Sixteen years ago, the mention of cosy homesteads, happy maidens and athletic youth was greeted with hoots of smug derision during David Bolger’s dance Reel Luck . Last Saturday night, the audience at Bolger’s latest work, Touch Me , listened to De Valera’s “The Ireland that we dreamed of” speech with a touch more sober reflection.
As the nation nurses a post-boom hangover, valuing “material wealth only as a basis for right living” isn’t such a bad idea; “devoting leisure to the things of the spirit” reflects Michael D Higgins’s call for active citizenship (and is preferable to watching yet another series of X-Factor ); and many people would gladly accept frugal comfort over negative equity.
Touch Me bookends neatly with Reel Luck. Whereas the 1995 dance was full of youthful irreverence about the emerging secular and increasingly affluent and self-confident Ireland, Touch Me acknowledges the skewed application of that chutzpah. The title is apt, taken from Mudhoney’s grunge classic Touch Me, I’m Sick, a post-Aids hymn of nihilism and self-destruction.
At the beginning, six dancers enter Monica Frawley’s excellent set, a neglected house with old fuseboxes, an abandoned washing machine and bricked-up doorways. With childlike wonderment they measure their height against marks on the peeling paintwork by putting a flat hand on top of their head as they stand against the wall. It’s just the first of many limpid metaphors that the choreographer sprinkles though the work, as the cast physically re-discover the past.
Musician Kenneth Edge is ever present as a part-shaman, part-Drosselmeyer character and his score complements the action, sounding cosmopolitan, but with just the right amount of Irish inflection. Satirical references to a Mary Harney speech or Bing Crosby crooning “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra” add bite to the soundscape, visually reflected in images from John Hinde postcards.
Bolger skilfully manages all of the material into a coherent whole, and includes plenty of movement set-pieces – some humorously self-deprecating and others depressingly bleak, but all performed with aplomb by the entire cast. The proceedings wind up to an ecstatic end, as the dancers begin whirling sufi-like, as if purging the past in order to step into the future.