An old-school tape player crackles in a half-light, snatches of conversation tumbling out. The stage is bare but the thick mumbling from the recording fills the stage with rich, if not slightly removed, life. After some time, Dan Canham walks onto the empty stage, carefully places down a chair and sits down. He smiles. He is home again.
Home, in 30 Cecil Street, is the Limerick Athenaeum in Ireland - a once vibrant theatre, now abandoned and decaying. Canham’s show is an attempt to resurrect this crumbling theatre. Whilst Tassos Stevens (another Forest Fringe performer) practically bathes in language, swimming around in its murky waters, Canham is completely silent. He lets his body – particularly his arms and the most expressive fingers I have ever seen – tell his story.
Canham prowls, thoughtfully, around the stage, placing scraps of masking tape on the floor and across the walls, as stolen conversations rumble around him. A blueprint of the theatre gradually emerges, breaking up the space into three distinct areas. Now all that is needed, is to colour in between those white lines: that’s where the dancing comes in.
The walking develops into more sophisticated movements, consistently in synch with the recorded sounds. Although Canham dances with exquisite precision, he also seems out of control. It’s as if his body is somehow outside of him; an external governing force, controlling Canham’s every move. Most of the energy comes from Canham’s arms, hands and fingers, which persistently drag him backwards. It feels like Canham’s body is trying to transport his brain to a place in the past, to which he’s not entirely sure he wants to return.
As Canham weaves around the stage, the individual areas become more defined. He stumbles down some ‘stairs’ (a few lines of masking tape) and his body is suddenly beating hard, as drum and bass blares out. ‘There have been fights in here,’ say the invisible inhabitants and Canham’s body jolts in reply. Canham’s routine reacts to each of these new spaces and is a patchwork of distinct dancing styles, stitched together with meticulous skills. It’s as if all the ex-performers and spectators at the Limerick Athenaeum are jostling for position, wriggling around in Canham and, one by one, exploding into being.
Canham’s body is allowed to relax just once and become itself again. The soundtrack finally settles and an extended song is played - a beautiful tenor solo – and Canham’s body finally breathes, moves and dances for itself. It’s as if Canham’s careful reconstruction has really worked and he has progressed from not only remembering past performances but performing something new, of his own, in this new, miraculously restored theatre.
Forest Fringe 2012 is now finished.