COLIN Dunne knows that the words, much less the form of contemporary dance, have the capacity to confuse and dismay any potential audience.
But his acclaimed solo show is all about his relationship with an abstract medium that he sometimes struggles to understand himself.
The dancer, known all over the world given his stint as the lead in Riverdance, presents his acclaimed solo show Out of Time in the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in the University of Limerick on Monday - his home, on and off, for the past decade. Even Dunne, more closely associated with traditional dance than the contemporary form, given his role on Riverdance, understands the connations that the contemporary form sometimes creates for an audience.
“I completely understand because 15 years ago I would have gone to see contemporary dance performances and felt lost or inadequate in terms of being able to read them or get anything from them, always looking for a narrative that possibly isn’t there,” he explains.
“I often try to talk about contemporary dance in terms of poetry - you can read a poem and not know what it is about, but some poems hit you with an experience of something when you might not know how, the ways the words or phrases are formed on the page, and I think contemporary dance, when it is good, can also do that, obviously through the body rather than words.”
Dunne was asked to launch the MA in Contemporary Dance in UL in 2002 and then 18 months later, found himself enrolled within it, searching for something, as he explains it.
“I was really looking for something so I jumped in. There were a few mornings when I was in class and rolling around the floor when I thought, what am I doing here, 18 months ago I was in New York and performing at Radio City Music Hall,” he smiles.
“(But) those thoughts were fleeting and it was nice to shake all of that off and go back and do something for yourself. If you have genuine questions and why you are doing something, it is good to fully invest yourself in it,” he adds.
His enrolment in UL was the start of a near ten year collaboration with the university and the Irish Academy, where he has been dancer in residence for several years. He credits UL with allowing him the freedom to explore and expand his dance horizons.
“It came at the right time for me. I think in my case I had genuine questions and needs and the MA gave me the time and resources to look into (it). That relationship was maintained, I have stayed in the area, I am still here and still based at the university and I teach when I am not touring. It is a very nice relationship and a nice sense of community here which is very productive for me,” he explains.
His acclaimed show Out of Time - performed around the world from Brazil to an invitation to the Baryshnikov Centre in New York - combines dance with film and sound and spoken commentary to explain Dunne’s relationship with a tradition that has “shaped his life”. In that sense, it is intensely personal, even it wasn’t his intention.
“I don’t think it was my intention for the show to be as personal as people see it as being. I saw it, when I was making it, as an abstract conversation between me and the idea of tradition,” he says. “I suppose it is a memoir, although for me it was an abstract one, it doesn’t wear my biography on its sleeve, I don’t talk about myself in the first person, things like Riverdance aren’t explicitly mentioned, but they are all in there as part of the conversation.”
Colin Dunne performs Out of Time in Theatre One, Irish World Academy, next Monday at 8pm. UCH.