In the autumn of 2023, Navy Blue by Oona Doherty played at Dansens Hus Elverket and an interview was conducted.
Oona Doherty is a dancer and choreographer based in Northern Ireland. She trained at the London School of Contemporary Dance, University of Ulster and LABAN London where she received both BA and PhD awards in contemporary dance studies. Doherty has been on stage since 2010, collaborating with companies such as TRASH (NL) Abbattoir Ferme (BE) and Veronika Riz (IT). She now creates her own works that have achieved great success both nationally and internationally.
Doherty's pioneering choreography has earned her numerous awards and prestigious opportunities both in Ireland and abroad. Her solo work Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus (2015) won Best Performance at the 2016 Dublin Tigre Fringe Award and the Total Theatre Award for Dance at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival. Her first group piece Hard to Be Soft - A Belfast Prayer was voted best dance performance of 2019 by The Guardian.
In 2019 she created Lady Magma: The Birth of a Cult and in 2021 she had her first collaboration with (La) Horde, a collective at the Ballet Nationale de Marseille (FR). In 2021 she was awarded the Silver Lion at the Venice Biennale Danza 2021.
Oona Doherty on Navy Blue
How can I develop unison dread on stage? Dance form as a problematic symbol of freedom? Unison as a type of micro communism. individualism as a disease? Using classical dance form and theatre norms as the playing field of a violent act.
Can you tell us a bit about the background and what led you to create Navy Blue?
It was 2019 and I was in Aix-de-Provence with Lady Magma. And I was exhausted and stressed. I told my 'magmas' that I couldn't cope with all the work and touring. I needed a break. Cut to the Ballet National de Marsielle. I feel afraid of a ballet company in a large institution. Old wounds are opening up. I went to a flea market and bought a navy blue worker's jacket because it was hipster. I flew home. I felt successful and alone and sad. I thought the world was crazy. The jacket was made for workers. The history of the blue colour is full of trauma, hierarchies and wars over money. Suddenly there was a lockdown. Pregnant. I started to think differently about my life. About dance. I talked to Ruth Little. She told me to look at Anne Hamilton's work Indigo Blue (1991). I started trying to look at my own preconceptions: constructed in racism and cast in a capitalist world... being a mum.
What the hell.
So then I had the blues.
So then I made navy.
What is your creative process when creating a choreographic work, are there any specific techniques or stylistic choices that are important to you during your process?
I desire - and always strive for - a sincerity in the dancer I work with, and for me that is more important than aesthetics. But, I'm also sure that there are certain aesthetic choices about what I like that are built into me. I don't know if I've made enough works yet to be able to distinguish the "I" from the "it"/"work".
A destruction, A death of a form, A re-birth.We arch up into the Galactic black of deep space. Scattered with shooting stars, with bodies tearing through the night sky a deep acrylic blue.
What social and emotional themes did you want to explore when creating the choreography for Navy Blue?
In a unison dance there is always a subtle compromise, or sacrifice, for the individual dancer. Individuality, flow, timing and structure become subordinate to the common good of the work. The unison. This reminds me of certain elements of communism. Or socialism. Strikes and demonstrations. And at the same time: strictly coordinated dance also reminds me of fascist marches and displays. Some ballet companies cut their dancers' hair in the same style, yet it is the opening dancer who steps forward alone and bows to the audience, even though everyone on stage is sweating equally.
There is something political about a group moving together. And on a dramaturgical level, I wondered where the power is? If the power is not within the group or through the group's movements, where is it? Within the space or the sound. And then it can be the oppression.
What if a "ballet company" did not make an effort to create the illusion of anti-gravity, romance or joy? What if it is the effort, toil and labour that we are actually witnessing?
And this made me start thinking from the audience's perspective. Why are we watching the dancers work and sometimes struggle with what they are doing?
This is a bow to dance, this is a questioning of what to do next.
Is there anything important for the audience to reflect on when they meet Navy Blue?
I want my blues to feel love for each other. I want them to feel terribly new in the moment. I want them to experience that they feel something, but that it is up to the history of their nervous system what they feel, and what sensations it gives them. I want them to feel something, follow their gut and trust it.
In a interview in The Guardian you said that "music is the greatest art form". In Navy Blue, the audience will hear music from both Rachmaninov and Jamie XX. When you create a dance performance, what comes first: the music or the movements?
I think it's the music, but it might not even be the same music that ends up in the performance and I would never improvise movements without music.