The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Audible breath
Animated, Winter 2001. The reinvented Ireland of the 21st century is embracing change with alacrity and vigour. Ireland, geographically located on the edge of the continent, has become the hub for global advancement in software technology in Europe. Its rapid economic growth is breaking down the more traditional sets of values and circumstances that hitherto, we felt, somewhat shackled us, particularly within a wider international context. Yet, ironically, these very sets of values that many strove to reject, are now being considered afresh, in the hope of reinvigorating a sense of place and purpose in an increasingly homogenised, global society. Dance as an artform has a part to play as Mary Brady reflects

Broader considerations such as these have informed and affected our evolution into the Institute for Choreography and Dance (icd). We will always, I suspect, be known locally as 'the Firkin Crane', a reference to our building, a familiar (and beautiful) landmark in the city, but our present position and needs have many possible locations that render the Institute for Choreography and Dance a more apt description.

The location of icd, outside of the metropolitan capital and yet claiming national significance, creates challenges in the way we do things. We have resisted putting the words 'Irish' and 'national' in our new title. For the icd, a sense of place is reflected in the things we do, and in how we do them, rather more than simply in where we are sited. Our by-line is 'engineering opportunities for dance.' The processes of planning, design, construction, testing research models and piloting projects, necessitate continuous monitoring accompanied by critical feedback and space for reflection.

Establishing a specialist agency uniquely serving dance in this way has helped create new possibilities for fostering the artform in Ireland. Firkin Crane initially was inspired by a network of dedicated dance agencies abroad such as the Centres National Choreographiques in France and National Dance Development Agencies (NDAs) in England. (Links of mutual benefit could and would be forged with some of these agencies.)

'Safe house'- a term representative of the ethos of the NDAs - was adopted by Firkin Crane in its 1996 feasibility report as a means of describing a place where dance artists - the majority of whom were based in the metropolitan capital - might benefit from the ambitions of a new choreographic and research institute and which would position dance in Ireland in a dynamic (re)alignment with a full range of socio-cultural-economic relationships. This would enable the artform to benefit from a synergy of appropriate alliances locally, nationally and internationally.

The physical resource of the Firkin Crane building fortuitously presented additional opportunities for realising this ambition: a theatre space, several studios, a seminar room, auxiliary workshops and administrative offices. Its architectural shape, a rotunda, aptly depicts a sense of nurturing - a 'safe house' - a building that protects from the dangers outside, a refuge, a repository, a retreat to safer, more secure ground. Yet, whilst the image of a 'safe house' might have been appropriate as a means of defining a possible viable direction for development, it is one which was rapidly considered to be too 'isolationist' and 'hermetic'. In the current climate I believe it to be less useful to speak of bringing dance in from the margins to the centre. It is more relevant to imagine creating many centres for greater integration, permanent or transient, for particular dance works that are being undertaken, or for particular kinds of engagement that are being sought revolving round a hub of research.

With this in mind, the icd is developing multi-media documentation procedures and archival facilities anchored by a network of mentors, artists, educators and writers. On the back of its first publication, Writing Dancing, Righting Dance: Articulations on a Choreographic Process, written and compiled by Diana Theodores, icd is planning a writer-in-residence programme for 2001. The intention of this inaugural programme is to advance the art of choreography and dance in a process of collaboration with the art of writing. Research during the period will focus sharply on innovation in choreographic practice through a range of texts. It is envisaged as a synchronous process which will offer opportunities to expand writing on dance in Ireland whether focusing on issues of criticism journalism, reflection or record, issues of permanency or transience; and writing in dance as a part of dancemaking.

To realise our ambitions has required the specific targeting of resources - the results of which have, and will continue to be, open ended. From the outset a matrix of international interconnections has underpinned this. Funding from the European Union has permitted unprecedented growth in our education outreach programmes supported by a range of matching funding from agencies such as the Arts Council/Au Chomhairle Ealaion, Fas (a community employment scheme) and the Vocational Education Committee.

One such initiative commenced in 1996 and from small beginnings - just six young people and one choreographer from a local youth club - contacts were established through DanceEast (formerly Suffolk Dance), England (Jane Mooney and Wayne McGregor) with the House of Dance, Stockholm, Sweden (Jan Zetterberg And Maria Rydeen). The project has expanded, matured and continues to flourish beyond Firkin Crane's initial contacts and is illustrative of what can be achieved from a specific local intervention operating at international level through transnational contact and networking.

Since the initial link up, McGregor and his company, Random, have performed the Millennarium trilogy at the icd, and collaborated with 70 young Corkonians on Zerohertz which was shown at the Cork Opera House. This input (known as Youth Moves to Dance) has enabled young people from the local community to not only dance but to tour their work on a national (Cork, Belfast, Derry, Dublin) and international (Suffolk, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Porto/Gaia) scale. Yet it remains firmly rooted in the local neighbourhood and has become the foundation on which a site-specific dance work, Safe Harbour, is being prepared for Cork's 2001 midsummer festival under the artistic direction of New York-based Martha Bowers, Dance/Theatre/Etc. This year-long process will, through dance, actively confront contemporary issues such as urban renewal and the integration of asylum seekers.

During the early steps of its evolution towards an institute Firkin Crane established itself as a centre where professional dancework of a consistently high standard could be performed and be seen. This has subsequently, enabled us to capitalise on the informed dance interest that exists from our receptive audiences to bring international companies, as well as the best of Irish-based work, to the city.

Dance as an artform can only evolve if innovation is persistently allowed to challenge accustomed practice. The icd's professional programme continues to sharpen and deepen its focus on innovation in choreographic practice. Through such programmes as Righting Dance, our mentoring Time Out programme, and the travelling conference Conversations in Choreography, (previously held is Barcelona, 1999 and in Amsterdam, 1997), which deliberated perceptions of dance training and education and the processes and products of contemporary dancemaking, we are tackling issues of creative practice and training.

It is timely therefore for us to formulate clearly an international perspective. There is still much work to be done in building infrastructural support for dance training and for participation and access to the very best dance practice and expertise. But the slow haemorrhaging of dance talent abroad either to complete training or for the allure of work elsewhere is being tourniqueted.

We are currently in the process of setting up the first dance undergraduate training programme in Ireland to be based at Firkin Crane, under the auspices of the Irish Government's proposed Irish Academy for the Performing Arts (IAPA). Through professional dance, vocational training and education outreach programmes, we are committed to pursue not only the long held dream of Joan Denise Moriarity, but our own ambition to create dynamic interactions with our locality and peoples and regions far beyond.

Mary Brady, artistic director, Institute for Choreography and Dance (icd), Ireland. Contact +353 214 507487 or email maryb@instchordance.com

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001