‘In Clouds’ at Triskel Christchurch, Cork on 15th June 2018
One of the great advantages festivals have is being able to make creative use of familiar spaces, encouraging audiences to re-engage with the urban everyday in unexpected ways. All going well, even the locals feel like visitors.
For this visitor, tonight begins in the foyer of the Triskel (celebrating 40 years with this work) before being led with the rest of the audience up stairs, outside, and across to the entrance portico of the exquisite Georgian stone mass that is the former Christ Church. Once inside, the journey continues up to the gallery level where we are left to find somewhere to sit or stand, looking down at the nave below or up to the east end, where Michael Gallen is already set up at one of the pianos, engaging one of his minimalist riffs. The place is in near darkness, apart from shards of red light. Later we move down to the crush of one of the side aisles, and from there to the centre.
There is dance (the superb Stephanie Dufresne), there are singers (Tonnta, led by Robbie Blake). Animations are projected overhead. Snatches of words, mixed with extended bursts of febrile electronica. The singers mix breathing, stretching and singing. The space is almost incidental and yet absolutely specific to the work, like some post-apocalyptic vision being projected in a place that’s been consciously taken over. With a collective and immersive work like this, there are barely any individual performances to single out—though it is nice to hear Simon MacHale’s smooth-grained voice emerge from the texture when it does, in a rare moment of melodic sweetness.
Co-composer Peter Power’s concept leans towards exploring ideas of perception; the trance-like material and the spaces of movement raise up contrasts of proximity and distance, as well as community and separateness. The appearance of the singers, first oblivious and then working their way through the crammed audience during the side-aisle sequence, could recall Rilke’s terrible angels, subverting the ‘interpreted world’.
Combining electronic art with physical singing and movement creates powerful resonances and raises questions, especially in a space such as this. The stone surfaces and purposeful architecture of the former church point to gatherings like this, the sharing of over-familiar stories, a moot contrast to the open exchanges performed tonight. As a work, ‘In Clouds’ looks towards the post-operatic, drawing on ideas from performance art and sonic sculpture, inviting the audience to interpret it however they like. A gripping powerhouse for the senses, it defies description. Hopefully we will see its like again soon.
Concept/Director/Co-composer: Peter Power; Co-composer/Piano: Michael Gallen; Text: Sara Baume; Lighting/Set Design: Sarah Jane Shiels; AV Design: David Mathúna; Costume Design: Izabelle Balikoeva
Movement/Dancer: Stephanie Dufresne; Choral Director: Robbie Blake; Choral Ensemble: Tonnta (Emma O’Reilly, Robbie Pender, Emma Power, Bláth Conroy Murphy, Simon MacHale)
Photography by Laura Sheeran