‘The Querist’, Or, Questions Posed By a Contemporary ‘Travelling Dance Master’
In the 1735 book, The Querist, Bishop Berkeley asked, “Whether we are not undone by fashions made for other people?” Three hundred years later in a solo theatrical production, Russell Patrick Brown asks The Querist’s question through the dancing body. At the intersections of economic, philosophical, spiritual and sartorial inquiry, this dance explores the embodied memory of fashion and its infectious past. His choreography sources from Irish step dance, Vogue dance and contemporary dance, and it utilises history and queer theory to research the impact of materiality upon human movement.
A ‘querist’ is one who asks questions or inquires. As an Irish step dancer, investigating flicks, hops and cuts is what I do. Through silent and sonic relationships to the souls of my feet, I stamp and leap and move across the floor, finding new ways to twist in upon myself.
An Arts Practice academic inquiry presents the opportunity to keep this self-delective process in the centre of my Irish traditional dance doctoral research. But the floor has changed. Scholarship from around the world opens the ground to a dark colonial past. My lead-around must now reach past farmers in their fields to the wild stillness of Flaggy Shore, to the marble halls of France and Italy and to the wide ocean, returning to Ireland through feet of all colours.
Almost three hundred years after it was written, Bishop Berkeley’s The Querist still raises interesting questions at an economic, political, religious, philosophical and sartorial crossroads in Ireland. When I read this unusual text at the beginning of my masters degree, it marked the unraveling of my dancing while also helping me define this cosmic floor I find myself upon. The most salient question, 146, asks: ‘Whether we are not undone by fashions made for other people?’
There is talk of the ‘new Ireland’, a post-Marriage Equality Referendum Ireland. In the halls of Berkeley’s Alma Mater, queer theory and postcolonial discourse shakes hegemonic foundations. Foreign fashions infect a generation of new dancers and athletes looking beyond the pale of a nationalised dancing and sporting body. As a Step, Vogue and contemporary dancer, I feel lost.
In The Querist, or, Questions Posed by a Contemporary Travelling Dance Master, I ‘pose’ question 146. The act of posing through fashion, gesture and gender comes from New York LGBTQI+ African-American and Latino Vogue Ball culture, and was given to me on Christohper Street Pier while I was practicing my jigs and reels by members of the Royal House of LaBeija. The ‘quare’ness of the whole thing is The Querist, yet also personal.
I have curated a constellation of questions that have emerged from a year of studio study. I have explored 146 on the floors of Irish dance clubs, universities, train stations, fitness clubs, circus centres, art studios and both rural and urban kitchen floors. I have encountered old and new Ireland. The people I have met there – seen and unseen – guide my query. Tonight I begin to share my findings. I ask and answer in step and in vogue.
Music: ‘Carolan’s Welcome’, ‘Carolan’s Receipt for Drinking’, ‘Eleanor Plunkett’; Composed by Turlough Carolan; Played by Patrick Ball on Wire Strung Harp
Sound design: Alan Dormer
Lighting design: Róisín Berg
Costume: Unitard, Copelia Ballet; Blue Top, Lululemon Yoga
Presented with the support of: Dr. Catherine E. Foley, Maria Kerin, Michael Walsh, Dr. Finola Cronin, UCD School of English, Drama & Film, MoKS, Visual AIDS, University of Limerick Irish World Academy of Music & Dance