Review: The Smell Of Want
There’s an enchanting beauty to the work that Emma Fitzgerald and Áine Stapleton create and it has little to do with the fact they’re naked. In fact, despite how beautiful both of them are, a point came last night that I barely noticed it. The Smell of Want at the Project Arts Centre is a complex choreography that will delight, challenge and entice.
I wasn’t in the best of moods last night. In the hope of distraction by Fitzgerald & Stapleton, I accepted their invitation to the opening of their new work. Having seen them last year in The Work, The Work I knew I was in for something different, something unconventional and something provocative.
They’re very different, these two. Their work defies description, disobeys narrative and disregards many conventions – and I don’t think that bothers them, nor should it. In the spectrum of all the theatre I’ve seen in the past 12 months (some 150 different pieces) they are definitely the most individual.
“These smart, sophisticated movers are adept at a fluid physical navigation in which the body can be task-oriented or sexually objectified or whatever is behind Door No. 3″The New York Times
Though I’m loathe to resort to the press release information this early in a review, I feel a little bit of explanation might be helpful:
Graphically honest, deeply affecting and often darkly funny ‘The Smell of Want’ draws strong and haunting connections between local and global stories and continues Fitzgerald & Stapleton’s analyses of the forces which shape contemporary Irish identity.
‘The Smell of Want’ was recently created during a seven week commission at New York’s Abrons Arts Center. The work unfolds through a series of provocative short speeches and choreographed scenes which invite viewers to rethink relationships to the boundaries between life and art. It resembles climbing Mt. Everest, encountering a lot of dead bodies on the way up, and no one wants to be one of those dead bodies.
Now you know as much as I did before entering the Cube. There was some ceremony beforehand, as audience members were divided into seating arrangements – Steerage (€13.50/€12 concession), Plebeian (€15) or Winners’ Enclosure (€17). There was also a Lovers’ Swing ticket (€15) which seemed like a pity not to share. As we entered the low lit auditorium, it wasn’t the nakedness of the seven strong cast that caught my attention – I was prepared for same; rather the fact a couple were clothed piqued my interest.
Five men. Two women. Two of the men clothed – “I was comfortable rehearsing naked; I’m not comfortable naked in this setting” proclaims one costume; “I’d feel restricted naked” the other. This work isn’t about nudity, though there’s lots on display – it is, instead, with the lack of props, one of expression, of sharing, of exposition and of the ability of someone to convey any number of situations - “I had it and I didn’t know what to do with it” became a litany in my head while the dancers moved, before being replaced with “Have you told her that you love her?” and a rapid “I’m tired of men, of lying with men, of crying with men” poetic experience that struck me as ballet and fearsome stomping all at once. I’ve rarely felt as compelled to offer a hug as then.
The fact that it is a choreographed piece is what makes The Smell of Want most interesting to me. Far from an attempt to shock or entertain the audience by flaunting their nakedness, the performers explore the situation, the circumstance and their own place in it at every opportunity. A story about Áine’s mother dying when she was young is almost a ceremonial tribute while Carl Harrison’s proclamation of manhood while lying prone like a baby was amusing and weird all at once.
it’s been interesting reading the TimeOut interview with the girls about the piece – as often with their work, they invite the audience not to participate but to create their own thoughts and feelings about the experience. While I can’t admit to being comfortable with the nudity – I found myself looking at the spaces between the performers a lot – I also found myself returning to the thought “We’re all naked underneath our clothes” at times and imagining the piece as if the dancers were clothed to see if it would change my experience.
Fair play to all the cast for their performances. Whether clothed or unclothed, the choreography of the score (the perfomance directions Emma and Áine create) involves a lot of energy, of commitment and considerable suppression of inhibition. I don’t mean to imply the performance is in any way explicit – save one beautiful tableau of sexual sharing between Áine and Carl – but it can’t be easy to stand in front of an audience in this way. I never felt they were ashamed though – and in the Q&A afterwards they spoke of how the experiment kept them focussed.
There’s considerable humour, emotion, intimacy and energy in this piece. It left me far more placid than when I’d entered the room – the ceremony of the performance, the rhythms of the soundtrack, the breathing, the silence, the eye contact and the emergence of stories, of thoughts, of self acceptance and finally the awareness that it was non confrontational and non aggressive made it an altogether strange and interesting experience. While not your usual “enjoyable” piece, it made me laugh, it made me think and it made me want to dance.
I have a lot of respect for Fitzgerald and Stapleton. I think they’re very beautiful and very brave. This play only made me think that all the more. Go share the love they give.
Fitzgerald and Stapleton present ‘The Smell of Want’
Nov 7-14 at 8.15pm
The Cube at Project Arts Centre | 39 East Essex Street, Dublin 2
Tickets are priced €12 – €17 and are available at www.projectartscentre.ie at the Project Arts Centre box office 39 Essex St, Temple Bar, or call box office on 01 881 9613
Very limited seating
This show contains nudity and is recommended for audiences aged 16+.
Performers: Conor Donelan, Emma Fitzgerald, Carl Harrison, Mark Mc Cabe, Elliot Moriarty, Brian O’ Riordan, Áine Stapleton and Arturo Vidich.
The Smell of Want is commissioned by the Abrons Arts Center New York, and generously supported by The Arts Council of Ireland and Culture Ireland. It is part of Imagine Ireland, Culture Ireland’s Year of Irish arts in America.
Fitzgerald & Stapleton is a dance theatre company founded and directed by Irish artists Emma Fitzgerald and Áine Stapleton.
Their work is complex and challenging – displaying an unrelenting and personal intimacy which refuses to be contained within a single narrative or identity. The relationship between language and the lived experience is at the heart of Fitzgerald & Stapleton’s choreographic and performance techniques and for every production they create the duo write a text of performance directions known as a score.
Their 2010 Chocolate Factory (New York) commissioned show “The Work The Work‟ was described by the New York Times as “a strange and strong enough experience to suggest that the power of art is in its capacity to puzzle rather than to please”.
The company is continuously accessing new audiences through their use of various media – they have created a choreography for radio “In My Father’s Name” available to download – , and a web-based collaborative choreography with four Irish women ranging in age from eight to sixty-three “MINE” (2010) .
Their quartet “Starvin” is taught on the MA Contemporary Dance syllabus of the University of Illinois. For more information visit www.fitzgeraldandstapleton.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Nik and Shirley at Zoetrope Arts PR.