Review written by Simon Fallaha.
Re-imagined with a wholly Irish score, colourful lighting, a handful of newly clever concepts and a brand new dancer, Maiden Voyage Dance’s Pause And Effect, choreographed by Eleesha Drennan, remains as powerful now as it was when I first saw it at the Belfast Children’s Festival in 2016. If not more so.
The absence of what was there before, on-stage musicians, classical music, spotlighted effects from above and Carmen Fuentes Guaza, is more than countered by what is there now, the Celtic instrumental melodies, mustiness, colourful lighting and Kildare’s own Hannah Rogerson. And it is Rogerson who counts down to the drama, from twenty to one, while returnees and Maiden Voyage veterans Ryan O’Neill, David Ogle and Vasiliki Stasinaki build towers and forts with the sixty blocks of different sizes scattered all over the place. All are lit up from left to right, in blue, red and green, to the sound of drums. Primary colours for a primarily fascinating and thunderous experience for all ages.
Before we know it, the towers and forts in this Quartet For Sixty Blocks (not Fifteen Chairs!) crumble, the children in the audience laugh, and Rogerson begins looking for a moving Stasinaki. What begins as a fast-paced game of hide and seek, with blocks thrown everywhere, evolves into a varied pattern of mime, mimicry and movement. It is childlike and inspirational, foot slapping, hair pulling and hand matching playfulness alongside development and collapse of what has been built, what will be built and what will be oh so hurriedly dismantled with the blocks.
Second time around, the overall response to Pause And Effect is less emotive but more enriching. The lively, bouncy poetry has been enhanced by closer-to-home composition and a more mature edge that suggests greater understanding amongst both the dancers and the characters they play. If siphoning off the rawness blunts the element of surprise a little, the spontaneity is not dulled – O’Neill, Ogle and Stasinaki have mastered their roles and Rogerson fits in like a glove.
It is probable that Drennan sees Pause And Effect as a giant “take that” to structure, regimentation and control. The piece arguably goes as far as saying that control is a myth, a desire, a temporary sticking plaster over cuts in the crevices of daily life that we will never be able to fill. What it’s saying is, is that while it is good to have a plan, system or leader to follow, the choice is essentially ours.
Because no structure in the production remains structured for long.
How wonderfully can the most meticulous and dedicated plans work when everything is going well, and how fast can they unravel when it’s not? When one is so dependent on the same way of doing things, as our dancers often are by building and rebuilding – and it should be noted that the structures improve in appearance as the play goes along – is it an inability or an unwillingness to change that holds them back? Are they pausing to consider the effect (see what I did there) of what bothers them, or are they stubbornly continuing as is in the hope all will be fine next time?
But Pause And Effect is as much a contrast as it is a critique. It hints that there is such a thing as too much change and how chaotic freedom can be. Therefore one is thankful that there is at least some sort of structure in place, several spaced out pauses either side of what takes effect. (Hence the title.)
Fittingly, the boys and girls in the quartet take their turn at being regimented and being boundless, sometimes at the same time as each other. And the management of pacing is such that childlike awe, invention and adulthood smoothly interlink and overlap, creating several ingenious moments.
One features bricks being tossed through the air while stepping stones are built for the giant Ogle to challenge his deceptively rigid frame, flanked by the lithe nimbleness of the others. Another features Rogerson literally surfing on Ogle before rolling underneath sparkling motion on top and around her. I also love how roads of “dominoes”, two of which are parallel, quickly transform into a more messy set of stepping stones, the kind that would be scattered around a pond in nature’s happenstance. And how the blocks can pass as skis, a phone, a deodorant and what looks like the face of Optimus Prime. It really is a transformative process.
It’s timely too. When watching our performers mimic clocks, then sleeping children, over such a short space of time, it dawns on me that while time is not something we consider ourselves to have a lot of in the here and now, when young we really do feel like we can live forever. The older you get, the quicker time moves. That’s childlike joy and adult fear in a nutshell. Pause And Effect, then, is so much more than an exhibition of dance: it is an exploration of what makes children tick and why we cannot afford to surrender it, for our own sake. But the reaction is less tearful this time than one of solemn, silent regret, a reflection on an ode to joy and societal commentary at once. Perhaps, better still, Pause And Effect is a strong reminder that, as John Hughes put it three decades ago, life really does move pretty fast… and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.