Putting ballet on stronger footing

Romeo and Juliet: a tragic love story that will have a modern twist for Galway audiences.
Romeo and Juliet: a tragic love story that will have a modern twist for Galway audiences.

Lifestyle – Dance is a poor relation when it comes to funding. But Ballet Ireland, which brings a critically-acclaimed version of Romeo and Juliet to Galway this month, is overcoming such adversities. Judy Murphy hears their story.

Paul O’Connell isn’t someone whose name you’d expect to come up in conversation while chatting with one of Ireland’s leading ballet figures, Anne Maher. But O’Connell’s name does come up – for the simple reason that rugby players and ballet dancers have more in common than might first seem likely.

“I was reading his autobiography last year, and I completely understood when he wrote about the fact that, as he grew older, and had a better understanding about and intelligence of the game, his body was beginning to let him down,” says Anne, recalling her own experience in her mid-30s as her dance career was coming to an end.

“The older you get, the more conscious you are of what you are doing. You are better at interpreting roles and your stagecraft is honed and developed.”

But while an older dancer might be at her peak in terms of knowing how to express herself, “physically, you are in decline”.

And, she says, Paul O’Connell captured that conflict perfectly in his book: “the intelligence of reading a game” and knowing what to do with his body”, while at the same time his body’s ability to perform was diminishing.

“Either you become bitter and twisted, or you suck it up and get on with it,” she remarks of this great “travesty”.

Like Paul O’Connell, Anne Maher got on with it.

Anne is the director and co-founder of Ballet Ireland, which will be coming to Galway later this month with its critically acclaimed show Romeo and Juliet – their version has relocated Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers into a modern secondary school.

Anne isn’t the choreographer – that job belongs to Morgann Runacre-Temple, but as Artistic Director, the former dancer keeps a watching brief on rehearsals and is on hand to help out and give feedback. After our interview, she’s heading off to direct a ballroom scene involving one of the feuding families, the Capulets “which has the infamous piece of music that everyone knows as being the theme from the Apprentice”, she says, referring to the composition of Sergei Prokofiev, whose music provides the score for this production.

Anne brings vast experience to the task.

As a professional dancer, she worked in the UK and in Europe, as principal ballerina with Wiener Ballet Theatre in Austria. Her roles included Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Queen of the Wills in Giselle.

When her dancing career was coming to an end, Anne who had lived away from home for most of her life, decided to return to Dublin and set up a dance company.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.