State Of Exception – Project Arts Centre – Review
Catherine Young Presents State of Exception – Dates: 22 Mar – 24 Mar
As you enter the theatre some of the performers are already on stage, standing motionless with their backs to the audience. There are scaffolding tubes at the rear of the stage with shabby items of clothing hanging from them. Steel cables stretch overhead, coming from behind the performers to high above the audience. A recording plays of a lone male voice. He tells us of life in direct provision. It is a life on hold, waiting for a decision to be made. Some people can wait up to 17 years for an answer, as their case rumbles through the various processes and court cases. All the time these people wait, unable to work and living off a tiny allowance. They come from all walks of life, some highly educated who would be an obvious benefit to our country. The speaker says it is worse than prison as you have no idea when or how it will end; possibly with deportation. All the time they wait for a decision to be made.
Choreographer Catherine Young attempts to capture the sense of containment and frustration these people experience through music and dance. There are four musicians at the side of the stage; two percussionists, one cello player and a vocalist. Their music varies throughout the piece creating moods from frantic states to moments of apathy. There are also four dancers on stage who embody the asylum seekers.
The initial stage of the production shows the previous lives of the individuals. The movement is frenetic and violent as they dash and burst around the stage. Percussion plays a strong role during this phase with a drum beat representing a thumping heart. This contrasts well with the later period when they have arrived in Ireland and are lost in a state of listlessness and disaffection. There are moments of anger, where their frustration boils to the top. The lighting also plays a part as we move from spot lights in the early sequences to the near constant glow of institutional spaces where they now reside.
After the production, there was a talk where a number of asylum seekers spoke eloquently about their plight. While dance is very strong at conveying emotion it does struggle with the finer details and the discussion helped the audience see the faces of those involved and appreciate their strength and convictions. The combination of the two worked well to sway the audience at an emotional and intellectual level. It was a highly impressive night which helped the audience see the human faces behind the numbers and statistics of direct provision.