Rich tribute to Moriarty

Joan Denise Moriarty:Ireland’s First Lady of Dance

Ruth Fleischmann (ed)

Cork City Libraries; €10

Review: Jo Kerrigan

The unique contribution of Joan Denise Moriarty to the creation and culture of ballet and ballet appreciation in this country has been recognised for some time now.

Dr Fleischmann has already published in this field (Joan Denise Moriarty: Founder of Irish National Ballet — Material for a History of Dance in Ireland. Mercier Press, 1998). This new publication, however, is more in the nature of a festschrift; that is, a volume of essays by both colleagues and admirers, serving as a tribute of memorial to the individual thus honoured. 2012 is being celebrated as the centenary of this remarkable one-woman powerhouse, and the book is thus appropriately timed.

Dr Fleischmann, whose father, the composer Aloys, collaborated with JDM for almost half a century providing both scores and orchestra for her productions, contributes the introductory chapter in which she summarises the rocky and challenging road by which Moriarty battled her way to recognition for and appreciation of ballet throughout Ireland.

There is a moving tribute from former principal and artistic director, Domy Reiter-Soffer, who came to Cork as a young dancer and remained to work with Moriarty and Irish Theatre Ballet for many years.

A brief history of the Cork Ballet Company, which gave annual week-long performances at the Opera House is supplied by Monica Gavin, while Patricia Crosbie gives fascinating details of the later, professional companies, in which she witnessed the creation of such groundbreaking pieces as The Tain and The Playboy.

David Wallace analyses the technical innovation of JDM’s choreographic language, while Séamas de Barra examines the music used in her ballets.

Finally, the several thriving schools of dance which exist as legacies of the great matriarch, and Cork City Ballet, are recognised. Throughout the book are fascinating archival photographs of performances and other key events, nostalgic certainly, but also exciting in their depiction of a changing Ireland.

“I was 14 years old when I first encountered this formidable woman, and she frightened the life out of me,” engagingly admits Alan Foley, artistic director of Cork City Ballet.

That, one suspects, would be echoed by generations of children, students and dancers. JDM demanded obedience, but also inspired lifelong devotion in those fortunate enough to have come under her rule.

Her vision and creativity made possible much of what we take for granted today.

In this book, we can trace the slow, step-by-step, struggling yet determined way that happened. It is a fitting tribute.


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