DDF News — 25 May 2015

Preview 4: Liz Roche talks channelling Yeats and a sea change in Irish contemporary dance

Preview 4: Liz Roche talks channelling Yeats and a sea change in Irish contemporary dance

Your piece for DDF2015, Bastard Amber, was a joint commission by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin Dance Festival and Kilkenny Arts Festival. It's the first time an Irish contemporary choreographer has been asked to create a piece for the Abbey main stage. How do you feel about being part of this sea change?

I think it’s important in terms of confidence, support and visibility for contemporary dance as a form. I know personally, more times than not when you tell people what you do for a living, they don’t quite know what to make of it. That situation is definitely better than it used to be though and there’s been an increasing sense of dance taking its place with everything else. I think this is another positive step towards that. The Abbey main stage is a big stage to fill. But I also know, having performed on it myself, that it’s a warm stage and I think it’s a beautiful stage for dance.

There were a number of different sources mentioned as influences in the making of the piece, but chief among them has been WB Yeats' poem Sailing to Byzantium. What is it in the poem that intrigues you?

I remember the poem from sixth class. It was the first poem I read that ever really meant something to me. I remember thinking, this is amazing because I like this poem and I’m not pretending that I like it. And for me, it was the existential question in the poem that made an impact. I was really struck, even at ten years old, by the lines:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.

I really connected with that idea, that the body is nothing without the soul that’s filling it and lighting it.

You have said that Bastard Amber is dance that moves away from the body and into the realm of the soul. Can you explain a little bit more about this idea and how Yeats' poem feeds into it?

I think one of the things the poem expresses is a very honest struggle with the body, and honest frustrations with its limitations … I don’t think Yeats had a romantic view of the body and I feel I share that. The dances I make are complicated and there’s pattern in them, but the constant body in the work is a normal body. That body is never too far away from the everyday, for me. I know some people don’t like that, but I like that you’re watching something that could be yourself – I think if you’re watching something that’s really alien to you, which could easily be something really beautiful, it’s harder to connect with it. The poem is [about] moving away from the body, asking the questions, “When all of this is gone, what will remain? What imprint is left? Where do you go, and does it matter?”

Words: Rachel Donnelly (@racklette)

Image credit: Luca Truffarelli