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ÔObsceneÕ ballet inspires new work from superb CoisCeim

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Date Published: {J}

When David Bolger told his father, at the age of 16, that he wanted to be a professional dancer, his father didn’t bat an eye. It was in the 1980s, when there wasn’t much of a living to be made from professional dance in Ireland, but David’s father didn’t urge his son to follow a more conventional career path.

Instead, he said that the would-be dancer would have to take ballet classes. David didn’t see the need for this initially, but his father informed him that all the great dancers – including Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire – had studied ballet and it was the best possible training.

With that decision, he did his son – and the arts in Ireland – a service, because David, who is now best known as a choreographer, is one of the most important figures in dance in this country, mostly through his work with CoisCeim Dance Company which he co-founded 15 years ago.

His freelance CV is also hugely impressive and includes choreographing a show involving 75,000 people for the opening of the Special Olympics in 2003, as well as working with the English National Opera as director/choreographer on La Traviata. Closer to home he worked with Druid as choreographer for plays from Sive to the acclaimed Synge Cycle.

Now, to mark its 15th anniversary, CoisCeim is back touring the country with a new double bill featuring two dance pieces, As You Are, choreographed by Muirne Bloomer and Faun, choreographed by David Bolger. The two pieces are, according to David, separate but interconnected.

Faun was inspired by the controversial ballet created by Vaslav Nijinsky in 1912 in Paris for Les Ballet Rousses. L’apres-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of the Faun) flew in the face of accepted ballet practice at the time and caused a scandal. Part of this was because the dancers were performing in bare feet, with many of the movements rejecting the constraints of classical ballet. But it was the ending which really shocked, with newspaper allegations of obscenity, filth and bestiality.

“The last image of the faun pressing on the scarf in a masturbatory gesture almost upstaged what went before, which was the dancing in bare feet,” says David, adding that this work is partly the reason why Nijinsky is regarded as the father of modern dance. Nijinsky set his dance to music written in the 1890s by Debussy entitled Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. That in turn was inspired by an erotic poem, written in 1865 by Stéphane Mallarmé, which broke new ground in its use of symbolism.

“A faun, which has the legs of a goat and the torso of a human, wakes from his afternoon sleep and doesn’t know if he has imagined an encounter with two maidens he has kidnapped,” explains David of the poem’s plot. During a dreamlike monologue the faun discusses his encounters – real or imagined – with those nymphs.

“It’s a beautiful poem and the faun kind of thinks that the relationship isn’t real and the women are untouchable,” says the choreographer.

The faun was experiencing an awakening of sorts and that was one reason the piece appealed to David.

Nijinsky’s ballet continued to influence subsequent artists, with Queen’s version of I Want to Break Free featuring Freddie Mercury dressed as Nijinsky portraying a faun. The soundtrack of I Want to Break Free also features in Coisceim’s Faun. David Bolger is a Freddie Mercury fan and feels it links in perfectly with the piece.

But he is also interested to see if contemporary audiences can relate to the ballet which caused such controversy in 1912.

There were no live recordings of the original production, simply a series of 32 photos showing individual movements and these are recreated in Coisceim’s interpretation, but it’s not a reconstruction. “It’s almost like a modern photo shoot,” he says.

With this piece, David also poses a fundamental question: is it possible to shock people any more? That is asked by one of the dancers, and he says, it’s an important question because it challenges us to think about what does shock us in a world where we are being bombarded by images.

While Faun has a contemporary feel, it is also rooted in the past.

“I wanted to keep the mythological world of symbols and fauns and ask if we still believe in myths. Irish people are used to myths and folklore and even today there is superstition about things like fairy forts. Myths are still there to teach us things.”

Faun complements the other piece in this show, As You Are. This has been choreographed by CoisCeim regular Muirne Bloomer whose starting point is the notion of individualism and the difficulty of this in a world where we have to conform. She was partly inspired to create this as the mother of a seven-year-old boy.

“She has to say ‘don’t do this’ and ‘do that’ and he questions her and sometimes she has to say ‘because I say so’ and it dawned on her that by doing that, you are forcing imagination and the world of play out of a child. You have to conform to a certain way of living.”

For more, read page 29 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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