Soldier Still | Preview
The MAC, Belfast • 17-18 October 2017
By Gemma McSherry
Soldier Still, the latest collaborative project from the imaginative dance theatre company Junk Ensemble brings together an exceptionally diverse cast of Irish and international dancers as well as former soldiers to create a remarkable and at times harrowing piece of dance theatre. Junk Ensemble, founded by identical twin sisters Megan Kennedy and Jessica Kennedy, who, having previously been Artists in Residence at the Tate Britain have grown their multi-award winning company to an international level; being recognised as innovators of dance and architects of fresh and contemporary ideas.
Soldier Still comes to The MAC from the 17-18 October 2017 as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival. The work will explore the viciousness, the vulnerability and the trauma of violence. In order to produce such a fragile and informative piece, the creative process was a long and considered journey. Megan and Jessica explained the intricate stages of development:
“We began working on the concept and themes of the piece nearly two years ago; meeting and interviewing a dozen former and current soldiers from the Irish Defence Forces, The British Army and the Bosnian war and civilians affected by war or violence. The participants who agreed to be interviewed hugely informed the creative process. These interviews fed into the content, which we developed into movement tasks, texts, image and sound ideas and the overall visual aesthetic.”
Meeting with the design team over a period of six months before the actual project commenced, Junk Ensemble and their team shared a wealth of visual images, literary references, film and photography references enabling them to streamline this wealth of material into a simple, strong and highly visual production design.
One of the five performers is Dr. Tom Clonan, who also participated in the interview process for research. Tom Clonan is a former captain of the Irish Defence Forces and speaks candidly about his past experiences as a soldier, as a father, as a whistle-blower, and as a man. Giving insight into how Junk Ensemble ensured the actors and ex-military personnel’s stories were dealt with honestly, creatively and sensitively. Jessica and Megan were careful to ensure the majority of the content came from the collaborators themselves,
“Tom’s thoughts and words form much of the text that he speaks in the show. We also had help with the dramaturgy and the writing, which continued throughout the process. We identified certain themes and patterns that appeared in the interviews and concentrated on those whilst devising the movement, text and images. These themes included: duality, wanting to return, disconnection, dependency, and replacement.”
Asked if it feels any different performing this work in Northern Ireland as opposed to other destinations around the country; given the history of violence based cultural trauma the people of Northern Ireland have witnessed, Junk Ensemble disclosed that “It does indeed feel different performing the work in Northern Ireland and we are conscious of the history of cultural trauma. Although we have spoken to current and ex-soldiers from various armies, we are aware that we don’t have a voice/experience from every side.”
The story being told in Soldier Still is a universal tale of trauma and the violent traces that are left behind. The stories range from soldiers’ personal stories, civilians affected by war, relationships affected by abuse and so forth.
“We hope that this will communicate and transfer to the audience, regardless of language, culture, bias and experience. Trauma often has a way of coming out through the body, which is something we explore in Soldier Still; the physicality and emotionality of how the body deals with trauma. We are all human and we all hurt, and we all have different ways of dealing with it. It is a universal issue. Soldier Still looks at the combination of the beauty of the human, but also the potential for the brutality of humankind also.”
Firm believers that the body can speak louder than words, and can tell a story, or many stories, with just as much clarity and emotionality as words, Junk Ensemble remind us that movement is also a language. This piece of theatre reassures its audience that it’s ok not to understand everything one sees – dance can often purposefully leave the story open for different interpretations – it lives in more of a greyer, undefined world rather than black and white, which aids the beauty and tranquillity of the piece.
Funded by The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon, Soldier Still is the winner of the Best Design Award at the Dublin Fringe Festival awards, tickets and more information are available at www.themaclive.com/event/soldier-still