Haiku review by Simon Fallaha 

Erik Kaiel’s Haiku, performed by Gerard Headley, Rosie Mullin and Maeve McGreevy for Maiden Voyage Dance at the Ulster Museum as part of the Young At Art Belfast Children’s Festival 2023, has been described as an “ode to friendship”.

While I would say that this is certainly the case, I would also perceive it to be much more – to these eyes it tells a story not only about the value of bonding but also the inevitable, and inevitably challenging, process of adaptation from unwelcome entrapment, and the consequence of energy and emotion being withheld at a distance for a prolonged period of time before suddenly being brought to life. 

Headley, Mullin and McGreevy’s initial placement is one of both physical and social distance from each other, challenged only by discomforting jerky movement. Headley appears to be throwing himself, while Mullin and McGreevy seem more reserved and cautious. Either way, their tale is one of friends longing to be reunited, arguably before they are really ready to be so.

Fittingly, their moves are accompanied by an instrumental of the Suzanne Vega classic “Tom’s Diner” – the mere idea of a local diner can be both warm and uneasy, somewhere to find both comfort and discomfort in the idea of routine. The wordless yet seductive repetition of Vega’s famous vocals on the song’s refrain find a new and equally subversive voice in what the dancers are presenting to us.

Initiative and challenge are enhanced in Haiku‘s next segment, which brings all three of our dancers up close for the first time in what appears to be an invitation to be both brave and curious. One can’t help but intriguingly observe and be won over by the manner in which Headley, Mullin and McGreevy are able to present a genuinely warm-hearted return to innocence through expression and movement. They do so by framing a distinctively inquisitive appearance in line with the idea of someone discovering a new city or country, or meeting a new friend, and gently intertwining it with the weariness that can come following a long dormant period. It’s like an exhibition of movements before, during and after a union rather than re-union – the reaction to a brand new life that one didn’t even know was well worth waiting for.

Yet Kaiel and his dancers, wisely and boldly, do not ignore the discomforting element that can exist in the discovery of new ground – the desire for power and control over the state of mind and being, and the dangers one may unavoidably encounter in pursuit of it. Both are highlighted in the rather animalistic nature of the dancers’ movements and the choice of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” as the instrumental which accompanies them.

The third and final segment of this fifteen-minute piece presents an image of redemption, a gentle sentiment as a process of accepting and remedying all or any mistakes which may be made in attempting to get hold of both oneself and his or her surroundings in the face the “brave new world” the performers have illustrated within the story. Aided by the joyful tone of a “Brimful Of Asha” instrumental, the ambience our performers create is one of calm unity and understated sensitivity, emblematic of the potentially strong friendships that may or may not emerge from this latest, for want of better words, maiden voyage.

In a way, Haiku – and with three dancers and three segments, just like the poem’s three lines, there really doesn’t appear to be a more appropriate or appealing title – presents itself as a concise cousin to John Hughes’ still excellent The Breakfast Club, in that it is another instance where what might have been otherwise suppressed or preferably ignored truths emerge and are articulated in a space both vast and enclosed at once, creating a piece that acts as a short-term relief and release for the characters in it and a long-term memory for the viewers. (Although perhaps we can be thankful that “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” wasn’t one of the instrumentals heard – that might have been too on the nose!)