There's so much division in the world and we’re at a point now where maybe empathy is the only thing that’s going to get us through... Acclaimed choreographer Emma Martin introduces her new show Night Dances, A series of 'dance poems' premiering at the National Stadium this October for the Dublin Theatre Festival.
Night Dances draws together strands of my previous work. It's a collision of dance and live music in a visceral gig experience that feels kind of raucous and bold. The show doesn’t follow a narrative or "story".
There’s four parts that feel a bit like poems, that are connected by intent. Probably inspired by Ireland, attempting to challenge the body language and culture that’s the fabric of the environment I felt growing up. The culture of control and denying the body and it’s an attempt to release that.
This piece wants to share a lot of emotions: empathy, hope, connection, freedom. I feel a mixture of love and rage driving the energy of it. Rage for the desensitized and numb society we have created. Love for our inherent naivety and vulnerability. We hold history, good and bad, in our bodies, and if it’s channelled with intent maybe it can put something good into the world.
I sat with all these disparate thoughts and obsessions until they slowly started to coalesce like liquid mercury into series of dances, where the dance isn’t "about", it just "is", because dancing is enough.
Floating in music and laser beams.
"When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight... I shall try to fly by those nets" - James Joyce
When I was around 12 my 16-year-old brother told my folks he was hanging out at his mate’s house, when actually he went to a rave in Dublin that my cousin was DJing at. My mother found out and we drove up to Dublin, parked outside the SFX. All I remember was looking into a vast sea of sweaty bodies, the lads mostly topless floating in music. My memory plays this scene back in slow motion. Contorted faces, wrung out bodies, eyes cast upward towards laser beams of light, furrowed brow adorned with beads of sweat… I felt simultaneously terrified and excited. This was dance and it was beautiful. This memory is what inspired The Raver, which I created with dancer Ryan O’Neill.
In Spring 2017 I made a piece, This Thumping Heart, for ten teenage girls with Dance Republic, Carlow. During this process an unlikely scene played out in my head: a group of young freestyle dancers gate-crashing a Sufi- Zikr prayer gathering – imagine if that happened? They might look at each other and see they are on a similar plain. They both have so much hope and ambition for their dance, putting all of this emotion and passion into their dancing - the kids just haven’t named their god, while the men have. I spent too time watching videos of Sufi Zikrs, disco kids, Tibetan ritual dances, Dance Moms, Voodoo ceremonies. They all have something in common: effort, exertion and intention. They’re all aspiring towards release and pleasure.
Freestyle dancing is a high energy, virtuosic competitive style of dance and the girls who take part are seriously dedicated. I like to consider their passion and dedication as a form of spirituality. Their dance is called God Is A Girl: five young girls, bright eyes, blood pumping together, dancing their hearts out. They whip their limbs and ponytails out into world like it’s their last breath. The most potent of life stages distilled into powerful physicality, all fury, might and faith. They’re the future and they're fearless.
Over the last few years, I have built up an extensive collection of photos of grottos and Virgin Mary statues on my phone. Eyes cast downward, hands opened gracefully and demure, but with an air of servitude. I want to frame them all. So, I made a trio called Red with a brave and bold group of women: Robyn Byrne, Aoife McAtamney and Jessie Thompson. To crack open the Statue of Mary. She’d smile. For our mothers, grandmothers and great-mothers.
Another choreographer staged a genius take on Milton’s Paradise Lost. From him, I learned a new version of the story about Lucifer. I had been thinking about anger and pent-up energy and what that negativity coursing through the body looks like- an army of delinquents, Javi Ferrer Machin performs Lost Boy, inspired by the story where Lucifer is God’s lover and is thrown down from heaven, with only God’s voice echoing "go to hell". The echo was all he had left to sustain him. We are all born innocent and dependent, babies don’t hate. Hatred is nurtured by society.
Music always plays a central role in my shows. For this the music needed to be big and brutal. I’d been re-listening to music from years ago, an incoherent mixture of drum and bass, grunge, breakcore, punk and discovering new. Making little sound collages and mixtapes. I first heard Girl Band back in 2014 and used to play some of their tracks in the studio as juice for the dancers. They sounded like a chainsaw fed through a wall of bass bins. Big and brutal. I emailed Girl Band’s bassist and producer Daniel Fox. He said yes and made a new band for Night Dances. A violent joy to dance to.
There’s so much division in the world and we’re at a point now where maybe empathy is the only thing that’s going to get us through. Night Dances is not about something, it’s for something, and this intention is where perhaps some kind of feeling of "ceremony" can hopefully be felt. What we want to leave behind and what we want to carry towards the future.
May the salt from our sweat unite us.
Night Dances is at the National Stadium Dublin, from October 13th - 16th, as part of this year's Dublin Theatre Festival - find out more here.