Loretta Goff sways to the rhthym of Pat Collins’ The Dance.
Pat Collins’ latest film The Dance had its Irish premiere as the Documentary Gala for the 66th Cork International Film Festival. The Dance offers a behind-the-scenes look at the development and rehearsal of choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan’s most recent dance and theatre production MÁM, which premiered as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival in September 2019. The documentary follows the collaborative process of Keegan-Dolan, 12 international dancers, concertina player Cormac Begley, and the European musical collective s t a r g a z e over the course of 10 weeks leading up to the opening night performance of MÁM.
At the start of the documentary we are given a glimpse of what’s to come with a few brief moments of the opening night performance before going back to the Dingle Peninsula 10 weeks prior to the start of rehearsals. This helps frame what the rehearsals are building towards for the viewer, but precisely how everything came together remains a mystery throughout the film, which focuses on the collaborative process of creation rather than a precise step by step development of the performance. In keeping with this, there is no real dialogue throughout the documentary, with no voiceover, interviews, or introductions to specific individuals. Instead, the viewer feels like a “fly on the wall” during rehearsals observing group discussions, improvisation exercises, and the development of expressive movements and sounds for the performance. We get a sense of this development through the growing connection of the group, seen through their ease with one another and the emotions they express in their movements, and with the gradual inclusion of additional musicians, tunes, and costumes.
Rather than emphasising the procedural elements of the process, the focus here is on creativity and connection. Throughout the documentary there is a strong sense of community as Keegan-Dolan, the dancers, and the musicians all get to know one another and collaborate, building off of one another’s gestures and sounds to create something that in a way seems to come together both naturally and magically. Collins highlights this sense of community by including scenes of the group outside of rehearsal swimming in the sea and eating meals together. Here we observe ordinary interactions and hear the din of flowing conversations without being able to hone in on what is being said.
The approach Collins takes with The Dance allows viewers to feel as though they are a part of this process and community, even if we are just witnessing it. The style feels natural and as we observe we are caught up in the emotion, connection, purity, and frenzy of it all. There is a focus on gesture throughout the film and our attention is directed to both bold, sweeping, energetic movements and those that are smaller and quieter, sometimes simply the stretching of a foot. These, along with the corresponding sounds of the musicians merge together in a way that allows you to feel the mood of various expressions throughout the process, and may even inspire viewers to join in and move themselves.
Participating in a Q&A after the screening, Collins and Keegan-Dolan spoke about how they admired one another’s work and that trust was an important part of the creative collaboration. Keegan-Dolan said that he knew he could trust Collins, commenting that the documentary is honest and truthful to the process of creating MÁM. Collins noted that his focus was on that process, which is why no interviews were included, and explained that the cameramen were there amidst the dancers, moving around along with them, but trying to stay out of the way. Commenting on the process of creating the documentary, he noted that he had a large amount of footage from the 10 weeks to edit down as they had long days of filming everything, not knowing when significant moments would occur. This made the editing process very important, going through all this footage, massively cutting it down and weaving together the remnants. The finished film, coming in at 87 minutes, makes this very difficult task look easy with how naturally it all fits together, bringing the audience on a captivating journey.
The Dance is an engaging, inspiring exploration of the creative process unleashed and given the freedom to blossom into a special collaboration.
The Dance screened on 11th November 2021 as part of the Cork International Film Festival.