“In A Glass Darkly” Junk Ensemble’s Dusk Ahead

Just a quick note about Junk Ensemble’s Dusk Ahead, running as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival this year…

I saw this last night in the Project, and was surprised to see that the theatre was only about three-quarters full. That seemed a pity, because it’s an excellent show, and I’m sure it would be enjoyed by anyone who sees it. So without wishing to write an advertorial, I thought it might be good to encourage others to go

Choreographed by Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy, the piece is performed by five dancers who also sing and play musical instruments – so one of the things that immediately impressed me was not just the virtuosity of the performers, but also their versatility across different disciplines.

A score is played over the PA system, but it’s accompanied by a live cellist (Zoe Reardon) who sits stage-right for the duration of the performance. It quickly makes sense that the company has chosen to include that most sensuous of musical instruments on stage: this is a very passionate and (to use the word again) sensuous performance.

As the title implies, Dusk Ahead explores ideas about light and darkness, and/or sight and blindness. It’s about borderlands or (to use one of academia’s worst clichés) liminal spaces: places of transition where rules can temporarily be set aside or reinvented.

It explores ideas of sight and blindness in many ways. The performers often move blindfolded or with their eyes closed, for example – and there are some occasions when they are able to synchronize their movements despite being unable to see each other (as for instance when three of them perform with their heads in boxes). And much of the performance is carried out in very dim light.

Twilight is thus represented not just as a period  during the day, but also a metaphor for how we see the world (evoking ideas about Plato’s cave etc). Ultimately the performance seems to propose that blindness (metaphorically) can offer a deeper kind of sight – that what appears to be weakness can instead become a kind of strength. If that seems to put us in the territory of Sophocles’ Oedipus, the comparison is apt – since this has a mythical or ritualistic quality to it. And it’s a quality that’s still lingering in my mind, more than 14 hours after having seen it.

Dusk Ahead

The theme of having a kind of half-sight extends into the metaphorical realm too. There’s one very passionate scene in which two of the dancers manage to sustain a kiss over several minutes and through dozens of different movements. At once erotic and funny, this scene presents the actors with their lips fixed firmly to each other – their eyes closed all the while. This seems an innovative  illustration of the cliché that love is blindness (although the Irish Examiner interprets this scene very differently)

There are also moments of aggression too, as when two of the performers are blindfolded and forced to wrestle with each other. There’s a sense here in which violence comes from the impotence of being unable to see the world clearly enough.

As you might expect, given the theme, the quality of the design is very impressive. Sarah Jane Shiels’ lighting does not just illustrate the performance; it becomes a significant element of the performance (in a way that can be contrasted fruitfully with the opening of GerminalAnd set and costume design by Sabine D’Argent likewise is not just the context for the performance but adds  to the working out of the core ideas in the production. And Denis Clohessy’s score and sound design are also massively impressive (following on from the terrific work he did with the Gate’s Streetcar). Anyone with even the slightest interest in design needs to see this show.

As I’ve said, then, this is surprisingly passionate: it moves  freely from eroticism to aggression and sometimes blurs the distinction between the two. Both musically and in terms of the movement, it is also very beautiful at times. It’s sometimes ugly too, but never coarsely so.

As I walked away from the Project Arts Centre, heading towards the Peacock to see The Events (about which more later), I listened to the other audience members who’d been to the show. “I really liked that,” one of them said. “I mean, I feel like I’d need a Master’s degree to understand what was going on, but I really liked it”.

Well, I don’t think anyone needs any kind of prior qualifications to go to this – and it’s not important to feel that you understand all or even any of it: it’s best simply to experience it. But the point is that everyone coming away from this show seemed much calmer and happier on the way home than they’d been coming in.

The performance is on at 6.30 on Thursday and Friday and at 6.00 on Saturday and Sunday of this  week. It ran for about 75 minutes when I saw it (that is, by the time I left the theatre it was 7.45). So if you’re seeing The Events or Riverrun or any other show that starts a bit late, I’d really recommend this. And indeed it’s well worth seeing in its own right.

The video below gives some sense of how the performance is staged and is worth a look.

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