'People who live here inspire me to create new works. I take my lead from them'
When dancer-in-residence Catherine Young was invited to produce a dance performance for last year's 1916 commemorations, she knew only two things - the title was 'Welcoming the Stranger,' and it was to be set on a beach.
With a cast of professional dancers, local people and asylum-seekers, she told the story of refugees' isolation, what they left behind, and ultimately how they and locals engaged with each other here.
According to Kerry County Council arts officer Kate Kennelly, the performance was so breathtaking, people were moved to tears - and she was moved to commission another inter-cultural piece for this year's Culture Night.
"Residencies are about community engagement," says Ms Young. "My approach is to engage members of new communities and people who have lived here all their lives, and they inspire me to create new works. I ask them, 'What's important in your life?'
"The dance that results is a response to what they want. I take my lead from them."
This week, she is calling out to people living in Kerry aged 16 and over who'd like to be in her next dance to come along and try out. There will be two taster workshops next Wednesday, July 12, at Siamsa Tíre National Folk Theatre in Tralee, from 2pm to 2.30pm for women, and 4pm to 4.30pm for men. No experience is necessary.
"I structure each piece so that people can dance at their own level," says Ms Young. "I just want people who will commit to rehearsing two to three times a week throughout August."
As well as her interest in inter-cultural expression, she is also passionate about introducing children to contemporary dance as early as possible: "If dance were on the Leaving Cert, as it is in equivalent exams in the UK and the USA, it would be treated as a serious subject. Here it's part of sports and physical activity in school, but dance is more than that. You have to have an artistic ability to interpret the spirit of a dance. It's not the same as kicking a ball into a net. Dance elevates the human spirit, it helps with problem solving, it improves communication and confidence. We need to see dance as an art form and a viable career option."
Beginning this September, KETB College of Further Education will offer new courses in dance, leading to a recognised qualification.