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Ireland is modern.

IRELAND HAS changed remarkably," wrote Diana Theodores. "It has gone from being an agricultural, almost third-world economy steeped in Catholicism and nationalism to suddenly being the hot spot in Europe, full of technological advances within a global economy." Theodores, Ireland's first regular dance critic, who wrote for the Sunday Tribune from 1985-1992, describes Ireland's recent economic growth as "having been the beneficiary of European Union money, and savvy tax laws that have encouraged foreign companies to invest, There is reverse emigration, as loads of Irish are coming back now that the country is so prosperous."


According to Theodores, increased prosperity has led to a boom in arts funding that did not exist during her tenure at the Sunday Tribune. At that time, she covered dance as an art form in settings ranging from ceilis (social dance and music evenings) to fledgling companies, to ballet schools on dairy farms. "It was a very interesting and eccentric mix that has now been transformed," she recalls. "Ireland has always had pioneers, people who have been working for twenty-plus years to make a contemporary dance culture, but they were on the margins. Now dance is more mainstream."

One such pioneer is Loretta Yurick, co-artistic director of Dance Theatre of Ireland, a contemporary dance company based in Don Laoghaire, County Dublin. "The progression of dance is like being in a recording studio," says Yurick. "Many tracks carry the development of the art, but real success lies in the balance or mixture."

Although Yurick is American born, she and her husband, Robert Connor (who also directs the company), have made Ireland their home since 1979. At that time, there were only two tracks for professional dancers--the Irish National Ballet, headed by Joan Denise Moriarty, and Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre, founded by Joan Davis. Yurick and Connor worked with Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre until Ireland's Arts Council withdrew funding from both in the late 1980s.

"The budget cuts were an attempt to say, 'We have companies, but no infrastructure,'" says Irish choreographer Mary Nunan, who joined Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre in 1981. "The cuts set forth a scattering of energy. People had to start over and come up with new initiatives." Although ballet has struggled to regain a foothold ever since, contemporary dancers have been diligently laying down numerous tracks, which have recently generated an exciting buzz in the Irish ads scene.


Nunan founded Daghdha Dance Company (named after a benevolent Celtic god) in the southwestern city of Limerick in 1988. Yurick and Connor began the Dance Theatre of Ireland in 1989, and in the same year, the pair joined other dancers in developing the Association of Professional Dancers in Ireland. Originally conceived as a collective of dancers who met for daily class, the APDI has evolved into the country's primary resource organization for dance. It lobbies the government for funding, serves as a public advocate for the art form, and provides dancers with choreographic mentor programs, guest artist workshops, and information on tax and social welfare issues.

APDI rounding member John Scott started his Irish Modern Dance Theatre in 1991, while David Bolger founded CoisCeim Dance Theatre ("coisceim" is Irish for "footstep") in 1995. Throughout the 1990s, these young companies were buoyed by continual increases in funding from the Arts Council, which in turn was fed by the much larger economic boron that Theodores mentioned, which came to be known as the Celtic Tiger.

Enabled by multi-annual funding schemes, Dance Theatre of Ireland went on to open a new dance center in Dun Laoghaire in 2000, while CoisCeim renovated a studio in Dublin's city center in 2001. A new building featuring artists' accommodations and five studios is also currently being constructed in the city center.

The city of Limerick has given Daghdha Dance Company an old church and an adjacent building that it will use for studios and informal performances, and a cafe for its 150 dance students. Meanwhile, the University of Limerick Foundation is raising money for a new performing arts venue for the Irish World Music Centre. The IWMC, which is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary, launched the country's first Masters in Dance programs in 1999. The Masters of Arts in Traditional Irish Dance Performance is directed by Catherine Foley, PhD, while the Masters of Arts in Contemporary Dance Performance is headed by Nunan (who left Daghdha Dance Company to do so).

Dublin's Project Arts Centre, the most significant performance venue for contemporary work, which predates the current wave of artistic activity, opened the doors of its new building in June 2000. Artistic director Willie White is a big supporter of contemporary dance companies, such as Catapult Dance Theatre, and of the growing number of independent choreographers. The Dublin Fringe Festival, which began in 1995, uses the Project Arts Centre as its main venue during its three weeks of fall performances. According to director Vallejo Gantner, twenty to thirty percent of its programs are dance-based.


The Dublin Fringe Festival draws an audience of about 50,000 and plays a crucial role in exposing the public to contemporary dance works of both Irish and international choreographers. This favorable climate for dance has given rise to a separate biennial festival. Launched in May 2002, the Dublin International Dance Festival presented sixteen companies, with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company leading the bill. Plans for May 2004 feature the Mark Morris Dance Group and Rosas, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's company.

John Scott's Irish Modern Dance Theatre also has taken the lead in inviting international choreographers to Ireland. Scott has commissioned works from Sean Curran and John Jasperse, and has hosted workshops with Meredith Monk.

Despite the proliferation of activity, the Irish contemporary dance scene is not without problems, chiefly the lack of dance training, which forces dancers to leave Ireland, and, usually, to stay away. Theodores says that "Ireland needs a major training ground for dancers--an academy, a conservatory, or a center. Now it is either a do-it-yourself mentality or yon get your training by leaving." Funding was also a problem during 2003, when companies across the board suffered budget cuts. The APDI estimates that about a thousand jobs in the arts were lost. Fortunately, the Arts Council has received a nineteen percent increase in funding for 2004, bringing the total arts allocation to 52.5 million Euros (approximately $65 million).

Given the nascent contemporary dance scene, it also can be a challenge for choreographers to build an audience base. According to Theodores, "Irish audiences are still largely conservative and unpracticed in looking at dance." In a country whose cultural output has been dominated by literary giants such as William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce, there is some reluctance to embrace a non-narrative, abstract form like contemporary dance.

Furthermore, Ireland's history of staunch Catholicism has traditionally seen the body as suspect, and this has long had a repressive effect on the way people felt about the body and how they displayed it. "It is a very puritanical country," says Theodores. "The body politic has been repressed in Ireland. Its history has been forged by great writers, orators, and wordsmiths."

Although contemporary dance as a performing art has not bloomed until recently, traditional music and dance are deeply ingrained in Irish culture. And now, according to the APDI, a greater awareness of dance and more leisure time have led many people to seek dance classes. These connections exemplify what Michael Seaver, dance critic for The Irish Times, calls a bottoms-up approach. The commercial success of Riverdance, which drew upon familiar Irish traditions, helped ignite the idea of dance as performance within the public imagination.

The fact that multiple networks and overlapping tracks exist in Ireland now is evidence of the incredible work a handful of choreographers have done since the funding cuts some fifteen years ago. They've created a small but growing situation where, according to Seaver, "It is a lot easier to do work and get work funded in Dublin than in New York, London, or Paris. There is an opportunity to slake your claim and be part of something."

Darrah Carr is a New York-based writer, choreographer, and teacher active in both the Irish and modern dance communities.













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Title Annotation:boom in arts funding benefitting dance
Author:Carr, Darrah
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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