Thursday, October 30, 2014

Magic 1943 - A Dance Odyssey Reunion - a few photos from the night

Waiting for the Audience... 
My uncle Tom O'Brien arrives! Family here.  Tick.
Arrivals - many more than expected: Bruce Arnold & Philip Harvey of UCD Bookshop in foreground

Introducing the film, the evening, the fire exits... 
THE STARS (seated, from left): Barbara Sweetman Fitzgerald, Romy Hogan, Jennifer Kearney, Biddy Wilson, Ann Fryer Walsh, Margaret Becker - being introduced by Ruth Barton of TCD Film Studies.

A lively, electric discussion ensues

Great interaction with the audience
Ruth Barton amplifies Biddy Wilson
We had interesting contributions and queries from the floor, from such luminaries as Architectural Historian Shane O'Toole, Director of the Goethe Institute, Mecthild Manus, Art Critic Bruce Arnold, Film-Maker Steve Woods, Rossa O Snodaigh of Kila (who composed the original film score), and choreographer John Scott, who met Erina Brady's influential pupil Jacqueline Robinson, founder of l'Atelier de la Danse in Paris, among others.

The wonderful audience! Steve Woods suggests we lobby for a plaque to Erina Brady's Irish School of Dance Art at 39 Harcourt Street.  Ruth Barton asks everyone to leave their email addresses so we can start a formal petition for this.  Great ideas and calls to action emerging!

Afterwards: Deep in Conversation: Barbara Sweetman Fitzgerald & Peter Sheridan; Jennifer Kearney & Biddy Wilson; Margaret Becker &... basically everybody...

At the Reception: Re-enacting The Green Table with Olwen Fouere and Walter Kuhn (who played The Young Soldier in Kurt Jooss's production).  Tom Hickey close at hand. 
Above: Tom Hickey and Caroline Stephenson (daughter of 1940s tiny tot).
Biddy Wilson (centre) & Jennifer Kearney (left ) newly discovered 1940s Modern Dancing Tiny Tots who shared their memories of Erina Brady with us in the post-show discussion.

Thanks to David Tully for taking most of these photographs, and to all who helped to make this people-powered event happen: Marie Therese McKenna & James Coyle for sponsorship of the wine reception; Sonja Ewen, Sebastian Stephenson, Michelle Sweetman and Caroline Stephenson for contributing delicious canapes; Ruth Barton for hosting, and moderating the post-show discussion; Francis Thackaberry & Mick Canney of Samuel Beckett Theatre; everybody who bought tickets and energised the room and inspired discussion.  Also thanks to all 63+ kind micro-philanthropists who contributed to the crowd-funding campaign for the making of the film.  It's the people.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Today we are Le Cool

It may be raining cats and dogs today, but us, we are Le Cool!  All welcome! (Tickets available on the door):

Sunday, October 26, 2014

1943 - A Dance Odyssey: The Journey

I recall Mary Jones of Arkhive Productions leaning (elegantly), against the Abbey Theatre Bar, flicking through my book "Irish Moves, an illustrated history of dance and physical theatre in Ireland" at its April 2006 launch by Fintan O'Toole (part of the 3rd International Dance Festival Ireland, as Dublin Dance Festival was then known). Alighting on Chapter 3, about the forgotten chapter of Modern Dance in 1940s Ireland, and the enigmatic Irish-German Modern Dance Pioneer Erina Brady, Mary said "I think there might be a film of Erina Brady's school by Liam O Laoghaire in the Irish Film Archive". Mary, who, as the name of her documentary company might suggest, has an intimate knowledge of the contents of the Irish Film Archive, advised me to go in and check it. So once the book launch festivities were over, like Inspector Clousseau, or Hercule Poirot, that is exactly what I did.

Lo and behold, I was handed a seven minute black and white tape called "Dance School", featuring none other than Erina Brady teaching angelic little 1940s tiny tots modern dance in her "Irish School of Dance Art" studio, which, as I knew from Jacqueline Robinson's 1999 Memoir "Modern Dance in 1940s Ireland" (published in Irish Moves), was at 39 Harcourt Street. Wow! This was an unbelievable record of, and testament to, Erina Brady's dancing class, populated with small girls, from about 3 or 4 years of age, a few young women, and just one (super cute) little boy. Who were they? How could I find out? Where might they be now? How did this film - Ireland's first modern dance film - come about? So many questions, so little answers! The names of the participants were listed nowhere - apart from Liam O Laoghaire, credited from the start as director, and Erina Brady, "student of Mary Wigman".

Finding the answer to these questions took many years. I began by attending a lecture by O Laoghaire's (recently deceased), archivist Bob Monks at the National Library of Ireland on some other topic. After Monk's lunchtime talk, I approached the helpful archivist, who knew the film, and told me part of it had been shot on Kodachrome colour. Indeed, "colour" had been noted on the official documentation about the film. So I returned to the Irish Film Archive, related what Bob Monks had said, and pointed to the "colour" indication on the page. Next thing, an eleven minute film was handed to me, the last four minutes of which, as promised, were shot in gorgeous
kodachrome colour, of Erina Brady and her pupils performing to an audience outdoors in a garden which we guessed might be the Iveagh Gardens (logical - given the proximity to Harcourt street).

Fast forward a few years, after my foray in a job I was offered at Cirque du Soleil's Montreal HQ as Artistic Talent Scout (Depisteur Artistique). In Montreal, where Cirque du Soleil had relocated me, the mystery of this gorgeous little film by Liam O Laoghaire haunted me, as did the lost and by now only partly-told story of Erina Brady.
Sensing there was a big story behind it, I couldn't resist returning to resume my research a few years later, by writing letters to the Irish Times and the Anglo-Celt newspapers, and writing articles - all little hooks I cast out into the universe fishing for information. No answers were forthcoming, except from Bob Monks again who explained to me over the phone that the film was made in barter with O Laoghaire in return for movement classes Erina Brady gave to his Irish language theatre group down the road at the Daimer Hall.

When Ireland's first modern dancer, June Fryer/ Kuhn passed away in 2011, with the help and support of the Alliance Francaise and the French Embassy, I put on an exhibition in her memory during Dublin Dance Festival, 2012, at European Union House on Molesworth Street. As part of this tribute to her, the Irish Film Archive allowed us to project Liam O Laoghaire's film "Dance School" on several screens, some of which pointed out onto Molesworth street, along with a slide-show of archive photographs from a French Dance Archive and
family collections. This was the Eureka moment when my ongoing letters to newspapers, (through which Romy Hogan got in touch with me), and this exhibition gelled. Romy came along to the European Union House exhibition opening, and was transfixed by the film. Why wouldn't she be, as herself, her two sisters, and her former friends were all in it! June's sister, Ann Fryer/Walsh, also came in and spotted herself in the film too, both in the black and white studio shots as well as dancing her self-composed choreography to the Blue Danube, out
in the open air, her fiery red mane of hair exquisite still more than 70 years on, in Kodachrome colour.

So I set about filming the former tiny tots watching their former selves in O Laoghaire's 1940s film, and going back to revisit the site of the former studio, which we would discover has transformed from artist haven to Accord Catholic Marriage Counseling Bureau. This meant launching a fundit campaign, and a fundit pitching video. This would not only raise the necessary funds to make the film, but [the video] would also reach and identify another of the key former tiny tots in the film who now resides in Leeds, Ann Danaher, via none other than her Berlin resident daughter's facebook account! Talk about contemporary research methods and leaving no stone unturned.

The film was broadcast by RTE One television in April 2013, to an audience of 150,000 - all part of the ongoing research. (Crucially, RTE also kindly came on board to cover the Archive fees, the Composer fee (Rossa O Snodaigh of Kila!), and other bits and bobs beyond our reach on the Fundit budget alone).  The final part of the jigsaw was the identity of the film's beautiful mystery boy. His (as yet unconfirmed) identity came to us via Bewley's Cafe Theatre, where one of the tiny tots went to see a Mary Lavery short story adaptation and met another Erina Brady pupil - from Clondalkin. Yes, she had seen the film. The conversation got around to the identity of the boy, and the location of the outdoor dancing. Well, said the lady from Clondalkin, that of course was Collinstown House, John Betjeman's residence while he was working at the British Embassy as press attache during the Emergency, and the boy was none other than his son, Paulie Betjeman (yet to be 100% verified, but doesn't sound unlikely).

Come and see for yourself, and meet some of these exceptional former tiny tots in person next Tuesday, October 28th, at 6.30pm at TCD Samuel Beckett Theatre. There will be a post show discussion kindly moderated by Ruth Barton of TCD Film Studies (author of a recent book on Liam O Laoghaire's favourite, Rex Ingram, and previous books on Jim Sheridan and others).

An advertisement for the enlightened and holistic philosophies of modern dance, these former tiny tots range from a painter; a stain glass artist and print-maker (and founder of Leinster Print Studio in Clane, County Kildare); the recipient of a CBE in Peace & Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and former Chair of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre; and a former Business Woman and Teacher at The Fitness League. We'll be toasting them and their achievements with a glass of wine after the screening and discussion.

This was first published on

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On the final countdown to 1943 - A Dance Odyssey special reunion screening moderated by Ruth Barton of TCD Film Studies!

It is quite exciting to be just one week away from the special reunion screening of 1943 - A Dance Odyssey at TCD Samuel Beckett Theatre, today week Tuesday October 28th, in celebration of the 1940s tiny tots (who will be present), kindly moderated by Ruth Barton of TCD Film Studies. 
A lot of work has gone into this event, and I am very grateful to all who have helped, and made it possible.  Particular thanks go to Ruth Barton, Francis Thackaberry and all the staff at TCD Samuel Beckett Theatre.  Also friends, sponsors, and helpers who are making this into a great people-powered event.  I'll write more here after the event, but in the meantime, please don't forget to book your tickets at, as they are going fast!
(thanks to Jensine-Bethna Wall for designing the flier).

Yo Camino

Yo Camino.

Apologies for the gap in updates, but since Galway Film Fleadh I have been on the road, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.  It gets all-absorbing.    But first, on August 1st (yes that far back!) I had the honour of giving my first ever session at the Yeats Summerschool in Sligo - "WB Yeats: Words for Music Perhaps" at the Methodist Church on Wine street.  Through a friend of a friend I got the apt opportunity to reside at Lissadell Gate Lodge, no less, which coincidentally (or not?) happened to be a haven of psalteries, hajouj's and other Yeatsian-prescribed instruments I was talking about in my radio documentary/power point presentation the next day.
Tara Baoth Mooney's Psaltery
Spooky or just plain Yeatsian? (I'd say the latter).  On the way in from Lissadell Lodge to give my presentation, having given the above psaltery a bit of an old strum myself, I popped off at Drumcliff Church for the first time ever, to have a goo and to pay my respects at Yeats' and George's grave - and to ask for a blessing on the psalteries and all talk of them that day. 
The Great Outdoors, Dublin
The spirits came down and answered me soon enough in the form of a contrary remote control clicker that refused to do as it was told for the power point presentation, and a CD player that stopped, started, and spluttered throughout the radio documentary.  It was a bit like WBY meets Krapp's Last Tape, but luckily the audience were well seasoned Yeatsians, and were totally understanding and even appreciative of these moody "spirits" making their presence felt!  ;)  I have to say I really enjoyed the interaction and feedback with the audience that day, and am very grateful for the invitation to be part of that fine Sligo tradition that is the Yeats Summerschool.  I wished I could have hung out in Sligo with my fabulous new friends longer, but I had a plane to catch to Biarritz on August 5th, from where I was going to set out on the Camino - for once and for all.  Enough procrastinating, and talking around and about it.  The time for action and putting one foot in front of the other had arrived! But first, in great trepidation, taking my footwear seriously, I got my feet measured for Camino shoes at The Great Outdoors:
The Great Outdoors, Dublin
St. Jean Pied de Port, August 5th, 2014
 Nothing like the practicalities of fear of blisters [blister-phobia?] to take one's mind off of the esoteric and Yeatsian hauntings! A friend kindly lent me all her Camino gear - rucksack, walking sticks, guidebook, first aid kit, travel towel, and money belt, in the first of many super acts of camaraderie I would benefit and learn from on what was to turn out to be a 355km walk in 15 days this time around - into the unknown.  Out of my comfort zone and into the random kindness of the camino universe.  355 km later I think that kind of solidarity you experience on that road is one of its greatest benefits and lessons.  It restored my eroded and waning faith in humanity anyway! At Biarritz airport, I found two fellow solo pegegrinos, and we traveled together to St. Jean Pied de Port by bus and train (surrounded by French boy scouts).  We went together to get our pilgrim passports, and got our first stamp before heading off - in the wrong direction of course! - before being sent back up that hill we should have been climbing, not descending...
St. Jean Pied de Port
L'Auberge d'Orisson
Of course, we had to learn the lesson of the yellow arrows first and foremost.  Follow the yellow arrows... put one foot in front of the other.  I had intended on chilling out in St. Jean Pied de Port, a super quaint French mountain village for a night, but seen as my newly discovered Peregrinos were set on getting over the Pyrenees that very day to Roncevalles, I thought the least I could do would be to set out with them, and wave them off after the first 10km.  So that is how I got a bit of a head start on myself, by getting a push from their ambition and energy.  At the end of that arduous and high-achieving (literally), day, all three of us ended up 10km up the mountain in the mirage-like oasis that is l'Auberge d'Orisson.  Ah, heaven.  I don't know how I arrived before the other two, staring at my feet, filming the odd cow or two and taking the only selfies of my trip, but I did.  A miracle! 
l'Auberge d'Orisson, August 5th, 2014
Dawn, August 6th 2014 from l'Auberge d'Orisson
We were now above the clouds and on our way.  The first hand-washing of the journey.  The first bunkbeds.  The first communal meal, and all the languages that might entail (in this case just French and English, though the next night I'd be trying on Portuguese with Brasilians).  The first stretching out of the sleep-sheets.  The first negotiation of hostel shower.  The first rubbing of vaseline between toes.  The first setting of the phone alarm for at least 6am.  The first moving in the dark before dawn and losing of things in the anxious rush to get on the road.  The camino had begun, and all its practicalities, which actually prevent lofty thoughts (thankfully).    When I got home I recovered some poignant utterances like this: "Solvitar ambulando" - "It is solved by walking" (from The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin).  But while there, I was with Walt Whitman and his paean "O public road... /You express me better than I can express myself/ You shall be more to me than my poem".  I was surviving.  Meeting people and having fun.  Enjoying the company and the camaraderie.  Focusing on keeping going.  The sights going over the Pyrenees were of the spectacular variety.  There were traces of religion everywhere of course, but that didn't intrude on or dominate the experience. 
La Vierge d'Orisson, August 6th, 2014
Though it provided a reassuring and sometimes beautiful unobtrusive backdrop to the experience, (which I believe is now mostly secular).  Somewhere in the Pyrenees I think near this Fontaine de Roland we crossed over from the benign French Pays Basque into the more pugnacious Spanish Basque Country.
La Fontaine de Roland, August 6th, 2014

There were free mountain springs and water fountains all along the way.  Some days to avoid the heat of early afternoon, we started out under a full moon, some with torches on their foreheads (follow that pilgrim).  Here was a typical morning view, as we set out on the road, individually and together:
All the troubles of daily life at home just fell away.  That's all irrelevant now.  Here out on the Camino, through villages, dales, cities, cathedrals, one horse towns with one bar and pilgrim hostel, and finally (for me this time), the vast open plains of the Meseta.  I made it to Fromista, walking 35km on my final day before the descent back down to Madrid, a room of my own and the unspeakable luxury of a half-bath.
I'm really looking forward to finishing the second 445km next year, Inshallah,  and reading up loads of literature and brushing up on my Spanish in the meantime.  Until then, it's all the metaphorical ongoing Camino for me.  Albeit without the yellow arrows (unfortunately!).  Yo camino.