The Fifth Province
Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre remake the rules of choreography for a daring work exploring Irish mythology at The MAC
They emerge from the soil, curled up in foetal position in the dimly-lit, lugubrious dark, almost naked, becoming reborn from the earth as the plaintive music begins and their muscles strain into action, uncoiling and twisting.
The award-winning, Enniskillen-based choreographer Dylan Quinn is here concerned to explore a mythical Irish concept known as the fifth province, a fantastical region that was said to be situated near the hill of Tara, a rumoured fairy place where ancient kings laid down their arms and disputes to commune in shared identity, shared humanity, to celebrate what was shared beyond and above all difference and argument and battles about ownership of territory. This was then a place where swords were laid down and friendship abounded in the absence of adversarial concerns.
This heavy freight of conceptual engagement is not altogether born out by this emotionally-driven, sensual and then melancholic dance sequence, but this matters little, for the joy is witnessing the twisting and convulsing bodies moving to convey gradations of mood and much about connection, separation and relationship to the land.
There is sexual tension between male and female dancers, then strange arrangements of all five performers – including Quinn himself – that make beautiful shapes of connected bodies, startling tableaux of limbs entwined, shifting contortions then breaking apart and frantically, then, their hands shift mounds of soil and the velocity of movement heightens and quickens so that all are suddenly athletic and robust and defiant.
At one joyous moment the strains of wild Irish trad ring out and the dancers jig and twirl and swing each other round as at an impromptu ceilidh held over soil and in darkness to emphasise the primal, unstripped and inchoate atmosphere. To paraphrase a stupendous Yeatsian phrase - they dance so that they have outdanced thought. They are free of constraint, division and anxiety in the melee of music and the sheer liberation of the dance. So the elation of free movement is brought to its pitch, indicative of the shared joy of physicality.
Dylan Quinn remains a hugely inventive choreographer and dancer – someone who makes movement into something like conceptual art. Here the rules are remade and bodies become instruments of emotion.
Rousing and delicately-wrought music which is clearly inflected with, although certainly not limited to the strains of Irish traditional numbers by Andy Garbi, an exquisitely dark and moody set by Seamus Harahan and minimal costumes that draw attention to each curve of the body by Belfast designer Gráinne Maher all add to what is a provocative, daring and thoughtful work by one of Northern Ireland's most innovative and post-modernist choreographers.
The tragedy is that we can't access a fifth province here in Ulster, a place where division and any adversarial concept of identity is eradicated in favour of a celebration of commonality. The fifth province doesn't need to be a mythical place, of course, if only human beings would decide to lay aside monolithic notions of cultural identity, of sectarianism, of us versus them, of bigotry and intransigence and a failure to see that each of us are creatures of the land and, indeed, to the land we will all return.
But until we see a transformation of ideology here, and indeed across the wide, wide world, the fifth province remains a beautiful, elusive and persistent dream. But what a compelling and addictive concept to dream of.
The Fifth Province runs at the Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen, February 7.