No doubt it’s a dance classic

MAY B

O’Reilly Theater, Dublin
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There aren’t many classics in contemporary dance, but after 40 years of performances in over 40 countries, Maguy Marin’s May B deserves this title.

Four decades is plenty of time for fashions to change aesthetics and presentation. The edge can be dull over time to the mediocrity of the butter knife. Add to that the immutable character of contemporary dance. Plays, operas and ballets can be updated and reinvented, gaining new life by modernizing the setting. Contemporary dance works are rarely changed, so they must be sustainable from day one if they are to become classics.

May B, inspired by the writings of Samuel Beckett, stages a white powdered, physically awkward segment of humanity, incoherently mumbling and reeling across the stage in a state of endless wandering. Like Beckett, Marin delights in the absurd.

Of various sizes and physical shapes, the 10 performers of this Maguy Marin Company manufacture at Dublin Dance FestivalThe Winter Edition’s showcases the richness of difference while sharing a sense of humanity, not only among themselves but with the public. Individually, they ooze a vulnerable loneliness, but they frequently come together in unison dances, driven by a gentle common pulse, like a shared heartbeat.

They are strangers. Before the lights come on on stage, we listen in the dark to Schubert’s Der Leiermann, with its portrayal of a hurdy-gurdy player ignored by all but stoically turning the neck of his instrument. That sense of futility – the Beckettian “I can’t go on. I will continue ”- is at the heart of the 90-minute piece.

Throughout his career, Marin has experimented with form to force audiences to reflect on his values. The scene does not offer an escape from life but is a hard mirror in which one must wonder. May B does not contain the sharp rhetoric of later works, and perhaps her success – and longevity – does not rest on any eureka moment of understanding. Instead, it creates a visceral connection, just as Brendan Behan felt about Beckett: “I don’t know what his pieces are about, but I know I appreciate them. I don’t know what a swim in the ocean is, but … I love the water flowing over me.

Race over


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