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Preview 3: Horses, dancers and bloodlines - Emma O’Kane talks ‘Jockey’

Sun 17 May 2015

Preview 3: Horses, dancers and bloodlines - Emma O’Kane talks ‘Jockey’

So your grandfather was a racing journalist – how did that feed into 'Jockey'?

The real starting point for the piece was doing FARM with WillFredd Theatre in 2013. I had to drive a horse and cart into the theatre as part of the show and I’d never been near horses before. So over a couple of months I spent some time in a yard in Wicklow working with a lovely horse called Ralph, a really gentle creature. An ex-champion jockey, Caroline Hutchinson, came to see the show and she paid me the biggest compliment ever – she said: “That horse handler is a great dancer and actor.” And I spoke to her after the show and told her it was my first real interaction with horses and she said “It’s in the blood you know – you don’t just pick it up.” I didn’t really know what she meant at the time, but I went away from the conversation and thought about it afterwards, and remembered Philip, my grandfather. So Sophie (Motley - Director) and I got really excited about the idea of making a show on this and I decided to research Philip and find out about his life.

And what did you find through your research? Where did you start with it?

I never knew Philip, because he died four years before I was born. And when the family home was sold, all his articles were thrown out. There’s no official racing archive in Ireland, so I spent a lot of time meeting with people from the racing community and the name Guy Williams kept coming up – he holds the unofficial race archive of Ireland. So I found over a hundred of my grandfather’s articles through him and it was a really emotional moment when I did. I’ve been getting to know the man through his writing and also through studying the Irish racehorse.

Philip was a turf journalist and a bloodstock agent, and he wrote about horses very passionately. He was also the man who looked at the pedigree of racehorses, the middleman between the owner/trainer and the buyer – he was able to explain the lineage and pedigree of the horse.

Apart from the family connection, what intrigued you about the racing world?

I was also really interested in how jockeys are trained and how horses are trained and the similarities with a ballet dancer's training. In racing, they look for the line, the symmetry, just as in ballet. I'm training to ride racehorses at the moment as part of the research and I train with mirrors, on a simulator, so I could be in the dance studio. It's all about looking good and riding well and not about the pain you're feeling, which is very similar to ballet, unlike contemporary dance. But more than that, I’m also interested in the similarities between the dancer's life and the jockey's life – the pressure of keeping up your standard to a certain level for performance, keeping the eye on the weight and how addiction can stem from that pattern of looking for perfection. And also the life of being freelance when your body is your instrument - the risk of injuring yourself and not being able to pay the bills.

How does the training feed into the performance itself?

I’ll start carving out choreographic material, so definitely what I'm learning in my racing lessons is going to feed into that. What I’ve seen of how the horse moves, the jockey… it’s all in there. I'm building up a choreographic vocabulary at the moment, so in performance I’m connected to all parts of that world at every given moment. I know the exact origin of every movement.

And have you felt that sort of innate connection with horses that Caroline was talking about?

I really do feel a natural connection with horses. They’re the most amazing creatures. I think I’m falling in love.