Interview with Liz Roche – Totems – National Gallery – 6th – 9th July 2017
We had the chance to talk to choreographer Liz Roche about Totems, a new dance piece that will be performed within the National Gallery this week, from the 6th to the 9th of July. It promises to be a unique occasion, so don’t miss it! You can see the results below.
This is a wonderful idea to celebrate the reopening of the gallery. How did this project come about?
We approached the director of the National Gallery of Ireland, Sean Rainbird last year with an idea for a new work and to see if he would be interested in presenting it at the gallery. Sean suggested the timing of the piece to coincide with the re-opening celebrations and we were happy to go with that. I have wanted to make a new work in a gallery setting for quite some time now and had been looking for opportunities to do that. So, it was a good moment for all parties to come together.
Galleries are often seen as places of quiet contemplation. Do you see this as a chance to bring life and movement into them?
I see this as a chance to combine both – to be aware of the energy in the space and work with it while enjoying bringing something new in there. There is great movement and energy captured in so many of the paintings in the National Gallery collection so they are a perfect backdrop. And because in general they are so representational they somehow allow the dance to be more abstract. This allows me to look at the dancers in a different light. In the first part of Totems the dancers identities are obscured by the costumes they are wearing, designed by Catherine Fay. I want the audience to look beyond gender categories and labels for a time and see the body in a different way; as something that is not so fixed and therefore could be experienced as symbols, shapes, or “organisations” as such. The group of dancers I am working with on Totems are very experienced and intuitive performers so I really trust how they perform the piece. I have worked before with some of the group on many pieces– Katherine O’Malley, Liv O’Donoghue, Henry Montes and Marc Stevenson, and then I’m delighted to be working with two new dancers Gloria Ros Abellana and Miguel Do Vale. It’s a really great company of dancers, I feel very lucky to have them.
I think that sometimes the head space that you are in when you are in an art gallery is also a great space to be in when watching contemporary dance. Walking through a gallery I feel that it is the exchange between me and the art on the wall that brings it all to life. You are somehow more aware of your own self maybe than you would be in a darkened auditorium. And of course, I can see the picture and the picture can see me. It’s all very equal and open.
Is the performance inspired by the art, or what was the inspiration?
The idea that we, as people, are made up of layers of knowledge, stories, experiences, projections and realities is the inspiration for Totems. Advertising likes to tell us that we are all individual and unique and of course, in many ways we are, but people have a lot more in common with each other than they like to believe. In a gallery, I think you come in contact with those realisations of being part of shared systems of thinking or belief – how you respond to certain artworks bolsters your own sense of what you believe in and how you see your world.
In the rehearsal process we did work with some of the better known paintings that live in the Gallery, trying them out physically to see how they felt from the inside, if that’s possible. But very quickly we moved into improvising with those images in a looser fashion in order to find something new for us in them. The embodiment of the paintings became much more of a springboard for new dynamics to emerge.
The performance is listed as taking place in the Shaw Room and Grand Gallery. Will the dancers travel through the gallery?
The piece travels between the two spaces. It’s the intention that what the audience meets in the first space remains with them as they move into the second space so they can draw comparisons between what they are seeing in each room. I want the audience to notice the different ways and contexts in which they are seeing. The music is performed live by Ray Harman on electric guitar, Mary Barnecutt on cello and Doug Sheridan on bass and they will travel with the dancers throughout the spaces. They are also playing other instruments and singing, as the music is taking its influences from different folk and classical sources.
How does the space alter how the dancers are able to perform? What difference does the lack of a sprung floor make?
We have had to take those limitations into consideration and adapt the piece accordingly. The best solution has been a certain amount of padding in their costumes to soften the hard floors. We’ve built all of these restrictions into the movement material so a big job for the dancers is to find a way through that. Also the music is not amplified to a great degree which allows the musicians a certain amount of freedom but also they have had to work hard to get the best sound out of their instruments.
Is this the most unusual space you have performed in? Have you any ambitions to put on a production anywhere else unusual?
I’ve made pieces for gallery spaces before so I’m aware of how respectful you must be of the space you are working in. There is an element of letting go of the usual control of the space that you would expect in a theatre. I’ve had my work performed in galleries before, also in Clery’s shop window – which was a great spot! Last year I directed Embodied at the GPO Witness History Museum for Dublin Dance Festival. That programme of work presented 6 solos by female choreographers inspired by the proclamation.
What are your memories of going to the National Gallery as a child?
I’m not sure I ever went to the National Gallery as a child, I can’t remember if I did, but I do remember being in a show in the Shaw Room when I was about 15. It was for a performance that re-enacted the painting of “The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife”. Dressed as a maiden of some sort, the big challenge was for a gang of us to walk down the stone staircases in pointe shoes without killing ourselves!
The space then felt very much like something that belonged to an older generation. A bit stuffy. Having seen the recent refurbishment that is something you could never think about the National Gallery now. It is so completely full of light – it’s absolutely inspiring.
Choreographer: Liz Roche
Performers: Henry Montes, Glòria Ros Abellana, Miguel Do Vale, Marc Stevenson, Liv O’Donoghue, Katherine O’Malley
Music Composition & Performance: Ray Harman, Mary Barnecutt, Doug Sheridan
Costumes: Catherine Fay
Venue: The National Gallery of Ireland, The Shaw Room & The Grand Gallery
Dates: Thurs 6th, Fri 7th, Sat 8th, Sun 9th July
Times: Thurs 6th & Fri 7th July, 7pm, Fri 7th, Sat 8th & Sun 9th July, 1pm
Duration: 55 mins (no interval)
Cost: €15 full price / €13 conc.
Book with the National Gallery of Ireland https://www.nationalgallery.ie/whats-on