Thursday, 6 November 2014

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Belfast Festival At Queen's

Two events from this year's Belfast Festival are reviewed - a magical concoction of dance, music and poetry, and a bubbly merging of musical backgrounds


Neither. Either. Words of similar sound yet opposite meaning, separated on one hand by a mere consonant, and on the other hand, by their interpretation. An interpretation rich in possibility for artistic expression is brought to life superbly by the inspiration of Seamus Heaney, the choreography of Liz Roche, the music of Neil Martin and four immensely talented dancers at Belfast's MAC Theatre.

The four dancers – Philip Connaughton, Katherine O'Malley, David Ogle and Vasiliki Stasinaki – communicate the beliefs, identities, aspirations and emotions of Roche's piece between themselves and to the watchers through perceptive poise, balletic grace and a compendium of physical and facial poses.

Neil Martin's piano score is efficient, eclectic and emblematic, reflecting and synchronising with the moodiness and movements of the on-stage quartet. The dancers presented theatrical alter egos divided by gender and the colour of their clothing, yet united by the need for connection and understanding. In doing so, they successfully and poignantly project the exploratory themes of Roche's work – of the self, of others, and of bonding.

Fluctuating on-stage emotionalism and intermittent off-stage narration mirror the similarities and differences between the titular words and the characters – subsumed by undeniable differences, yet united by means of expression. From two words and the inspiration of a legendary poet arises a kaleidoscopic spectrum of industrial light and human magic.

(The original version of this review appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday October 30, 2014. It can be read here.)


A decidedly and deceptively old school setting greets the eyes of those who take their seats for the arrival of Malian musicians Tamikrest. A large curtain draped over the back of the hall, percussion and guitars of all kinds scattered around the stage, a keyboard and... a gramophone?

But this isn't vaudeville. Rather, it is a hint of the vibrant and virtuous on stage antics that have come from abroad to raise the spirits in Belfast's Elmwood Hall.

Fronted by Ousamane Ag Mossa, Tamikrest are men – and a woman – on a mission. Literally and figuratively, they are a blend, an alliance at a junction of harmonic and melodic messages, on a quest to provide chords of conviction that would delight, resonate with and enlighten onlookers of all persuasions. And, on their first ever visit to Ireland, they certainly achieve that.

A trio of cultures descend upon the Elmwood Hall stage – the Middle Eastern, Western and West African garb will match the tone and feel of the vocals, guitars and percussion respectively throughout the entirety of the evening. Opening with a steady, funky beat that alternately echoes both Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, this soon ascends into a cocktail of passionate vocals, booming bass lines and very catchy drum beats that primes and powers up everyone in the hall.

It is a winning combination, tunes that reference the past and respect the traditions of the band while highlighting positivity, filling the performers and the crowd with unity and belief. Musical genres switch effortlessly and effervescently, calm contemplative vocals a welcome breather in the midst of up tempo makeovers for country and blues music, and thunderous drums in a sea of soul.

By set's end, the audience no longer need prompting to clap along and dance to this admirable, amiable and highly memorable merging of musical backgrounds.

(The original version of this review appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Friday October 31, 2014. It can be read here.)