Sunday 25 February 2018

Arts: Don't be afraid of the dance

Horsing around: Dancer Emma O'Kane and George the horse in Dublin's Henrietta St. Emma O'Kane will star in WillFredd Theatre's new production Jockey
Horsing around: Dancer Emma O'Kane and George the horse in Dublin's Henrietta St. Emma O'Kane will star in WillFredd Theatre's new production Jockey
Seamus Heaney

Sophie Gorman

Why do so many of us think contemporary dance is something we won't understand? We love dancing, we can't get enough of dancing competitions on television, even formal ballroom dance has a warmer reception than contemporary dance. What is contemporary dance? It is new dance, it is hip hop, it is disco, it is freedom from classical rules. We need to stop having this perennial discussion about how we don't understand contemporary dance. We Irish are a bold people, we loved how Riverdance played with the iron commandments of Irish dance; we should be the champions of this mischievous dance form.

We have the perfect opportunity to find out what we have been skittishly skating around next month when the 2015 Dublin Dance Festival ( begins and sets out to break more classical rules than an Irish class learning bad Latin.

"There is a belief that dance is in some ways 'difficult', that people won't understand what's going on and think it's not for them," says festival director Julia Carruthers as she announces the final programme in her four-year tenure. "One of the shows we are doing this year, Dance Uncovered by Philip Connaughton, is all about helping people not to be frightened of dance, showing them a way through it. There will be an element of stand-up comedy and at the same time some serious points about why contemporary dance is not as weird as you might think."

One of the major differences with this year's festival is that they are taking over the main Abbey stage for a whole fortnight. "This is a very big move forward for us. And it means that Irish dance's Liz Roche Company can actually have a proper preview for their show Bastard Amber before opening night. Unlike theatre, it is quite unusual for a dance company to have the luxury of a preview before the press are allowed in."

It is a very international show and reaches across most dance disciplines, so what are Julia's top picks from the festival? "The show I believe will be a very hot ticket is the flamenco dancer Israel Galvan at the Abbey. There is a lot of excitement already about him coming. He is very skilled and very sexy and he is pushing the boundaries of what you can do with the form.

"Another great show is Jockey by WillFred Theatre. There is something very Irish about it, all the connections to the horse racing community. And it is fascinating to explore all the strange similarities between the life of a jockey and a dancer, the obsession with keeping their weight down, the terror of injury, the short life of their career, worrying if you will be able to fit into the little costume you have to wear on stage, on the race track."

Directed by Sophie Motley, the key to this show is respected dancer Emma O'Kane, whose grandfather Philip de Burgh O'Brien was a bloodstock agent and racing journalist. He died before she was born but she has just discovered that racing is in her blood.

"I also think it is a real landmark to have the Liz Roche Company on stage in the Abbey." Liz will be presenting Bastard Amber, a new work inspired by Yeats' poem Sailing to Byzantium and Patrick Scott's pleated gold paintings.

"And I am very much looking forward to our hip hop show with the Spanish group La Macana and the German Renegade.

The show will be opened by an all-male Dublin youth hip hop group Company B. And it will be free and outdoors in Smithfield Square, weather willing."

Introduced properly last year, free events have transformed the audiences of the dance festival. There was actually a 57pc increase in audience numbers in 2014. "It means that people can take chances, people who maybe don't have a night out at the theatre as part of their regular routine. They don't need to spend €20 they don't have on their first ever dance show, they can experience it without any pressure or expectations."

And finally, mention should be made of a particularly intriguing sounding show, Death is Certain by Eva Meyer-Keller. This involves 35 red juicy cherries laid out in lines, oblivious to the fate that is about to befall them. For it is their death that is certain. Meyer-Keller lays out an arsenal of weaponry to determine their fates, a tin of baking powder, a clothes iron, a firecracker, three darts, a roll of cling film, a cheese grater. Poor cherries.

There is also much humour too, such as when two cherries set off in a car and drive off over the edge of a table a la Thelma and Louise. "It's alternatively stilling and clinical and funny. And all the cherries do die."

Sophie's choice

1 A combination of not one, not two but three of my favourite poets can be enjoyed at Nun's Cross Church in Ashford tonight. Theo Dorgan and Paula Meehan will be reading poems by Seamus Heaney (left) as part of the second Feile Heaney, celebrating our Nobel Laureate.

2 Pakie is an orphan, a storyteller, an adventurer, a survivor. He is an outsider in a small town peopled by even smaller minds. And he is going to tell us all the secrets in The Chronicles of Oggle, a most original play written and performed by Peter Gowen. It's in Wexford Arts Centre tonight as part of an extensive nationwide tour.

3 The mandolin is a diverse instrument and you can hear it in all its glory when Grammy-nominated mandolinist Avi Avital begins an Irish tour on Wednesday. With accordionist Ksenija Sidorova, Avital will play a programme of Bartok, Bach and Piazzolla. They start in Dun Laoghaire's Pavilion Theatre.

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