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The Vacuum Issue 12 Down Mexico Way spacer The Vacuum Issue 12 - Down Mexico Way
Dance Northern Ireland Tyrone Crystal Gala
by Nick Bryson
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Outside of the ongoing Irish-culture-as-product model that is 'The Riverdance Effect', the man or woman on the Northern Irish street does not consider a career in dance. As a result Northern Ireland is also very bad at appreciating dance. We carry an awareness of the art form somewhere in our collective psyche and every so often allow ourselves a sort of embarrassed nod in its direction. This nod generally takes the form of an 'extravaganza'.
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'Extravaganzas' are show nights to cover all dance forms. So attached are we to such wonders that we have even built pristine venues such as The Island Hall, Lisburn, in which to place these extravaganzas. As 'affection for here' is my starting point for this review, fittingly for a Vacuum contribution, I approached the annual extravaganza of extravaganzas, the Dance Northern Ireland Tyrone Crystal Gala and Awards Night, with as much affection as I could muster. I wondered perhaps if is it possible to be affectionate about something as woolly or disparate or ill-defined as dance in Northern Ireland but for this night at least I put these doubts to one side. Affection, you see, is to do with familiarity.
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I must simply get familiar first with the intricacies. I will be curious whether Banxy is a better Hip-Hop teacher than Deborah Maguire, or whether Deborah's Pistol Ltd Disco Dance classes at the Crescent are thoroughly oversubscribed. And off we go.
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Dance Northern Ireland events are generally charmingly hijacked by a touching parade of Britneys and Sophies (Ellis-Baxtor of course) and this one is no exception. They try to outdo each other in front of a slightly bemused and benignly good-natured assembly of friends and family along with a highly select collection of figures from the local dance scene who go with the flow. We have a lot of tall, pretty girls in this country, granted. But the way they choose to present themselves is a cosy flop into consumerism. I see only constructs of disco babes. That is sweet, I suppose. I look to my companions in the audience and ponder that perhaps we shall emerge comforted by the evident spirit of goodwill in our community, and the dance talent that tried to pop its head over the ubiquitous pop music parapet. I watch affectionately as sequined girls project from the back molars to their boyfriends at the back row of the steeply sloping seats.
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Then the dancing does get more serious, with something to say - perhaps. I treasure the constructively ambiguous orange stockings that come off different dancers legs one by one in a sort of DIY symbolism for our faltering peace process. (This was entirely unintentional symbolism I discover in a subsequent discussion with Dublin-based choreographer, Nanette Kincaid.) I was there in spirit with every stampeding adolescent young Newry woman as she evoked the emigrating Irish peasantry in Ann-Marie Morgan's lavishly costumed tour de force Emigration. This was probably the highlight of the evening, it even included a sirening Statue of Liberty in all her regalia, gold finery trumpeting innocently the hope and freedoms promised by the good 'ol US of A.
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Other observations are that, in a glaring parallel with Ulster Scots, Scottish Country dancing is on the up. Also that Northern Ireland has a dance dynasty, The Revie ballet dancers from Bangor, which includes Michael, a soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet. His solo is tailored for the event, ballet as physical feat, virtuoso turns and jumps to Carmina Burana. Other men did very occasionally venture onto the stage. We, the men in the audience, sympathised from somewhere deep in our gut as these brave youths were swept away in the sea of Ulster's dancing womankind. The catch-all gruesome grin is displayed as a sort of Ulsterman's palliative to make the medicine, of having to watch a fellow Ulsterman dance, go down slightly more smoothly.
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In many ways the dance face we are presenting here to the world, is so derivative it is of no consequence at all. But the world is not watching anyway. If the gala is meant as showing what dance art is going on here, it is possible to read it as a disaster. I will not attempt to rescue it, just accept it, affectionately. I am the only one who's interpreting what is going on as a disaster, never mind finding the little bits of Ulsterman in myself to rub together to be affectionate about this disaster. This is a review of a cultural phenomenon, perhaps but not a cultural event. How many of you reading this even care? Perhaps that is the point about dance in Northern Ireland.
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Epilogue
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We do now have an annual festival of international dance. Just wait till April and flock towards Lisburn, you will be amazed. Of course even internationally few people engage with the really important issues in dance today. Suffice it to say that somewhere in the world serious artists are questioning what sort of dance performance has anything to say about the world in which we live.
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