Oona Doherty, the brilliant choreographer from Belfast, is shaking up the world of contemporary dance with her visceral honesty and her works haunted by Northern Ireland’s past—a legacy of violence, patriarchy, and religion. Navy Blue, her most ambitious piece to date, brings together a group of enigmatic dancers in blue work overalls – a monumental performance that is no less than a powerful antidote to the insignificance of the individual.
A dozen performers of different ages and body histories dance in splendid unison to Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2. It’s the choreographer’s version of grand ballet, flamboyant and sublime—until it all comes crashing to a halt. Bodies crumple to the ground. If the whole world is feeling down, are we in free fall? Oona Doherty’s own voice conjures up a vision of a devastated landscape. But in the face of society’s unraveling, nothing makes more sense than the hypnotic grace of this furiously vital dance.
Produced by OD Works
Choreographed by Oona Doherty
Created with and performed by Arno Brys + Kevin Coquelard + Thibaut Eiferman + Amancio Gonzalez Miñon + Kinda Gozo + Hilde Ingeborg Sandvold + Zoé Lecorgne + Andréa Moufounda + Magdalena Öttl + Tomer Pistiner + Mathilde Roussin + Joseph Simon + Sati Veyrunes
Original Music Jamie xx © Universal Music Publishing Ltd.
Music production William Smith
Additional music Sergueï Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto n°2
Text Oona Doherty + Bush Moukarzel
Read the full text here
Set Design and Projections Nadir Bouassria
Lighting Design and Technical Director John Gunning
Costume Design Oona Doherty + Lisa Marie Barry
Management and production Gabrielle Veyssiere
Production and administration Jenny Suarez
Co-produced by Kampnagel International Summer Festival (Hamburg) + Sadler’s Wells (London) + Théâtre National de Chaillot (Paris) + La Biennale di Venezia + Maison de la Danse (Lyon) + Belfast International Arts Festival + The Shed (New York) + Big Pulse Dance Alliance (Dance Umbrella (
London) + Dublin Dance Festival + Torinodanza Festival (Turin) + Julidans (Amsterdam)) + MC2 : Grenoble — scène nationale
With the support of Centre national de la danse (Pantin) + Pavillon Noir (Aix en Provence) + KLAP, Maison pour la danse (Marseille) + Direction régionale des affaires culturelles d’Ile-de-France – Ministère de la culture
Touring with the support of Culture Ireland
Presented by La Presse with the support of Institut Français in association with Place des Arts
Premiered at Kampnagel International Summerfestival, Hamburg, on August 10, 2022
Written by Catherine Girardin
Translated by David Dalgleish
About the artist
Oona Doherty (Belfast)
Originally Born in London, Oona Doherty returned to her mother’s home country, Northern Ireland, at the age of ten. She studied dance at the London Contemporary Dance School and Trinity Laban Conservatoire before becoming a performer during the 2010s.
She worked with various companies, including T.r.a.s.h. in the Netherlands and Abattoir Fermé in Belgium. She then settled in Bangor, Northern Ireland, in 2014. This was the starting point for her work Hard to Be Soft: A Belfast Prayer (2017), which earned her a Total Theatre Award at the Edinburgh Fringe.
For this intimate and political show, she adopted an approach combining sociological and documentary techniques as well as simple human empathy, exploring the streets and pubs of Belfast to meet with residents and discover the traumatic impacts left by the Northern Ireland conflict as well as class issues. As she grapples with the concrete realities of the working class and its economical issues, Doherty avoids all forms of romanticizing and aestheticizing. She demands nothing less than total sincerity and abandon from her performers, calling for a hyper-awareness of the body—a legacy of her training under the clown Ira Seidenstein and her encounters with inspirational figures such as the French-Algerian choreographer Nacera Belaza. Awarded with the Venice Dance Biennale’s Silver Lion for Dance in 2021, Doherty has developed a highly personal style infused with references drawn from Biblical imagery, documentary photos, and films, that interrogates violence and social constraints by presenting their incarnations on stage, as she did with patriarchy in Lady Magma (2019).
“A properly brilliant piece. […] We’re lucky [Doherty] uses dance as her medium. Stay with the dance Oona. It needs you. And we need it. Pina is definitely applauding.”
Matthew Paluch, Gramilano (United Kingdom), 2022-10-22
“Doherty’s storytelling is extraordinary, creating two powerfully emotive set pieces that seem to emerge spontaneously from the music to grip the audience.”
Maryam Philpott, The Review Hub (United Kingdom), 2022-10-22
“Art needs passionate artists and there is no doubt that [Doherty] she is one.”
Sarah Crompton, The Observer (United Kingdom), 2022-10-30
“As ever her work is hugely ambitious, taking on explosive topics. […] Doherty’s work is always fascinating. The depth of her sincerity shines through and she speaks to her generation. […] She is a rare, talented and original artist who maybe could just change the world, if not the world of dance, given time.”
Stephanie Green, Broadway Baby (United Kingdom), 2022-10-22
“It’s an ode to the cruelty and pointlessness of life. […] Doherty’s honesty and wit is refreshing.”
Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian (United Kingdom), 2022-10-24