Last weekend a collaboration of artists entered exploratory new heights with their latest project Behind the Dark. This aerial, visual performance took place amongst the trees in the depths of the Phoenix Park. The still nameless troupe has formed from a series of collaborations and creative working experiences over the past three years, and the concept for this particular piece of work began back in February 2014 with support from the Arts Council’s circus project award.
The show begins as the audience is enticed into the darkness of the forest, guided by light and sound. This show exposes its onlookers to ideas of the supernatural and the unconscious mind. It is a visual, sensual experience depicting suspension, atmosphere and movement. The characters portray a dreamlike world as they tumble and wrap themselves around the darkness of the night.
The project was a huge undertaking. The group of seven, including riggers and counter-weighters, one sound and one visual artist, and three performers studied the forest together for months in preparation for this experiment. I spoke to Jonah McGreevy, one of the producers and a performer in the show who told me more about the long and arduous planning process.
‘We spent months looking for appropriate trees and settings all over Dublin. You need both particular species and particular structure in trees to set up the rigging systems we developed.’ Despite difficult weather conditions and the physical requirements for putting a show like this together, McGreevy expressed how fulfilling the whole experience had been.‘The opportunity to develop new types of performance and spend hours in an amazing setting far outweighed the cold and logistical problems associated with doing a show outside in December.’
New Performance Platform
The end result of this production is a credit to the performers and the other artists involved who have chosen an entirely new platform on which to perform. Removing themselves from the boundaries of the stage, they have used nature and the woodland as a performance space to alter and play with. It displays both a deep respect for, and a battle with, nature, and it depicts the relationship between humanity and nature and the power they hold over one another.
What I appreciated in this performance was how it allows the audience to experience and interpret the movement, the visuals and the sounds as they wish. The only guidance they are given is to follow the shadows and the droning music as the nimble figures dash from tree to tree into the shadows and out of sight.
Besides the wonderful originality and care put into this production, it is also incredibly well organised. On arrival, the audience is taken from the main gates of the park on a tram strewn with fairy lights. This brings them to a lodge that had been lit up in the darkness. They are then greeted by a silent hooded figure and guided through the moonlit trees.
This December’s performance was the second experiment/development of Behind the Dark. The first was presented in the woods at Body and Soul festival back in June this year. The troupe has great ambitions for the coming year; they aim to put the show through a further stage of development this coming Spring and present it again in Phoenix Park in 2015. McGreevy and other members of the troupe have great ambitions for the show. ‘We are solidifying Irish and European locations and dates for the performance over the next two months and hope to take this Irish production on a worldwide tour.’
Behind the Dark displays the physical heights and boundaries that artists are defying in order to push creativity and the arts even further, stretching as far as the depths of the woods, and turning a silent forest into a magical and ethereal place.