Emmett O’Frighil.

THANKS to all of the Festival venue partners around Ireland – Alison Morris and all of the team at The Guildhall for hosting This Time; the Sands family at Teach an Cheoil, Ballyvoy and Jes McSparron, Buncrana for hosting Solo Square Dance; Paola Bernadelli at Art Arcadia, St Augustine’s Old Schoolhouse; DanceHouse Dublin, Galway Dance Project, Dance Resource Base, Siamsa Tíre Tralee, Firkin Crane Cork and The Dock Carrick-on Shannon.

THANKS to Ciaran Harley and zoocreative for the beautiful Festival art and design work; the team at Unit 7 Audio Visual for first class production support; all the gang at In Your Space Circus for support with Ockham’s Razor workshops and production; Simon Alleyne and the Living Witness team for video and photography; Seamus Kennedy at Abbey B&B and Gerry McGoldrick at Cathedral View B&B.

THANKS to all of the Festival funders and supporters without whom the Festival would not have been possible – Caoileann Curry-Thompson, Gilly Campbell and all at ACNI and the ACNI National Lottery Fund; Jacqueline Whoriskey, John Kerr and team at Derry City and Strabane District Council; Aoife O’Sullivan and team at Department of Culture Heritage & Gaeltacht; the Foyle Foundation; Institut Francais UK; Elaine Gaston at Causeway Coast and Glens Council; and all of the visiting company funders and supporters.

THANKS to all of our amazing team who worked around the clock to make it all happen: Echo Echo Staff – Steve Batts, Anna Nolan, Barry Davis and Ailbe Beirne; Echo Echo Ensemble – Ayesha Mailey, Kelly Quigley, Tonya Sheina and Zoe Ramsey; Festival support team – Leeann Toland, Maggie Hannon, Deirdre Gillespie, Olek Wojcik, Laura Vlad, Tina McCauley, Marie Manktelow, Rory Harkin; and the Echo Echo Board – Deirdre Gillespie, Cath McBride, Paul Johnston, Esther Alleyne and Mandy Blinco.

There are lots of Festival photos over on our Facebook page and lots more to be added, plus in-depth reflections on the Festival by Echo Echo Artistic Director Steve Batts on this blog.

Feel free to add your comments below!

Planning has already begun for the eighth edition in 2020/21 – hopefully we will see you before then!











Thoughts on This Time by Ockham’s Razor at the Guildhall, Echo Echo Festival 13th November

Pic for This Time blogspot

I had only seen this piece on video and we booked it for the festival on the basis of that, and also on the wonderful experience of having Ockham’s Razor at the 2016 Echo Echo festival. The show they did then, Tipping Point, was really beautiful and the people in the company, from performers to management, were an absolute pleasure to work with.

I am very happy to have gone with my intuition on this because This Time is a very beautiful and touching show.

Unlike many acrobatic and/or aerial shows there is nothing sinewy, or ripped, or muscle bound, or show-off, or border line anorexic about This Time. This is because of a wonderful hole in the middle of the piece. There is no “young adult” in it. There is Faith, a 13 year old girl; Lee, a woman of around 60; and Alex and Charlotte who I’d imagine are mid to late thirties, but anyway clearly mature adults. There is no young adult, in their twenties, to show their moves, to push the pace, to work on excitement and adrenaline. This makes it much easier for watchers to identify with the performers as ordinary, real people and it also means that the rhythm of the show is particular, and different from what one might expect from circus-theatre. This is an intensely lovely thing and is the foundation for the whole composition.

Although the skill, strength and technical ability of the performers is very clear, the real values of This Time are encapsulated in the way that the hands of the performers move. They move methodically and carefully to grasp the equipment – the trapeze, cradle, rigging wires, frames – and each other. They are offered and they wait for the offer to be accepted, they move one limb at a time, like a careful rock climber making sure that the support remains through the transfer of weight. I was drawn to watch those hands so carefully, and I felt the qualities of care, communication, listening, patience, responsibility, intimacy and a sensual pleasure.

These feelings are exactly what the piece is about, and the simple and basic physical embodiment of these values gives a depth and profundity to what is, overall, a rather straightforwardly constructed composition.

The piece includes a series of monologues focused on stages of life and the particular vulnerabilities that come with each life stage. Typically, in theatre, one assumes that monologues like this may not be literally true, but in this case I was absolutely sure that the stories told were real and autobiographical memories of the performers. I think I assumed this because of the context set by the aerial scenes. The aerial scenes are “real”. There is no artifice in the hand of a man grasping the hand of a dangling girl. No pretense in the balancing of the weight, at height, between four performers moving themselves through complex, but gently performed images, on a suspended rope cradle and trapeze. The reality is that we see a careful, caring, process of support and interaction which is deeply respectful of the different needs of each performer. The overall rhythm is given by that of the youngest and oldest performers. This makes the whole aerial aspect stand as an explicit, clearly stated, metaphor for the central concerns and values of the piece.

The clarity of that metaphor, and the “realness” of the action that creates it, provide a strong compositional foundation which makes it appropriate for the monologues to be performed in a straightforward, almost theatrically naive, way. That manner, which in other contexts could be slightly embarrassing or annoying, actually feels appropriate.

The design and use of the aerial equipment adds another element. There is a strong sense of the equipment being dynamic and a means of communication and interaction rather than static objects that are there to be “used” or which are seen as providing a challenge to be overcome. Even the counterbalancing processes, which remain offstage and unseen, are felt and understood. One can see that there is a communication and adaptation process going on; a sense of live timing and shared purpose behind the scenes.

The simple and un-armoured presence of the performers, their straightforwardly autobiographical tales, the transparency of the aerial work and the poise in the equipment design are all in themselves plain and uncomplicated. However, the elements interact with each other to create rich references and metaphors, multiple points of compassionate connection and fellow feeling with the audience, and a clear statement of the value of kindness, care and respect, and the importance of not always being in a rush, especially in inter-generational relationships.

The magical thing is that all these elements and the complex effects of their interactions are present from almost the very start of the piece. They are just there. They don’t need long to be built up. Already in the first aerial quartet my heart opened wide from how moving and beautiful it was.








See Me Disappear by Ayesha Mailey 8th November at Echo Echo Studios

See me disappear2
Ayesha Mailey in See Me Disappear image by Simon Alleyne

I can’t claim any degree of objectivity on this performance as Ayesha Mailey is my dearly loved long-time colleague in Echo Echo… but somehow the pretence of objectivity feels a bit contradictory with the spirit of art, creativity and desire so here goes anyway…

I saw this piece when it was first performed a year or so ago and the transformation is remarkable. There isn’t so much different in the form, text, general movement and mise-en-scene but the power of the piece is so much stronger that it kind of feels like a different work altogether. Looking back it is clear that the previous performance was really very much a work in progress.

I was close to tears several times during the show, but these tears weren’t ones of distress but rather came from a deep feeling that someone is naming and embodying an experience of existential insecurity that we all know but is hard to describe exactly in words.

The structure of the piece has a kind of post-modern fragmented, self referential aspect but, unlike so much work like that, it has a very warm and welcoming heart. It isn’t at all cool or analytic. This is because Ayesha has such a warm and secure performance presence. She has softness and fluidity and an attractive porosity. She is also strong and and has a secure performative presence. As an audience member you feel safe to go with her into her autobiographical insecurities, to visit the recurring theme of “words fail me” and to acknowledge the deep fellow feeling which lies there. The friction or “edge” in the performance comes from Ayesha’s other quality; a sort of dangerous Crazy-Jane madness, just under the surface, that is never too explicit but gives a sense that things might not remain held together.

The projection and light design, by Barry Davis, are well judged in their fineness and simplicity. They refer, like the text, to a time of childhood innocence without being cheap or embarrassingly naive. The strength of this gives ground for the elements in the text and movement which offer the other side of the child (and adult) experience of being rather lost, exposed, uncomfortable.

One other observation that I had about the piece was how Ayesha has the ability to draw attention  away from her level of movement skill. Her balance, phrase control and athletic skill are highly developed. However, because these skills are softly inhabited, you never get the feeling, as a watcher, of being stuck on that. Indeed, I am actually sure that most people in the audience didn’t even remark on the absolute perfection of some of the movement. One sequence; a one and a half turn jump landed totally perfectly, without noise, and continuing into a diagonal phrase across the floor was quite incredible, but because the movement makes poetic sense it doesn’t become a trick or spectacle. One watches the sense not the trick; a beautiful quality.

It is wonderful to have work this good being made here at home in Derry by a local artist. It means that we can organise for Ayesha to perform it again, outside the festival time, in the near future, so more people can get the chance to go with her into that experience of a shared insecurity and vulnerability while being held and warmly supported by a remarkable performer and guide.

Reflections on Solo Square Dance by Nic Gareiss

Well… I wrote that I’d try to blog daily through the festival…. I didn’t… so a bit of a catch up…

Nic pic for blog 1


Nic pic for blog 2

Nic Gareiss in Solo Square Dance at Teach an Cheoil (images by Simon Alleyne)

I spent the weekend in the charming and intellectually stimulating company of Nic Gareiss driving him and the portable dance floor to his performances of Solo Square Dance in houses just outside Ballycastle and just outside Buncrana. Our hosts in both places, the Sands family from Teach an Cheoil and Jess McSparron and family were incredibly generous. In both places they had, quite unexpectedly, laid on a spread for guests and audience and were so wonderfully warm and encouraging. We had 30 people in the Kitchen at the Sands’ and around fifty squeezed into the entrance hall at Jess’. Amazing feeling at both places. Nic’s show really went down well and after each show the “party” continued. Down to a traditional music session at the House of McDonnell pub in Ballycastle and on into the late night at Jess McSparron’s unique and really beautiful place. On Monday at lunchtime Nic performed the piece for a third time in the sitting room at Echo Echo Studios for those people who couldn’t make it out to the two countryside events.

So, I got a chance to see the piece three times, in slightly different settings and and in front of  different audiences as well as getting a good feel for the background ideas and perspectives behind the work from the hours in the car talking and digging around in the aesthetics, politics and history of dancing.

I think this piece is a masterpiece.

Any work this good offers an endless possibility for reflection and analysis. There is so much I could say about it from different angles; about the central choice to perform it in domestic settings; the delicacy of the handling of the artifice and gentle manipulation involved in creating what is a theatrical event in the form of a house party and then allowing the house party to actually emerge; the compositional crafting of the overall rhythms of the piece; the choices of song; the pared down script and the controlled but warm delivery of it, in which even the jokes stand up well on third hearing;… and of course the extraordinarily beautiful and heart warming quality of the dancing in its musical sensitivity and its entrancing and lovingly understated virtuosity.

However, I think, there is one core thing that gives an overall, gently theatrical frame for all these elements. It is something that is rather hidden away and isn’t really played out explicitly on the surface. This is the sense of a theatrical tension, what theatre practitioners might call “conflict” (maybe paradox would be a better word as “conflict” sounds too brutal and rough).

The themes in the text focus lightly but insistently on the idea of a sort of resonance between the history of dance bans and restrictions imposed by governments, including the 1935 Dance Halls Act, in Ireland, and the restrictions imposed on people whose sexuality and/or gender expression is outside publicly acceptable norms. Among other more subtle indicators of this theme a couple of lyrics of songs are changed to make same gender couples from lyrics which would more usually refer to heterosexual partnerings. Nic explicitly draws attention to these changes. At another point the audience are invited to join in the “degeneracy” of the party… to join the ranks of the transgressive…

This invitation to join the ranks of the “other” or to recognise that in some way one might actually already be “other” is seductive in itself and there is for sure a sort of unamplified political agenda being proposed here around the themes of sexual and gender identity and “excavating” cultural histories for hidden, repressed, narratives and lives.

The intersecting thematic line in the piece is about pleasure, and how pleasure, in itself and in particular the pleasure of dancing, might be, and has been, perceived as threatening to the political and cultural status quo.

These two themes, the gender and sexuality theme and the pleasure theme are mediated through the tonus and texture of Nic’s performance presence, through the text and through the dancing.

The theatrical “conflict”, tension, paradox, that I referred to is centred here. On one side is the tension of the attraction and excitement of attaching to a transgressive identity of and for itself. On the other is the pull towards pleasures that might only be accessible through the acceptance of a transgressive identity but with no fundamental attachment to the dispositional palette associated with transgression. The tension exists dynamically between the work as a didactic instrument for addressing political themes and creating solidarity and as an invitation to simple pleasure. The question is whether the dancing (and in fact the whole performance) is serving a purpose or whether the dancing liberated (the party), is the purpose. There is a tendency to think that the answer to these things is “both” but I have to say that for me the work finally resolves to come down on the side of pleasure rather than propaganda. Being with three different audiences and watching them react I am pretty sure that almost universally the question “what about that?” would be answered in the first instance with comments about the wonderful and beautiful dancing rather than the framing themes and devices. This, for me feels like a sort of softly experienced triumph.

Watching Solo Square Dance made me remember going to a performance of the first Gay Sweatshop Theatre tour in Northern Ireland in the University of Ulster sometime in the late seventies. The piece was direct and politically driven and we audience members suffered a direct attack with full beer glasses from the University Rugby club and walked a gauntlet of free presbyterian and DUP demonstrators trying to “Save Ulster from Sodomy”. I think in 70’s Ireland there would have been no way that a performance like Solo Square Dance could have been anything other than about the “issues”. The soft triumph is that now it can, in its heart (and feet) be about dancing and the shared pleasure of watching and doing dancing and singing, without losing its politically conscious head.

I’m not at all sure that Nic would agree with me on this. Maybe, for him, and for some audiences or audience members the political themes would still be the strong point of connection… but hey, that’s the nature of masterpieces, they can work on many levels.

More later, on See Me Disappear by Ayesha Mailey…. and other things…

… and for anyone looking for a lovely holiday B&B here’s the link for Teach an Cheoil. Open throughout the summer and looked after by the lovely Michael and Catherine Sands.


Echo Echo Festival. Reflections on 2nd performance of Wonderful World by Collective B.

image for blog 2
Collective B in Wonderful World. Photo: Simon Alleyne/Living Witness

I saw the second performance of Wonderful World by Collective B last night. It is a good sign about the quality of a piece when on second viewing many new elements and details stand out, and when the overall impression is stronger and deeper than the first time.

This time I realised, again, how difficult it is to make good dance-movement based work that reflects on dark themes, and I was even more impressed than on the first view at how Collective B managed this.

I remember my long-time colleague Ursula Lauebli commenting once that the problem with making good dances about evil is that good dancing is always some sort of celebration so you would always risk either bad dancing or celebrating evil.

The problem is that there is a danger of work that is supposed to be “about” a dark theme, or tries to take a critical perspective on such a theme, ending up just adding to the darkness through carelessness or exploitation or just simply cheapening the sensibility to the issue.

With text based performance this problem can be addressed through the way that language is used to reflect on themes, content, ideas and action but with physically based work achieving this kind of “alienation” and layering is less straightforward.

What the Collective B ensemble manages, in Wonderful World, is to invite the audience to “visit” a very dark terrain (several other audience members echoed my own description of the effect of the piece being to make me very anxious). However the “visit” is very well and responsibly guided so the watcher doesn’t feel abandoned or stuck. The experience remains one in which the visitor always feels that they will be able to get home again.

I think this sense of security and confidence is largely to do with the incredible sense of compositional rigor and performance discipline that Collective B display, and is clearly related to the profound musicality I wrote about in yesterday’s blog. The chaos and distress in the themes they work with in Wonderful World are counterbalanced by the deep quality of care and responsibility in the framing of the work as a performative invitation.

Also, the way the piece resolves with the beautiful and vulnerable rendition of Flow My Tears,  a song by 16th century composer John Dowland, creates a textural counterbalance and invites enough human resonance to transform the audience’s experience of the grotesqueness of the preceding +/-50 minutes. The anxiety is released and relieved so that the watcher leaves with hope for humanity and a heartfelt appreciation for the performer’s willingness to take us to visit something important, if rather terrifying, and to bring us back safe and sound, and with a softer more porous skin because of the experience.

The Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement continues with See Me Disappear by Ayesha Mailey at 8pm, Friday 8th Nov at Echo Echo Studios.

Check out the full programme at http://www.echoechodance.com

Steve Batts 07/11/2019


Festival Blog – Wonderful World by Collective B


Opening Event Echo Echo Festival 2019


So, 2019 Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement has begun!

Last night was an intense treat. Collective B presented WONDERFUL WORLD; an exceptionally committed and disciplined work. The long gestation and creation period of the piece shows in the sense that everything extraneous has been removed. Everything in it reinforces the world the performers create and everything feels like it emerges from a very clear source. The feeling is that everything makes uncomfortable sense, in spite of the absurdity and grotesqueness. That world is a distressing one, for sure, but the humour and control in the performance makes it possible to stick with it until the release, or transformation, which arrives at the very end.

Watching yesterday I realised how deeply musical this piece is. I mean that in a way that goes well beyond the observation of the skill and control of the three musicians playing Bass Clarinet, Percussion and Violin. The costume and mise-en-scene indicates a theatrical, perhaps expressionist, genre but the timing of the action, the use of repetition, the particular lengths of waiting between events all have a feeling of being driven by an intensely musical sensibility. The result of this is that the world created, and the journey the audience are invited on through it, have compositional integrity which induced an interesting experience of dissonance. On one side were feelings of tension and discomfort in relation to the themes, images and relationships presented. On the other the feeling of being able to “go with” the invitation to that world because of the sense of security and trust that compositional integrity of the work allowed.

You can see WONDERFUL WORLD again tonight at 8pm at Echo Echo Studios.

Details and full festival programme at www.echoechodance.com

Steve Batts

Echo Echo Artistic Director