Dancer Colin Dunne’s latest solo work, Out of Time, features a Green Hippo Hippotizer. Performed at the Glór Theatre in Ennis, Ireland in February, Out of Time explores Dunne’s private world as a dancer rooted in the Irish step dance tradition. It looks to the past for simple beginnings as he examines his relationship with a tradition that has shaped his life. Out of Time is set to tour later this year.
When creating Out of Time, Dunne wanted to find a way to present traditional Irish dance within a contemporary setting. An introduction to Green Hippo’s Sean Westgate by the show’s director Sinead Rushe was the beginning of an evolutionary, creative process that shaped the direction of the show.
“It is nearly a year ago since we all first met in London—me not really knowing anything about film technology at this end—and Sean not knowing anything about bloody Irish dance at his end,” recalls Dunne. “I was not sure what the Hippotizer really was, and was a bit intimidated by it at first. However, a workshop session with Sean in June showed Sinead and myself what it could do and gave us a sense of its versatility.”
Using video footage of dancers from 1930s to 1970s, including himself as a 10 year old performing on TV, Dunne wanted to use projection to bring aspects of Irish dance to the stage in a solo piece. The video content and presentation had to show different facets of dance, some playing independently and some incorporating the action onstage in a more interactive way as he danced alongside it. The sounds from Dunne’s shoes were digitally manipulated live in the theatre to create an evocative sound score to accompany certain sections of the films.
The challenge for Westgate was how to integrate the vital video footage into the dance piece without overpowering Dunne’s performance in the intimate, close confines of the Glór. A large screen was ruled out on this basis and because of the difficulty of concealing it when not in use and of transporting it on tour.
The answer came in a number of boxes that doubled as both dance surfaces and projection surfaces. These boxes could be danced on, opened out, arranged in different configurations, and repositioned by Dunne throughout the performance, while images of dancers past and present were projected onto them. Westgate was then able to use a Hippotizer Express to keystone the images and map them precisely onto the boxes in each position. Intensity levels were also adapted to fit in with Colin Grenfell’s lighting so the boxes glowed gently, drawing them into a coherent whole with the rest of the lighting.
“I don’t know how we would have done it without the Hippotizer,” says Dunne. “The films look beautiful, and the Hippo is a genius. After our initial reserve we found it was very simple to get to grips with and our very talented sound designer Fionan de Barra, was able to operate it during the show while making small edits and adjustments as we went along. The moveable timelines mean the footage can be brought in on the dancer’s cue rather than dictating the flow of movement to the dancer. This gives more flexibility and room for improvisation in the performance which is what I also wanted.”
Westgate prepared the video clips and spent three days programming the time lines before leaving it with the technical crew.
“Part of the beauty of the Hippotizer is how it lends itself to small scale projects as well as the larger shows in which our customers may be more used to seeing it,” explains Westgate. “The results we achieved were very subtle. The set up is also very economical and practical for touring because of the absence of large screens to transport and the adaptability of the Hippotizer in the different sized venues to which the show will be travelling.”