Moving into making 12 Minute Dances, I wanted to escape all narratives and create movement as it made sense to me. The previous year, I had made a duet that I called “Getting Lost” with dancers Ashley Chen and Katherine O’Malley to a piece of contemporary music by composer Julia Wolfe. The movement in the duet had explored the highly energetic, almost chaotic feeling of Wolfe’s score and quite by accident, had yielded a palpable narrative without any intention on my part to do so. I simply made the movement with the dancers as it came to me in the moment and narratives appeared. I decided to build on the good experience of this duet and began to create the series of pieces that would later become 12 Minute Dances.
I asked dancer Katherine O’Malley to work with me on a new duet. Our similar physicality allowed us to assume each others roles and movements, finishing each others movement sentences while also mirroring one another. As we are both physically strong, we tried to change our self imposed patterns and expectation of ourselves and as a result developed very detailed nuanced movements as opposed to movements created by the more usual extreme and dynamic use of our bodies. This tendency to push our physical limits while performing had run its course and so in this new creation we decided to consciously pull back form that place of extremity. We experienced our ‘edges” but did not challenge them, instead physically and performatively we hovered in a place slightly in the background, thus discovering a new, more subtle approach to moving.
In the creation of the quintet and quartet that accompanied these two duets, I again assumed the position of mover and maker in the work. I made the Quintet first. For me the Quintet was a development of the first “Getting Lost” duet with Ashley Chen and Katherine O’Malley. Now as 5, we worked our way through the map of the duet, re-sizing the movement so it would now have sense as a quintet. This was not a logical or achievable task but as a blueprint it offered enough structure that we could organize ourselves loosely in space and then I could solve the choreographic problems or create new material based on the older versions to bring us from point A to point B etc. It felt like a traveling circus – any personal movement decision had to be multiplied by five and then reinterpreted by each dancer with an agreement that we would arrive and depart to fixed points together with some certainty. It was fast moving and precisely timed, even a little dangerous in places. As I danced with the group, my internal rhythms connecting deeply to theirs and to the structures of the music (by Ed Rosenberg), there was also a sense of strict structure and repeatability running alongside real possibility to respond improvisationally in the moment.
When we moved to the creation of the Quartet, I remember falling into a state of creative overwhelm. I created a series of movements with the dancers, where we attempted to move in a constant state of connection, only breaking away for brief interludes. I then created many versions of the same sentences of movement material that manifested as similar but with subtle shifts of direction or intensity and speed. There was a sense of a collective brain at work as we traversed the many different versions of the material across this piece alone as well as the other pieces in the programme. I wrote a score and we followed it in our minds, always adding another accumulated layer of complexity as the piece progressed. On the outside I think the work was perceived as quite light but from the inside the complexity was maddening. I hoped that I would fall into a trance and my body would just carry out the required next steps but unfortunately that never happened.
Instead, as a group we had to stay uncomfortably conscious throughout every second, running the scores and iterations in our heads ensuring that we were in the right place at the right time. A mistake could send the whole group in another direction of the score that might omit a large section of the piece, and it would be impossible to fix mid-way as the music (by Joel Mellin) gave no clues, only a constant undulating pulse. In this piece, I could not venture beyond the role of the dancer. After rehearsals each evening, I couldn’t watch footage from the day, as I would normally. I was completely absorbed in the dancing of the piece, unable to step outside and see it as the audience might. Any choreographic direction came from the viewpoint just above my right eye, that could look from slightly above the work and imagine the 3D needs of the piece itself. The patterns in my head and playing out around me would travel in on themselves and through themselves, like imagining movement in a virtual space, but with no fixed viewpoint. In short, this piece had no outside eye, and surprisingly, on seeing it much later in a performance video, it is well structured and spatially well balanced. Interestingly, on reflection, it is a little too even.
In 2017 Liz Roche company remounted the piece for a theatre space with redesigned light, costume and set. It was performed at The Civic Theatre Tallaght and Cork Opera House. Cliodhna Hoey returned to dance the work as did Katherine O’Malley. Liv O’Donoghue, Miguel do Vale, Ryan O’Neill and Ailish Maher joined the cast. Joe Vanek designed the set, with lighting by Kevin Smith and costumes by Catherine Fay. This time the work was brighter. Brighter Rothko’s. Oranges, yellows, reds, blues and browns. Lines of striking orange light, not so many squares anymore. Painted set, that came to life with light. It became a painting somehow. Light box behind the dancers growing. Saxophonist Sean McErlaine performed the solo with Cliodhna Hoey dancing.