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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Oona Doherty: the stories she's carried

Belfast's Oona Doherty is a thrilling soloist
in Hope Hunt and The Ascension into Lazarus.
(photo courtesy of the artist)

Hope Hunt and The Ascension into Lazarus
by Oona Doherty
92Y Harkness Dance Festival
March 6-7

Such a percussive and narrative, if mystifying, title: Hope Hunt and The Ascension into Lazarus. It makes the heart beat a bit harder and the breath come a bit faster just to read it out loud. And that's an appropriate reaction. It really is a bracing kind of story, an epic one with what seems to be hundreds of characters--working-class men you might find on the byways of dancer-choreographer Oona Doherty's Belfast, Northern Island.

The multiple award-winning artist brought her electrifying tour de force to 92Y Harkness Dance Festival for a short run of three performances over two days. I hear tell it's the last time she'll ever perform it. So, head there this afternoon or tonight because she's worth a look.

The piece begins directly in front of 92Y at the Lexington Avenue curb and sidewalk with some crunchy pelting and hip-hop tumbling about in hoodies. This launch introduces Doherty and a couple of her compatriots, two young men who soon speed away from the scene. A first impression, it deftly encapsulates how reckless she's willing to be as a mover but, in retrospect, I don't know how much of this you actually need once you've seen what she does upstairs in 92Y's Buttenweiser Hall.

For, once there, you're captive to a short solo that moves past you at the speed of light--or as if someone took a very long novel and flipped the pages so you'd get flashes of characters in action, flashes of speech, all of it thrown your way with tremendous force and unexpected fluidity, with transitions from one situation to another that would seem to be impossible but, no, there they are unfolding right in your face.

Once there in your seat, the first thing you notice are flashes of Doherty's flesh caught in light, the parts not covered by a dark, shapeless, nondescript costume, as she whips back and forth from one side of the darkened space to the other. Then she comes forward in the space, building an impression of harsh environments and harsh life with her repetitive, explosive vocalizations, physical and vocal tics and eruptive movements. You hear a fan chanting at his favorite football team, a man trying (and failing) to make time with someone named Stephanie, and any number of people you give up trying to hold onto in the avalanche of scenes and players.

Life is raw, vivid, fleeting. Doherty's putty-like tomboy's body, expressive face and vocal dexterity make her a thrilling performer in full mastery of this roaring stream of consciousness.

It takes little over a half-hour to complete but, really, how much more could Doherty's body have sustained? She has given so much.

She accepts our grateful applause and goes away only to come right back and draw aside a curtain, revealing her DJ, Joss Carter. She invites the audience to get up and dance and--if I heard this right--find some cans of beer among the garbage (her set) tucked away in a far corner of the space. The music played, and a small handful of folks rose from their seats, but this ending seemed oddly awkward, lifeless and superfluous.

Nevermind. If Doherty is saying goodbye to all the men she brought through in Hope Hunt and lived with since 2016, I'm quite eager to see where she's moved to since then and where she's moving next.

Music by Oona Doherty and Luca Truffarelli
Set and costumes by Oona Doherty

Hope Hunt and The Ascension into Lazarus continues and concludes today with performances at 4pm and 9pm. For information and tickets, click here.

92Y Harkness Dance Center
92nd Street Y
1395 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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