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Kearney and Gallagher Devise Multimedia Irish Ballad


(Leon Golub photo)
LENNY collective, Deb Todd Wheeler with guest Sarah Kearney (Leon Golub photo)

Richard Kearney’s and Sheila Gallagher’s re-envisioning of the 1916 Irish uprising through images, stories and music, entitled Twinsome Minds (a phrase taken from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake) aimed last night at the BU Tsai Performance Center to replace standard us/them narratives with a deeper reflection on the complex dualities and contradictions of history. The Abbey Theater of Dublin commissioned a score by violinist and composer Dana Lyn for Twinsome Minds—and integral it was. Far more than a background or accompanying sound, Lyn’s haunting music carried the commemoration from an initial state of trauma through  catharsis and reconciliation.

Anchoring the narrative and separating/connecting the sections like an extended form of the promenade theme in Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Lyn’s music immediately plunged us into a state of unresolved grief through a fiddle-dominated dirge accompanied by Gallagher’s riveting prologue of  broken images and myths projected onto three screens. The idea of this prologue was to evoke trauma: unassimilated events that wound the psyche and that will need to be framed into stories in order to be put at rest in the heart. Lyn, who studied at Julliard, immersed herself into Irish culture and mastered the deep secrets and rhythms of the Irish fiddle to the point that she was featured in two documentaries on traditional Irish music that aired in Ireland.  Lyn’s initial dirge, soaring high into the fiddle’s upper register against a deeper, darker, almost laconic lament, transformed into more tender and reflective pools of affect as the performance unfolded. Her music provided the audience with a recurrent transitional space in which to let the stories sink in and be transformed, as Kearney put it, from either/or stories to both/and stories, changing “hostility into hospitality.”

Twinsome Minds, which opened in Dublin and has toured internationally to Stockholm, Lisbon and Paris, defies fatigue by making central use of live feeds. Gallagher’s beautiful visual narrative on the three screens showed her pouring ink, stirring liquids, placing red poppies and lilies into pre-existing portraits and landscapes. Implicitly, revisiting history and trauma is an open-ended creative task that cannot be reduced to any formula. In last night’s performance, the importance of Gallagher’s live feeds was enhanced by live music over and beyond Lyn’s score. Brian and Lindsay O’Donovan (voice and piano respectively) performed the WWI song “Keep the Home

(Leon Golub photo)
Richard Kearney, story-teller (Leon Golub photo)

Fires Burning”—made famous by tenor John McCormack—to evoke the Irish who fought for Britain in Flanders. The LENNY collective led by Deb Todd Wheeler and with lovely guest singer Sarah Kearney performed “Down by the Salley Gardens” arranged for ukulele, accordion and guitar. While they performed, Gallagher’s ink-lined drawings on the screen showed the commemorative garden that was created for the murdered Winifred Barrington, planted with seventeen white birches, symbolizing Country as deeper and more fundamental than Nation. Towards the end of the narrative, Brian O’Donovan returned to the stage with a guitar to perform the Rebel song “Foggy Dew,” powerfully capturing the combination of defiance, despair and imagination that is Ireland’s deepest and most perennial rhizome.

Thanks to its magnificent coordination of image-in-the-making, story-in-the-making and time-transcending music, Twinsome Minds brings about in real time the kind of psychic transformation and healing that it describes. The audience of the packed hall was deeply moved and a remarkable sense of well-being was magically infused into all of us.

Anne Davenport is a scholar of early modern theology and philosophy. She has published books on medieval theories of infinity and Descartes. Her most recent article is on Atomism and providence in 17th-century England.

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