Theatre review: Freagra
The dynamics of the token male
Accompanied by plaintive electronic music, and taking advantage of Tramway’s deep space, Rob Heaslip’s Feagra, a choreography for five dancers, follows a familiar contemporary dance pattern. Four women and one male emerge from the darkness, eventually returning to their starting point, to explore group relationships, writhing and twisting to sinister and sometimes celebratory beats. While occasionally they break into more lyrical exchanges, hunched contractions and introverted movements dominate the piece, lending it a claustrophobic and anxious atmosphere.
The decision to cast a single male – who leads off the dance – ensures that the relationships between the dancers reflects a patriarchal structure: the male variously appears as teacher, pacing around the women, observing, or generating an apparent rivalry for attention. It’s uncomfortable – his height adding to his presence and generating a cultish power play. Even when the women ignore his attention, breaking away from his gravity, there remains a self-conscious awareness of his brooding gaze.
Much of the choreography suggests contact improvisation, the dancers reacting to each other – appropriately, since the title, Freagra is an Irish word meaning ‘response’. However, this makes the narrative predictable, as the dancers move together and apart in turns, never resolving the tensions or making their subtexts explicit.
While the intention to explore the dynamics of a group is clear, the abstraction of the scenario strips the individuals of personality. The lack of explicit themes within the wider meditation on relationships is frustrating, ultimately preventing the choreography from taking flight. Yet the control of the dancers, the subtle lighting and musical effects, and the looming cloud of balloons which serve as a set, offer a self-contained and tense performance.