Interview with John Scott – Dancer from the Dance: Festival of Irish Choreography – Part 1
John Scott of Irish Modern Dance Theatre curates a New Festival of Irish Dance called ‘Dancer from the Dance: Festival of Irish Choreography’. We got the chance to ask him some questions about the new festival. You can see the results below.
Where did the idea for another dance festival come from? What differentiates this from the main festival?
As an Irish choreographer, living and working in Ireland but also looking outwards, I am interested and sometimes infuriated by other people’s assumptions of what Irish dance is and what it should be and who is Irish. As a choreographer who performs my work abroad a lot, I’m continually asked about ‘Irish Dance’. I wanted to bring Irish choreographers from diverse backgrounds and work practices together to be observed – or maybe to challenge the assumptions – particularly internationally – about Irishness. The festival name – Dancer from the Dance – comes from W B Yeat’s poem, ‘Among School Children’, and places nine choreographers identified as Irish onstage in two programmes. While all are ‘Irish’, one choreographer is based in New York, one born in Nigeria but raised in Trim, Co Meath, one born in Barbados, one born in London of Irish parents, five born in Ireland. For me, the definition of ‘Irishness is broad, Northern and Southern Ireland are one, I include the diaspora and the new Irish who have arrived in the last 20 years and working in an Irish sensibility and environment. I’ve been working with refugees for 16 years. Being Irish no longer means being white, with pale skin. Dancer from the Dance focuses on short works by choreographers who identify as Irish. I particularly wanted to subvert the received notion of Irish dance and Irish identity. The Ireland that I live and work in is a diverse place and the Irish people I know are of many different skin colours and outlooks. One of my signature works: ‘Fall and Recover’ features 13 dancers of 10 nationalities who now identify as Irish. The festival is positioned on the question of what is Irish dance and what is an Irish dancing body? We are holding an open panel discussion at Dance House with a varied group of ‘Irish’ people, including Mariam Ribon, director of Dublin Youth Dance Company, who is witnessing the emergence of the next generation of dancers. Most are born in Ireland but with differing ethnic origins. The Irish body is evolving! Another panelist, Darrah Carr, is an Irish American step/tap/contemporary dancer, Kiribu, a refugee from East Africa who dances when she is sad and happy to be with the spirits of her murdered ancestors. Dr Aoife Mc Grath, choreographer and academic has written about Irish dance and also creates work. I don’t think I have an answer to the question myself but it’s a question I am often asked and it’s important it is discussed. In the New York festival in April, the New York Times dance writer, Siobhan Burke moderated the talk. One observer noted a common thread was the use of words and speech in many of the works. In Dublin, Michael Seaver, Dance Critic for The Irish Times will moderate. Since Ireland is famous for its writers and text based drama, it’s time for dance and the body to come more into focus.
We are also showing rarely seen dance films by Irish dancemakers and holding workshops and masterclasses ranging from percussive dance to Merce Cunningham based contemporary.
I wanted to create a bridge between Irish choreographers in New York and Ireland, putting them together on stage. I have a lot of dialogues with dance artists based in New York and have created several of my works between New York and Ireland. New York is almost my second spiritual home. Irish Modern Dance theatre performs most of our works there and I’ve brought many New York choreographers and artists to Ireland, including Sarah Rudner, Meredith Monk, John Jasperse, Adrienne Truscott, Michelle Boule, Kyle Abraham, Chris Yon, Sean Curran. New York is still the most important centre of dance in the world. Until recently, Ireland had very little happening in contemporary dance but now, thanks to the persistence of Irish dance artists and support from structures including Dance Ireland, Dance Limerick, Dublin Dance Festival, Project Arts Centre, Echo Echo, and funding from the Arts Council, Dublin City Council and Culture Ireland, there are a lot of really great dance artists pursuing their own dance voices.
In 2017, IMDT performed Merce Cunningham’s ‘Night Wandering’ at 92nd Y at Harkness Dance Center, an iconic New York dance venue, where Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Merce Cunningham and Alvin Ailey worked. Catherine Tharin, their head of dance programming was curious to know more about contemporary Irish Choreographers and particularly about Choreographers who had not previously been seen in New York. When I described how many Irish choreographers are currently active, she invited me by to curate three festivals of Irish choreography over three years, starting in 2019. We met with Aidan Connelly, Director and Rachael Gilkey, Dance and theatre programmer of the Irish Arts Centre, who pledged their support, creating an exciting collaboration between myself, Irish Arts Center and 92Y. Back home, Dance Ireland and Project Arts Centre embraced the idea and we established an Irish edition of the festival. So we have a festival that takes place in both New York and Ireland, supported by important institutions.
I wanted to show the diversity of current Irish choreographic practice. I also wanted to include American and other international choreographers who identify as Irish. I approached choreographers on both sides of the Atlantic. US choreographers included Darrah Carr, who experiments with sean nos, tap and contemporary styles, Sean Curran, who choreographed for Irish Modern Dance Theatre and was a long time member of Bill T Jones and Arnie Zane dance theatre in New York and is head of the dance dep. of the prestigious NYU Tisch school and Jean Butler, a very brave and curious artist exploring new ways to work with her dance heritage. The Irish choreographers whose backgrounds and practices are excitingly diverse included Oona Doherty, Mary Nunan, Aoife McAtamney, Dylan Quinn, Liam Ó Scanláin and Mufutau Yusuf, born in Nigeria, raised in Trim, Justine Doswell, born in Barbados, living in Ireland for 25 years.
Dancer from the Dance: Festival of Irish Choreography runs from July 1 – 4, 2 with public stage performances at Project Arts Centre on Tue 2 and Wed 3 July – further info: https://projectartscentre.ie/event/dancer-from-the-dance-festival-of-irish-choreography/
Full details of the festival are here.