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Film Review

Capital Irish Film Festival - Shorts: Dirty Dancing

reviewed by Carmel Morgan

In the season of Nutcracker abundance, what a surprise to be treated to a series of short dance films as part of this year’s Capital Irish Film Festival. The short films gave not only a unique view of contemporary dance in Ireland, but also a glimpse of what film can do to enhance dance as an art form. All but one of the short dance films that was part of the Capital Irish Film Festival’s dance shorts showcase was generated as part of special project for Irish national television (RTÉ) called “Dance on the Box.” The quality of the films and the dancing was extremely high.

The first short film shown was “Deep End Dance,” which elicited appreciative gasps from the audience. I happen to adore short films, and of course, I love dance. For me, this film was a perfect melding of the two. “Deep End Dance” was directed by Conor Horgan, choreographed by David Bolger, and performed by Bolger and his non-dancer mother, Madge Bolger, in a pool. The film begins with an older woman approaching a suited man, straightening his tie, lovingly patting his face, then inserting in his nose a nose plug and pushing him into a pool. He settles, fully clothed, to the bottom, swirling and twirling, doing somersaults and headstands and otherwise having fun to mesmerizing music composed by Michael Fleming. His tie floats upward as he executes a gorgeously slow jump up in fifth position, beating his feet multiple times. Later, still underwater, Bolger stretches out his hands, and his mother, who had been watching at the water’s edge, plunges into the pool to join him in a touching duet. The two make loops. She, in a flowered bathing suit, rides his back, arms around him. They sink, spin, glide, and drift apart, then grasp hands and come together again, all in the rippling light of the deep end. There is humor, too, when, for example, Bolger’s mother tugs him by the hair and lifts him finally to the surface. The film is absolutely stunning in every way – the shapes, the light, the emotion, and the dancing all add up to a beautiful dance short. No wonder the audience broke out into spontaneous applause, and I heard people exclaim, “Wow,” and “Oh my gosh.”

Another short film that was attention-grabbing, and also hauntingly pretty, was “Flatbed,” which was skillfully directed by Tom Merilion, and was the sole dance short that was not part of “Dance on the Box.” In “Flatbed,” a contemplative woman hangs out on the back of a long flatbed truck, at night, on an empty highway. Her dress flaps in the wind because the truck is moving, passing under bridges, going forward into the darkness. She dances moodily on the truck’s flatbed platform as it speeds along. Her feet trace the edge of the flatbed, hinting at danger. She looks back toward the truck’s cab as if remembering something from her past. The handsome driver then appears on the flatbed with her. They perform a breathy, intimate duet, all while the truck continues to sail down the road. Then he falls backward off the truck and disappears like the fading of a memory. The film seems to have been shot from multiple viewpoints -- from above, behind, around – an impressive technical feat!

Two more standouts from the Irish dance shorts were “Mo Mhorchoir Fein (A Prayer)” and “Match,” both directed by Dearbhla Walsh and featuring the performance and choreography of Fearghus O’Conchuir, who appeared in person at the film festival for a Q & A after the screening. “A Prayer” takes place in a church. A nearly naked man, wearing only a white undergarment, his chest completely bare, bends and twists in his own ritual, while an altar boy and an older female parishioner observe him. The camera follows his body’s lines, and there are lovely close-ups – one of the arch of his foot is particularly striking. In the end, a hand reaches out. The message is multi-layered but aimed at addressing the emotional distance felt by many of Ireland’s faithful resulting from the sex scandals in the Catholic Church. The images are arresting because we are not used to seeing barely clothed men in a church setting, other than depictions of Christ.

In “Match,” two bare-chested men (Matthew Morris and Fearghus O'Conchuir) grapple with each other inside a famous soccer stadium in Ireland named Croke Park. Like in “A Prayer,” dance appears in a familiar, yet surprising setting. The men are dressed in shorts, with socks and cleats, just like athletes would be, but instead of fighting to kick a ball, they compete against each other in a duet full of leans, lifts, trips, and almost constant contact. They grab feet, rub heads, and transform the space by dancing up the goalposts. At the end, there are grass stained knees and a victory dance. “Match” puts out into the open a homoerotic element of sport that is seldom talked about.

There is irony in the fact that a larger audience in Ireland has viewed these dance shorts than have seen a live dance performance by the featured performers, but sneaking a dance short onto TV before a popular program is a great way to introduce contemporary dance to a new audience. I’d be overjoyed if one of the networks in the United States would agree to put dance shorts on TV!

Links to the Irish dance shorts can be found at http://www.rte.ie/danceonthebox/films.html and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_HfY63Dqbc&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

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