Hard to be Soft is an interesting four-part dance experiment choreographed and part-performed by Belfast-based dance artist, Oona Doherty. A ‘prayer’ to the people of Belfast, the night shines a light on the true nature of the city’s ‘hard men’ and ‘strong women’.
Part one, Lazarus and the Bird of Paradise, is an impressive solo from Doherty herself, initially employing minimum lighting before the full set illuminates at its conclusion. The sequence plays out with recordings of male dialogue, allowing Doherty to recreate multiple scenarios of toxic masculinity that she encounters in modern-day Belfast.
Following Doherty is The Sugar Army, which again starts with sound bites – this time from Belfast’s ‘strong women’. It brings a large company of teenage girls onto the stark and brilliantly lit set, taking a mixed company through various routines as vocal tracks and music interweave.
The third episode of the night, Meat Kaleidoscope, is perhaps the most dynamic of the whole show. Featuring two burly males, the pair perform a very balletic wrestling match to a kaleidoscopic back projection of their own bodies. Aptly described as a ‘physical prayer’ to ‘masculinity, sectarianism, culture, class, sexuality and architecture’, it features John Scott and Sam Finnegan who give a measured but riveting performance.
The final piece of the evening, Helium, again features Doherty herself, taking over a dance originally performed by Ryan O’Neil. Her return makes for a fitting crescendo to the whole ensemble and utilises Ciaran Bagnall’s intimidating cage-like set to the full.
Despite being an enjoyable evening of dance, one cannot help but wonder whether the motivation and social message of Hard to Be Soft was the main reason this was chosen for the Edinburgh International Festival, rather than a more original and innovative dance performance. Doherty’s decision to employ a range of different performers and dance genres is laudable, however the evening struggles to come across as anything more than a showcase of highly-polished and professionally-produced community dance troupes.