ON Culture Night on September 21, Cork-based Croí Glan Integrated Dance Company will perform its latest work, An Outside Understanding at Cork County Library. They premiere the work at the Dublin Fringe Festival this evening (September 13). The piece has been choreographed by Liz Roche, mixing film and music with live dance.
Croí Glan Integrated Dance Company is a professional contemporary dance company which performs work that includes both disabled and non-disabled dancers. The company has earned a reputation for its commitment to integrated innovative dance, working with leading choreographers from Ireland and abroad. An Outside Understanding is a 20-minute duet with Mary Nugent, who has a disability, and Dawn Mulloy, an able-bodied dancer.
“For me, working with Mary and Dawn, has been a different experience,” says Roche. “I had never worked in a situation with mixed ability so it was very challenging, in a good way, and interesting. Dawn and Mary (both directors of Croí Glan) have a long relationship of dancing together. I was interested in capturing how they devise work together and how they deal with me on top of that. I’ve said what I would like to happen. The three of us then worked out a way of achieving that.
“The piece we’ve devised is very quiet, intimate in places and soft. We’re looking at the idea of being on the outside, looking in at something, using the image of a moving train. The audience is going to sit in silence so the images are a way of giving them windows into the piece. It’s also to put people at ease. It’s more of an experience than a narrative between the two dancers.”
As Roche says, a lot of images emerge from the piece. “It’s also about relationships between women and there’s a bit of a power struggle going on. There is also a slightly improvised feeling to the piece. That’s because it’s important that when they’re working together, they have to wait for things to happen. It takes a bit of time and I think it creates a nice energy. The energy is really palpable.”
Roche says she tried not to make Nugent’s disability a big focus. “When I’m asking for possibilities in movement, both dancers are dealing with the same task. I might ask them to create movements that are related to turning or partnering. What their bodies can do filters through.”
Mulloy, who studied experimental dance at the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance for three years and trained as a ballet dancer in Ireland for 15 years, interprets An Outside Understanding as being “about the differences in human nature and how we’re perceived.
“Some people perceive disability in a very old fashioned way. We’re trying to give audiences a different view. For much of this piece, Mary is not in her wheelchair. There’s a section in the duet where we’re linked so I’m her support. It’s challenging. There’s a lot of brainwork in this piece. We have specific cues and have to be in the right spot at the right moment. If one of us forgets, the wheelchair could fall over.”
Appreciating the abilities of people with disability is an important offshoot of the piece, says Mulloy. “It’s good timing, having seen our team do so well in the Paralympics. I’d hope perception might shift a little more as a result of it. I wouldn’t call people’s perceptions negative. I’d go more along the line that it’s just ignorance. But we’re slowly getting to the point where disability is being better understood.”
Nugent has Athetoid Cerebral Palsy “which means I have involuntary movements. An Outside Understanding is a challenging piece as it requires me to have extra focus on my balance in addition to the regular challenges of remembering everything I have to do.”
Nugent’s disability limits her in terms of dance “to a small extent. But we – myself and my colleagues – usually find a way around it. Or I figure out a way to do it. Dance, without a doubt, enhances my mobility.”
There are plans to tour the piece to galleries and theatres around Ireland. “We’ll be using some alternative type spaces,” says Roche. “I’m hoping that will encourage people who are a bit nervous of dance to go and see it. Watching the Paralympics has really raised awareness of what’s possible.”