Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

The Significance of Dance in Dancing at Lughnasa

Category Dance
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The Significance Of The Use Dance: Focusing On Pages 20 - 23 Brian Freil uses a variety of dance techniques to convey the significance of dance as a projection of universal and primal desires to which everyone is submissive. Each outburst or description of dance involving the characters gives the audience an insight to not only their true personality but also the strain of their current situations.

The significance of dance and its effect on the audience is echoed throughout the play through many different circumstances, the positioning of each routine is also very important as it connects with true meaning of the dance, therefore intensifying atmosphere on which it brings. Pages 20 to 23 highlight this greatly as we see all of the sisters dance in unity.

Page 20 sees Maggie’s monologue, here the audience become aware of how dance can be beautiful however misunderstood; “they were just so beautiful together... they should have won” Explained as Maggie is describing the pure splendor of Brian and Bernie’s military two-step at a dance competition from when they were young. Although this directly does not link directly in the significance throughout the play it strengthens the aspect of a spirited connection between two people through the means of dance.

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This point is also enhanced with the connection between Chris and Gerry as the audience only become apparent of the sentimental emotions these characters share when she submissively begins to ballroom dance with him, at which point and further in the play all characters especially Chris soften to Gerry giving implication of the true and raw feeling they have for each other represented through their dances. This spiritual characteristic which dance beholds amongst the characters also has connotation of a form of communication that predates conversation and emotion, seeping through all cultures.

This is a strong feature to Dancing At Lughnasa as the storyline is based around Freil’s use of juxtaposition of native tribal dancing and localized northern Irish dancing with the use of Father Jack. The use of Father jack; “losing his mind” on returning from Africa and resorting to African rituals and beliefs bridges strong Irish traditions to the frowned upon peaganism of the Irish mid 1930s. Depending on interpretation you could argue that Freil suggests this bridging of cultures throughout the play to enhance the technique of juxtaposition.

An example being in the ironic connection between Jack’s description of an African ceremony shortly followed by the unofficial wedding of Chris and Gerry described also, as a ceremony of an elegant and precise ballroom dance. Also on page 21; “patterns her face with an instant mask” The stage direction describing Maggie’s fanatical dance and how she stripes her cheeks with flour. This gives suggestion of connotation, which could be implying the link between typical tribal face paint used for rituals and dances in native Africa and Maggie’s flour “mask”.

In addition this too gives implication of Maggie being ‘out of character’ and acting peaganistic, again, strengthening the thought of dance being a universal and primal desire bridging cultures due to subconscious human nature. The radical and fanatical dancing of the sisters on page 21 is also important in understanding how Freil communicates the characters personalities and thoughts to the audience in the stage directions of each dance.

Freil uses the ‘Marconi‘ as a dramatic device to plunge the scene into dance with the slow introduction of sound; “ until the sound has established itself” this could show how the beat and rhythm of the music is actually the subconscious of the characters. However, another interpretation could be that the slow introduction is the metaphorical gradual dispatch from reality into a fantasy of dance coated by repressed desire and latent passion.

This would explain how Maggie’s “features become animated by a look of defiance” as it is a result of the realization of her repression which has grew from since she was young that manifests itself with defiance. It would too explain how as each character becomes submissive to the rhythm, the beat becomes more frantic and uncomfortably loud because each of the sisters is now projecting suppressed emotions with a feeling of force and urgency. This shows how the stage directions also give implication to the character’s psychological state.

Other characters such as Rose, who follows Maggie’s chants and calls and is the second to “leap” into dance, this could be an indication of Rose’s suggestive character and how she yielding to those offering attention such as Danny Bradley, her supposed lover. Rose is then followed by Agnes who is described to dance the most “gracefully and sensuously” out of the sisters which could represent her soft, and delicate personality highlighted through her caring actions towards Rose, and the household keeping earlier in the play.

However the most significant character’s performance in this dance is Kate, the audience have been subjected to her objection to the festival at Lughnasa and peaganistic dance traditions yet as the final sister to join we see Kate preform a complex dance; “alone, totally concentrated, totally private” and although the other sisters are chanting and screaming together, Kate is in silence. This outburst is one of the most fundamental moments in the play as a whole, as the audience are taken back by Kate’s obscure and out of character reaction to the rhythm.

Being the last to plunge into dance and the first to stop shows how Kate is conceited and is against the force which dance holds, however her ominous actions are clearly full of true of emotion which represents her true personality one of passion and complete feeling. The intensity and isolated feel of her performance is a representation of the distance between her and her sisters caused by the strain of keeping the family together, which is ironically, obviously falling apart.

At the end of the stage directions on page 22, the audience are aware of the significance of Freil’s use of dance. The brutality and grotesque atmosphere of the dance is the projection of the unstable state the family is in, as each sister is under independent and personal strains. Which appeals to the audiences’ emotional and psycho-analytic understanding therefore creating two layers within Friel’s production.

By using this form of communication frequently throughout the play the audience can therefore connect with the characters and relate to their created personalities to prehaps, feelings of their own. Dance, in the production of Dancing at Lughnasa is consequently not only a connective device between the audience and the characters as it is a projection of primal desires, but also a representation of repressed feeling and emotion of which the characters cannot express verbally.

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