Navy Blue: Is art significant… are we?
Choreographer Oona Doherty’s latest work at the Festival TransAmériques
By Jacqueline van de Geer
May 31, 2023
It is the 17th edition of Festival TransAmériques – FTA, Montreal’s wonderful international theatre and dance festival. This year’s program offers an excellent selection of twenty-four shows from Australia, Brazil, Northern Ireland, Morocco, Norway and Zimbabwe, as well as, works from the U.S., Canada, and Quebec.
Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the Montreal premiere of Navy Blue, a one-hour dance performance choreographed by Oona Doherty. Born in London, Doherty returned to her mother’s home country, Northern Ireland, at the age of ten. She studied dance at the London Contemporary Dance School and Trinity Laban Conservatoire.
Doherty has become one of the most exciting choreographers of her generation, shaking up the world of contemporary dance with her visceral honesty and her works haunted by Northern Ireland’s past – a legacy of violence, patriarchy, and religion. Navy Blue might be her most ambitious piece to date, a stunning performance infused with pain, rebellion and hope.
The one-hour performance brings together a group of enigmatic dancers dressed in blue work overalls. At the beginning of the show, the twelve dancers start out looking like a conventional dance company, dancing in unison to Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2. Then, slowly but surely, the group starts to disintegrate until the dancers one by one fall apart during the more dystopian end of the soundtrack composed by Jamie Smith.
Once down, the performers leak blue blood – a light effect devised by collaborator Nadir Bouassria – which, over time, expands to cover the whole stage. Meanwhile, we hear a text written and recorded by Doherty in collaboration with Dublin-based writer Bush Moukarzel, in which she introduces herself as “the one in blue, next to the one in blue, next to the one in blue.” She contemplates her insignificance in the universe, summing up lists of world events in the news over the years.
Doherty has become one of the most exciting choreographers of her generation, shaking up the world of contemporary dance with her visceral honesty and her works haunted by Northern Ireland’s past…
Finally, while Doherty’s voice carries over the soundtrack, she starts to share the costs of putting on a show. Sound, dancers, hotels, choreographer’s fee, childcare, it mounts up to a substantial sum.
Doherty then asks a refreshing yet unsettling question: what is the point of dance? Are we wasting your time in a theatre when we could be out there saving the world? Or even just having a cup of tea at home?
We are left with this question: is art significant, are we?
A powerful show.
Navy Blue at Théâtre Maisonneuve, PDA, on May 30, 31 and June 1.
Images: Sinje Hasheider
Originally from the Netherlands, Jacqueline van de Geer crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 2005 to live and work in Montréal. She has a bachelor’s degree in visual arts and performance arts.