Beautiful mover steps away from Riverdance.
As someone who has always loathed Riverdance – for its otiose theatrical bombast as much as for the dancing itself – I was mightily intrigued to see the new solo show by one of its most distinguished practitioners.
True, it was Colin Dunne who, in the mid-Nineties, replaced Michael Flatley at the helm of the awful but all-conquering enterprise. But more recently, the 40-year-old – Birmingham-born, but of Irish descent – has been involved in the far more leftfield, far more original Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre. What would be the flavour of this one-man retrospective?
In the event, Out of Time proves a warm-hearted, drolly eccentric deconstruction of his past as a championship-winning child prodigy – and, to some extent, of the art-form itself – complete with percussive sound effects and vintage footage, but stripping away Riverdance’s cod-historical grandiloquence. And what’s most engaging about the show, besides Dunne’s astonishing sure-footedness as a performer, is his apparently mixed emotions for his chosen craft. On one hand, he’s a fantastically articulate mover, equipped with a strong, neat frame that appears far happier in motion than at rest. And he knows full well that it’s his talent at Irish step-dancing that has proved his bread-and-butter.
But still, not long after asking us “Do you want to see a hornpipe?”, he then stridently inquires: “What the hell is a hornpipe?” And, as soon as a whistle toots up at the start of a 1972 clip of step-dancing, he wearily drawls, “Oh Jesus!”
Much of the 80 minutes also sees Dunne imaginatively separating the visual and aural sides of what he does. At times, he dances on a small mat in complete silence; at others, pre-recorded “steps” boom out all by themselves. One minute, he’s dancing in perfect synch to the percussive tape; the next, his boots mic-ed up, he generates sounds that clatter off into their own spacey echo chamber of nostalgia.
As for the movement itself, what to these eyes has always grated about Irish step-dancing (may my forefathers forgive me) is the mannered stiffness of the performers’ upper body and arms coupled with the egg-whisk activity below the waist. Why in heaven’s name not employ all four limbs? I wonder if Dunne, at least partly, agrees. Most stirring are the passages in which he lets himself of the leash and breaks the rules. Here, rather than keeping his arms pinned to his sides like enormous deep-frozen sausages, and more in the manner of tap, he faces his palms to the floor and lets his shoulders shimmy. Suddenly, there’s real, seductive counterpoint between Dunne’s upper and lower body, and, as he zips across the stage, you can’t take your eyes off him.