Dance Umbrella Festival: Hunter

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Directors: Oona Doherty and Luca Truffarelli

Writers: Oona Doherty and Ryan O’Neill

Showing as part of the digital programme of this year’s Dance Umbrella Festival, Irish dancer and choreographer Oona Doherty revisits an earlier project. Translating her 2019 work, Hope Hunt & The Ascension into Lazarus, onto film, the result is a dance piece that is rich with ideas and symbolism.

Hunter, starring Sati Veyrunes and Ryan O’Neill, explores contemporary working-class life, using a car crash as a metaphor. Layering poetry recitation with music from Strength N.I.A, O’Neill is stood in front of a car, parked on a street. The music, heavy on the bass, thuds as O’Neill dances in first feverish movements, then becoming looser and broader. Cinematographer Luca Truffarelli pulls the camera in tightly, aggressively. We are right in O’Neill’s space. Doherty’s poetry – “testosterone and cortisol fuel the grinning mouth” –examines toxic traits of working class masculinity.

Hunter’s deep dive into working class culture is something not readily associated with the world of contemporary dance, but the two together are a neat fit. There are abstract concepts here, but they are grounded in the realities of living in a working class community. Doherty and O’Neill give us the flavour of everyday Belfast: poetry (new and more ancient) is woven into the pulsating beat of urban music. Colloquialisms are traded between disembodied voices – urgent, then violent. There is initial bravado, and then moments of honesty, as a young man admits his way of life, outside the margins, has resulted in him being estranged from his family, his child.

The piece tonally moves between expressive and declarative, with both performers shifting from a performative ‘hardness’ into a soft, dreamlike state. They remove their tracksuits to reveal plain white clothing underneath. The scene changes from the street to night-time. The dancers are alone. The choreography becomes less confrontational, less self-conscious. Attitude gives way to something more authentic, more personal. The camera spirals overhead, with each performer framed by a single street light.

The metaphor of the car crash comes full circle with an interlude filmed at a car scrapyard. We see family cars past their prime, and flashier numbers, dented, written off. A bright orange ‘racer boy’ car is held aloft like a priceless artefact. The scene is one of stasis and decay. Remnants of better days; a smashed windscreen attests to reckless, fearless energy. The application of sound is particularly strong in Hunter and the introduction of choral music adds another layer of symbolism, with the influence of religion, specifically Catholicism with its rituals, underpinning a deeper authority.

The cyclical nature of Hunter – repeated motifs and sound patterns – leans into a wider point on generational dysfunction: repeating the same behaviours over and over again. Doherty’s choreography, as a response, feels spontaneous, with a tenacity coming from within. Both Veyrunes and O’Neill, dancing together in the final moments of the film, raise their fists in defiant protest. Hunter refuses to get bogged down in pessimism. Past doesn’t always mean future: there is a different way to exist; it’s just a question of finding it.

Available here until 31 October 2022 

The Reviews Hub Score

Full of ideas and symbolism

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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