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ÔObsceneÕ ballet inspires new work from superb CoisCeim

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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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

Judy Murphy

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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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Henshaw and McSharry set to field for Irish Wolfhounds in clash with England Saxons

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

CONNACHT’S rising stars Robbie Henshaw and Dave McSharry look set to named in the starting xv for the Ireland Wolfhounds who face the England Saxons in Galway this weekend when the team is announced later today (Thursday).

Robbie Henshaw is the only out-and-out full-back that was named Tuesday in the 23-man squad that will take on the English at the Sportsground this Friday (7.45pm).

Connacht’s centre McSharry and Ulster’s Darren Cave are the only two specialist centres named in the 23 man squad, which would also suggest the two youngsters are in line for a starting place.

Former Connacht out-half, Ian Keatley, Leinster’s second out-half Ian Madigan and Ulster’s number 10 Paddy Jackson and winger Andrew Trimble, although not specialist full-backs or centres, can all slot into the 12, 13 and 15 jerseys, however you’d expect the Irish management will hand debuts to Henshaw and McSharry given that they’ll be playing on their home turf.

Aged 19, Henshaw was still playing Schools Cup rugby last season. The Athlone born Connacht Academy back burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season when he filled the number 15 position for injured captain Gavin Duffy.

The Marist College and former Ireland U19 representative was so assured under the high ball, so impressive on the counter-attack and astute with the boot, that he retained the full-back position when Duffy returned from injury.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood should be commended for giving the young Buccaneers clubman a chance to shine and Henshaw has grasped that opportunity with both hands, lighting up the RaboDirect PRO 12 and Heineken Cup campaigns for the Westerners this season.

Henshaw has played in all 19 of Connacht’s games this season and his man-of-the-match display last weekend in the Heineken Cup against Zebre caught the eye of Irish attack coach, Les Kiss.

“We’re really excited about his development. He had to step into the breach when Connacht lost Gavin Duffy, and he was playing 13 earlier in the year. When he had to put his hand up for that, he’s done an exceptional job,” Kiss said.

The 22-year-old McSharry was desperately unlucky to miss out on Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad for the autumn internationals and the Dubliner will relish the opportunity this Friday night to show-off his speed, turn of foot, deft hands and finishing prowess that has been a mark of this season, in particular, with Connacht.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Drinks battle brewing as kettle sales go off the boil

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

You’d have thought there might have been three certainties in Irish life – death, taxes and the cup of tea – but it now seems that our post-tiger sophistication in endangering the consumption of the nation’s second favourite beverage.

Because with all of our new-fangled coffee machines, percolators, cappuccino and expresso makers, sales of the humble kettle are falling faster than our hopes of a write-off on the promissory note.

And even when we do make tea, we don’t need a tea pot – it’s all tea bags these days because nobody wants a mouthful of tea leaves, unless they’re planning to have their fortune told.

Sales of kettles are in decline as consumers opt for fancy coffee makers, hot water dispensers and other methods to make their beverages – at least that’s the case in the UK and there’s no reason to think it’s any different here.

And it’s only seems like yesterday when, if the hearth was the heart of every home, the kettle that hung over the inglenook fireplace or whistled gently on the range, was the soul.

You’d see groups gathered in bogs, footing turf and then breaking off to boil the battered old kettle for a well-earned break.

The first thing that happened when you dropped into someone’s home was the host saying: “Hold on until I stick on the kettle.”

When the prodigal son arrived home for the Christmas, first item on the agenda was a cup of tea; when bad news was delivered, the pain was eased with a cuppa; last thing at night was tea with a biscuit.

The arrival of electric kettles meant there was no longer an eternal search for matches to light the gas; we even had little electric coils that would boil water into tea in our cup if you were mean enough or unlucky enough to be making tea for one.

We went away on sun holidays, armed with an ocean of lotion and a suitcase full of Denny’s sausages and Barry’s Tea. Spanish tea just wasn’t the same and there was nothing like a nice brew to lift the sagging spirits.

We even coped with the arrival of coffee because for a long time it was just Maxwell House or Nescafe granules which might have seemed like the height of sophistication – but they still required a kettle.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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