Marble and Bread opens in the Sailor’s Home

A NEW promenade-style dance play takes as its starting point a psychiatric hospital. Marble & Bread is opening this week in Limerick.

 It has been created by the city’s first dance artist-in-residence, Megan Kennedy and is produced by Dance Limerick.

Kennedy, a US-born choreographer, says she is investigating the fine line between sanity and insanity and how closely abandonment and liberation lie beside each other.

Kennedy, who trained at the Alvin Alley Dance Centre in New York, and who set up Dublin-based dance company, Junk Ensemble, studied the archives of St Joseph’s psychiatric hospital in Limerick and spoke to former staff.

“I’m really interested in the stories and hidden histories of the building. It’s a beautiful building and it inspired the name of the piece. Because the hospital is mainly built from terrazzo, which is fake marble, you have the faded grandeur of the marble juxtaposed with the bread made at the bakery that was part of the hospital.”

Kennedy was drawn to the stories that wouldn’t necessarily have been told. “They’re not just doom-and-gloom stories, but also stories of joy. It’s a fantastic listed building that feels like it has a lot to tell. I was really attracted to the building. But St Joseph’s was just my starting point.

“I moved away from there and began working with four wonderful international and Irish dance artists, for the piece. I’m also working with four sound engineers and a wonderful visual designer, Valerie Reid,” Kennedy says.

Marble & Bread will be performed in Limerick’s Sailors’ Home on O’Curry Street. The building was disused until it was opened up for Limerick City of Culture, for exhibitions and a play.

“Each room we’re using is visually and sonically augmented to change into very separate environments. They are going to be immersive environments,” says Kennedy.

“The audience will roam from room to room, where the action takes place. We are very much trying to bring audiences somewhere different. Each room that the audience is led to will result in a different experience. There’s some dark material, but there’s also moments of lightness. Between the choreography and the live music, the audience will feel as if they’re being taken on a path. There will be sinister moments and quite beautiful moments,” she says.

As preparation, Kennedy viewed films directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and Lars von Trier. She also dipped into photographic books by Sally Mann and Gregory Crewdson. “The images from these artists consolidated what I’m doing,” she says.

Visually, Marble & Bread suggests a period anywhere between 1880 and 1920. “The costumes are quite old in style, with scuffed brogue shoes, tweeds, wools and knits and white collars on the women.”

The eclectic sound design comes from different angles. “One of the rooms is called the Chandelier Room. I wanted a faded-piano sound coming in and out. We’re using a piano with an echo sound. In another room, I wanted the sound of rustling from behind the door. This developed into a quite nice design that has melodies. Different instruments are used with the designers getting the sound from computers.”

Dance Limerick is a resource organisation for professional dance. It is funded by the Arts Council. Dance Limerick is based at John’s Square.

And, amidst the common complaints about arts funding in Ireland, Kennedy actually believes dance is well-supported here, especially compared to the US, where it is very dependent on sponsorship.

Marble & Bread will be performed at The Sailors’ Home, Limerick, from March 26-28.

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