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Acclaimed dance show inspired by poetry and art

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“Yeats didn’t like the obvious and he wanted to push boundaries,” says choreographer Liz Roche, whose ground-breaking and critically acclaimed dance show, Bastard Amber, will be staged in Galway’s Town Hall Theatre tomorrow (Tuesday)

Presented by the Liz Roche Dance Company, it’s inspired by Yeats’ poem, Sailing to Byzantium, and the Gold Meditation paintings of artist Patrick Scott.

Bastard Amber is a co-production between The Abbey Theatre, Dublin Dance Festival and Liz’s own company, she explains.

The Liz Roche Company previously performed one of her pieces on the Abbey’s smaller Peacock stage in 2013, after which the Abbey’s artistic director Fiach Mac Conghail asked her to create a show for the main stage.

That meant Liz was the first Irish choreographer to be commissioned to create a full-length dance piece for Ireland’s national theatre.

“People have described it as ‘beautiful’,” she says, and certainly the reviews for Bastard Amber which conjures up an exotic Byzantine world, have been fantastic since it premiered at last year’s Dublin Dance Festival.

Liz had been a fan of Yeats since school, where she felt a connection with his poetry “and I didn’t connect with much at school”, she says.

He was central in establishing the Abbey as Ireland’s national theatre just over a century ago, and had always been an advocate of dance, she says. He wanted it to be part of Irish artistic life in the same way as theatre has become.

Yeats’ love of dance is apparent in poetry such as Among School Children, where he puts the dancer centre stage with the line ‘how can we know the dancer from the dance?’, she adds.

He was “sensitive around the body”, she observes, and the lines in Sailing to Byzantium which observe that “An aged man is but a paltry thing/A tattered coat upon a stick . . .” reflect that.

“Sailing to Byzantium always stood out for me, growing up”, says Liz, adding that her aunt, an English teacher, used to discuss the poem with her so there was a really strong connection.

From in his 1928 collection, The Tower, it was written by Yeats “in later life when he was thinking about death and where he would be going”, says Liz.

There’s a sense of “him not knowing what would happen, but he’s going there anyway”, adds the choreographer.

“He is taking a journey into the imagination, getting rid of the body and sailing off into Byzantium, which had been renowned as a great place of culture and economy.”

In the poem, Yeats makes several references to gold – hammered gold, gold enamelling, a gold mosaic and a golden bough. These offered Liz a link with pioneering artist Patrick Scott, which came about almost by accident, she says.

“I knew about his art but not about his gold paintings. Through a friend I discovered more about his work and met him briefly before he died [in 2014],” she explains.

After Scott’s death, Liz spoke to his partner, Eric, about her Yeats dance project and asked if it would be possible for Scott’s work be a part of it, specifically the “Gold Meditation paintings which are very clear and very simple”.

He agreed, and these are “now almost part of the set design”, she says. “They are gold against a black background with clear lines and very beautiful.”

She then worked with set designer Paul Wills, lighting designer Lee Curran, and with Catherine Fay on costumes.  Ray Harman composed the music and is one of four live performers who provides the score.

The dancers are the most crucial element of Bastard Amber and Liz has worked with performers from Ireland, France and the UK to create the piece.

That involved in-depth analysis of the poem and Yeats’ lines such as the one about his heart being “fastened to a dying animal”, which created the picture of a person trying to break free of their body.

The troupe of nine (including Liz) also explored the eastern philosophies which he embraced later in life, and have incorporated Sufi dance into the piece. The preparation also involved watching the Peter Brooks film Meetings with Remarkable Men to explore sacred dances and the energy that can be held in the pattern of a dance, she says.

“Sailing to Byzantium is used as the structure [of the dance piece] from start to finish but in an abstract way, as if you are intuiting the poem. The best thing to do is sit there and let the images wash over you.”

Like Yeats, Liz wants to push boundaries by letting the dancers represent the energy of the piece, capturing its restlessness, its meditative nature and ultimately its peace.

And she’s delighted to have the opportunity.

“You don’t often get to make a piece of this size in Ireland because of the cost. Everyone came on board for it and it’s brilliant to have this opportunity.”

Bastard Amber will be in Galway’s Town Hall Theatre on Tuesday (November 15) at 8pm as part of a nationwide tour. Tickets: €20/€16 from 091 569777 or online.

CITY TRIBUNE

Artists offering unique tour of Galway

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Quay Street by Fiona Bradley.

The Artist’s Eye on Galway is a new project involving work from 46 artists from Ireland, the UK and USA, all at various stages in their careers, which offers a unique, artistic tour of the city and county.

Led by a team of local artists, and co-ordinated by Terri Kelleher, the project is being supported by independent publisher, Ballinderreen-based Hoogledorf Press, which is publishing a book of the same name, containing images of all the artworks.

The project is also being supported by Galway Artist’s Forum, a social networking resource for artists and arts events locally, explains Terri.

The paintings are included in a 144-page, hardback book that’s designed to offer a virtual tour of local landmarks and scenery. This tour begins in Galway City and travels to South Galway, before  passing through areas east of the River Corrib and continuing on to Connemara.

The publication, The Artist’s Eye on Galway, also has a large section dedicated to the participants, as well as photos and statements about them and their work.

The book and accompanying exhibition will be officially launched in the city’s Galmont Hotel this coming Monday, July 4, at 7.30pm and the artworks will be available to view in the hotel from then until Wednesday, July 6.

Artists taking part in the project include Barrie Maguire, Sarah Murphy, Joan Finnegan, Linda Kennedy, Suzanne Kearney, Michael Moore, Dubravka Drenski, Alicja Natalicz,  Belinda Fair, Neal Whelan, Bridget Ryan, Fiona Bradley, Carol Feeney, Attracta Carbery, Cathal O’Malley, Róisín Ní Ghuidhír,  and Hank Weisbecker.

A full list of participants and more information on the publication is available at www.artistseyebooks.com.

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CITY TRIBUNE

As the Crow Flies opens at Oughterard Courthouse

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As the Crow Flies, a collaborative exhibition from artists Caroline McFadden and Susanne Keane, will open in Oughterard this Friday evening, July 1, from 7-9pm, as part of the Oughterard Courthouse Arts Programme (OCAP).

It’s a series of sculptures and paintings from the artists whose work reflects their connection with nature and their local landscape.

Susanne Keane is an abstract sea- and landscape artist whose paintings and drawings capture bog and marshes, hills, lakes and the sea.

Her vibrant palette aims to recreate the sense of wonder and magic that people experience when in nature. Susanne, who studied Art & Design and Fine Art at GMIT, has held numerous solo exhibitions and has participated in group shows and community events.

Caroline McFadden, who studied Fine Art part-time in GMIT for five years, practises ‘Authentic Movement’, which involves movement as a method of self-exploration and well-being.

The nature sculptures in this show came about following an exercise she was given in 2019, when she was asked to represent her ‘inner witness’. Caroline had a growing urge to work with her hands and to transform found nature objects into sculptures.

As the Crow Flies will run until Sunday, July 10, from Monday to Saturday, 10am-5pm, and on Sundays from 12pm-5pm.  All are welcome.

Further information from www.ocap.ie.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Eclectic show from Belfast winners of Turner Prize comes to Galway

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The exhibition includes an installation entitled The Drúthaib’s Ball, based on the notion of a síbín or illegal bar

Work from Belfast’s Array Collective, which won the 2021 Turner Prize for art in Britain will be shown in Galway City this August and September

It’s being presented by Galway Arts Centre and marks the first exhibition of this show in Ireland.

The Array Collective, which won the prestigious Turner Prize, is a group of 11 Belfast-based artists from all parts of Ireland, as well as from England and Italy. They live and work in Belfast, creating collaborative projects in response to issues affecting Northern Ireland and other issues, including access to abortion, gay rights, mental health, gentrification and social welfare.

Their work encompasses performances, protests, exhibitions and events. Each member has an individual artistic practice, but they won the Turner Prize as a collective – becoming the first artists from Northern Ireland to win it.

The Turner Prize, a highlight of Britain’s contemporary art calendar, is awarded to artist/s who are from Britain or are based there, for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work.

The National Museums of Northern Ireland, who acquired this work for their permanent collection at the Ulster Museum, have loaned it to Galway Arts Centre.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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