The fifth Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement bows out with an entrancing multinational exploration of the female bond

WICCA, performed by the Junebug company at Derry~Londonderry's Echo Echo Festival Of Dance and Movement, compels in its ambition, themes, and execution, sincerely representing and celebrating femininity in a quietly meditative and nakedly personal manner.

Choreographed and performed by Rosanne Briens, Erin O’Reilly and Sophie Ammann – from France, America and Switzerland respectively - WICCA sees this trio of dancers simultaneously unify and exhibit their multicultural individuality towards a clearly-defined goal: a 'celebration of Womanhood and the power of Gentleness - sacred, sensual, vulnerable... strong'. They achieve all this and more in a intelligently conceived, richly scored, theme-heavy piece that entrances everyone in the Derry Walls-based dance studio with its tender grace.

The buzz initially heard from Chris Lynch's superlative original score is unsettling, but also strangely relaxing, the first sign of the contradictory feelings WICCA will convey. Emerging in three separate spotlights, the dancers slowly rotate in an anti-clockwise direction. Time, it would appear, is moving in reverse for confused characters who can't quite put their finger on an identity or goal, and are left with no choice but to contemplate the past.

Until O'Reilly, aided by Tom Dupont's skilled lighting, breaks the trance. Crouched down, like a sprinter at the starting blocks ready to move off and fast in a new direction, the dancer performs as a predatory but reluctant life force, her fearful crawl pacing itself towards manic intensity. Keen to discover something new, but reluctant to break from the familiar, she is imbued with intentional nerves, which give way to relief as she returns to the remainder of the trio in a triple-pronged embrace of friendship that's nonetheless clouded by a misty spotlight of uncertainty.

WICCA13_Junebug © Charles Mugel (1).jpg

The power and themes in WICCA are already establishing themselves thick and fast. One could even argue that they go as far as relating to the dancers' red and black costuming – their desire to explore is a gamble in itself. Even so, it is one that you feel they have to take, and we're both rewarded for it.

This game arguably reaches its apex when O'Reilly and Briens unite for an unprecedentedly beautiful series of movements in which they move together and apart, each dancer falling but being caught by the other, losing their bearings but finding them again in a stronger frame of mind. To me, this implies support and understanding regardless of name and even gender.

Stark instrumental twangs are heard when tension gets especially edgy between Briens and O'Reilly. There are moments where one looks puzzled and passionless, and the other looks worried and inquisitive, each pair of surface-level emotions serving to highlight how some feelings are concealed better than others in a series of physically challenging routines.

When the sonics cease to twang and start to flow again, both Briens and O'Reilly staggeringly synchronise. And now, it is not playful, but intense and powerful. As the confidence in their movements rises, a briefly out-of-the-spotlight Ammann slowly rises back into action too, while her comrades prance around the stage, lively and kinetic, looking like they don't know or care where they are. Again, human understanding trumps everything, even location, strengthening itself towards another triple-pronged embrace, this one more certain than before. It's obvious the connection between these dancers has been formed in friendship as well as in rehearsal.

WICCA7_Junebug © Charles Mugel (1).jpg

There is a kind of interlude in Margaret Atwood's 1974 poem 'Siren Song', narrated with genteel calm by English theatre director Natalie Songer. In its own right, it is appealing and intriguing, underlining the overall theme of the dancers' call for freedom from the contradiction of a lifestyle and tune both irresistible and oppressive, seductive and dangerous. Although it is arguably more substantial on the page than the stage, the movement, music and light speak exquisitely enough for themselves.

And they continue to do so, as the trio once again find themselves in individual spotlights. But this time the lighting gradually fades into something more unifying. What matters to the girls now is not so much the limelight as the liberation they are trying to find, a difficulty which is painfully conveyed in a series of sublime interlocking movements guided by a micro-managed, collective trance. It is breathless and kinetic, but darkly machinic, raising fears of what might happen were one of them to break free from the routine. Sure enough, one does – and the results are expectedly devastating and chaotic, the joy in finding one’s own path counterbalanced by the pain of not yet knowing which path to follow.

Further relief, for the girls and the piece, is fortunately not too far away in a finale where the performers literally and metaphorically shed their skin, taking the most pronounced and possibly the most crucial step towards liberation yet. Their journey has been about a devotion to and freedom from a cause – a theme that rings strong and true not just in WICCA and these performers, but also universally.

WICCA was staged as part of the Echo Echo Festival of Dance and Movement. For further news and events from Echo Echo Dance Theatre Company visit www.echoechodance.com. For more on the Junebug company go to www.junebugco.com.