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Review: Epilogue at Belfast International Arts Festival

Jane Mooney, pictured left, and Sandy Cuthbert in Epilogue - 'an honest reflection of what the dance took from and gave to the two dancers'
Jane Hardy

EPILOGUE - Flax Art Studios

Belfast International Arts Festival

EPILOGUE, a filmed dance work by Maiden Voyage Dance that premiered this week in the Belfast International Arts Festival, is a superb account of what it really means to be an artist.

Here that means a ballet dancer, and as time progresses physical ability naturally fades, even though the desire to do fouettés or multiple jumps remains.

The piece by festival artist-in-residence Eileen McClory is based on Martha Graham's famous quote about a dancer dying twice, with the first death - retirement - being the most difficult.

There is poetry throughout from Maria McManus.

As she notes about the performers' commitment: "I didn't choose the dance, the dance chose me".

I remember seeing Rudolf Nureyev in Canterbury with my mother and sister. He was way past his best, an echo of that frankly sexy terpsichorean genius. It was sad.

But in this work the performers, who have emerged from retirement with skills beautifully intact, confront the physical issue of ageing.

It starts with a late middle-aged female dancer confronting her changed body, adopting a foetal position at one point to fend off the inevitable.

There are two performers - Jane Mooney and Sandy Cuthbert - and they move back to earlier times.

Mooney, now aged 67, first appeared in the festival 33 years ago, and has revealed she still strikes demanding balletic poses when brushing her teeth.

Red dresses and red shoes - referencing the famous film Red Shoes presumably - are involved.

Also a sight of not pretty - because they are calloused and overworked - dancer's feet.

The film is projected not just on to a big screen in front of the socially distanced audience, but to right and left on the walls.

We see at this point those feet doing the basic ballet positions some of us did when small at ballet lessons.

The whole has an abstract, occasionally pretentious narrative. But it works.

We see modern dance moves, with expressive arms beautifully reaching for the perfection an artist always wants, in the woods. We also see one dancer holding a load of apples (remember Eve and her boo boo that ushered in death?) and performing within a circle of the fruit.

It doesn't exactly end well, although the beauty of the middle section with our dancers in red is exciting.

Finally we see the dancers recalling their past, joyfully accepting applause, then we hear Édith Piaf singing 'Non, Je ne regrette rien'.

The dancer may die twice but there is a hint that maybe it's worth it.

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