Leaving work Friday I meandered my way into the heart of Limerick city, to Johns Square, a hauntingly contradictory corner of the city both lost to time and nurtured by the present. It is a stone and history filled square in the centre of town, managing to both adapt to current needs and uses whilst retaining its long ago created beauty. I love this part of town, especially when the setting sun hits the cool stone just right that long shadows dance between grave stones and whispers of what was can almost be heard. As I stood in the grave yard, surrounded by head stones and monuments of those long forgotten I was reminded how transformative a little care can be. Care was given to this ancient church, this once abandoned structure, time was put into ensuring it was not swallowed whole by the destruction of neglect. Creativity and an open mind was focused on reinvention and the outcome is one of quiet balance. A simplicity and spiritual reverence that has created a functional and beautiful place, a merging of what was and what is now.
This particular evening what brought me to this special spot was a workshop dance performance. The ‘STEP UP: Dance Project is an intuitive formed by the Arts Council of Ireland, Dance Ireland, Dance Limerick and the University of Limerick. It aims to give newly graduated contemporary dancers the opportunity and invaluable experience of performing under the guidance of incredible choreographers and masters of their art. This particular programme presented a piece entitled ‘Crom Dubh’ (meaning black and crocked one) choreographed by the immeasurably talented and passionate Michael Keegan. I happened to be sitting behind him during the performance and the entire duration of the piece saw him immersed and alive. He undulated with the music, laughed along with the humor, felt every motion and emotion and was as mesmerizing to watch as the performers themselves.
Walking into this free performance I really didn’t have any expectations beyond feeling as excited as I always do to witness live art. From the opening foot stomping, heart achingly emotive rhythmic poem I was lost. I fell into the performance and was utterly captivated. I can honestly say that this particular showcase moved me deeply and hit a very raw nerve I wasn’t aware was even exposed. Straight away there was visceral and accumulating atmosphere that gathered and pulled, hurdled me into the programme. There was such a grounded driving force, a sorrowful hunger and yearning for light. A musical anguish that played with joy, toyed with freedom, sang of love, fear, courage, individuality and pain. The programme soared one minute, lept with the beat of a drum and the pluck of a banjo then hit hard and fast back down, bare and blatantly honest, unashamedly exposed were the deepest cores of the dancers, their shames, insecurities and desires. The cast were bound throughout, first in opposition then by means of an expressively raw journey a change was seen, a development both individually and collectively. Burdens were shared and harmonies lead the group into a final chorus of powerful celebration.
The piece spoke of an ancient time, it was inspired by a very primitive expression, a belief in beyond and a trust outside yourself. Crom Dubh is the name given to the largest stone in a circle of 113 stones that have stood at Lough Gur, County Limerick for the last 3000 years. Crom Dubh is the pre-Christian, Pre-Celtic God, a God of seed and harvest and a God of fertility. The piece performed showed the weight of its inspiration, was rooted in heritage and a feeling of a long lost freedom of self and comfort in your body. This I find is a primary theme of contemporary dance and especially in watching this performance, this form of dance really is about connectivity, being in tune with ones self and not holding anything back or allowing anything to hold you back. The music lilted with nods to west Africa, America and a powerful embrace of Irish culture. The music melted into the movement and together entwined they created one expression, one message and a performance that was painfully honest and healingly restorative.
On evenings like this when location and event come together in such a way that the term unforgettable comes to mind I am reminded that the unexpected is often the most rewarding. I had no expectations and as a result I was pushed back in my seat, covered by goosebumps and captivated beyond recent compare. I was really impressed by this programme and give credit to the choreographer for creating something so in tune and in balance that I left feeling elated with inspiration and a refreshed sense of awareness. The dancers too must be praised for being free with themselves that really created a memorable experience, their talent as dancers is undeniable but it was their honesty as people that struck me most. This year sees Limerick as the city of culture and for this the city is benefiting beyond belief. Cultural events not only aid the economy of a city but more importantly the soul of a place. This piece reminded me of struggle and pain, hard work, joy and freedom. How balance takes effort and culture needs preservation.
On a slight aside, its funny how one art form can influence another. Dance will always be integral to my being but also I find writing to be a core part of my self expression. This evening when I sat down to put into words what I felt and experience Friday evening at the performance, I found myself looking at the few photos I took and then suddenly drawing. I know sketching is not something I am well practiced with but it is something that at times I turn to and at times can focus my thoughts and myself. In the spirit of honesty I decided to share what I doodled, it was more of an unconscious exercise as I reflected on the experience than a creation of any kind but I thought it interesting to see how different mediums can combine and work together from one inspiration.