Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín has moved upriver to her family’s home place to encourage young and old to get dancing, writes Pet O’Connell
CONTEMPORARY dance artist Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín is not the only person inspired to movement thanks to her latest appointment.
Her return to her family’s native area as dancer in residence in the Múscraí Gaeltacht has prompted teenagers to swap inhibition for self-expression, and senior citizens to take their first steps in a new movement of creativity.
Her move upriver from Cork city brings Siobhán closer to the home-places of her boat-builder father Pádraig Ó Duinnín at Coolcower, on the banks of the Lee near Macroom, and of her grandparents, near Béal Átha ’n Ghaorthaidh.
Tracing her family footsteps has allowed Siobhán, niece of the late poet Liam Ó Muirthile, to explore a sense of place not only in her own heritage, but in the dance she creates with members of the community.
The transition year students who join her workshops are asked to map their daily journeys around their localities, taking in Irish language placenames along the way, as they reinterpret their everyday movements as personal dance performances.
“With the teenagers, I’m focusing on maps of the area,” explains Siobhán, a former pupil of Gaelcholáiste Choilm in Ballincollig. “Where do they live? What do they know about where they live? Do they know the names, and how can we learn about them together? What are their journeys through this area?
“I ask them to identify three places that are important to them and make a simple map of the journey they make – their home, their school, or a friend or a grandparent’s house, or where they walk their dog.
“Then we walk those patterns; we lay them out in the studio and we’re focusing on travelling movement — running, rolling, jumping, and walking, and how to recreate those personal maps using that movement.”
Creating place-based dance with teenagers is not without challenges, she admits, and students’ means of travel can present as many issues as any disinclination to engage in artistic endeavour.
“I do think there’s something that shifts in how you experience the land if you’re not walking in it. What does that do to your connection to a place?”
In the main though, teenagers are willing participants in the project, she adds. “We’re very collective, social creatures, so if the majority of the group do it, the rest will follow.
“I can see that there’s a few who may never want to do contemporary dance again, but the majority are partaking, so they do it anyway.
“Some are really intrigued physically — we do things like handstands and different kinds of crawling, so it’s movement that some of them won’t have done before. There are people who are already drawn, who play sport or whatever, who want to crack what it is physically, then there are others who are drawn to the idea, or the musicality.”
Adults, equally, are drawn to her weekly community dance workshops, with participants aged from their 30s up to 81.
Both teenagers and adults will be involved in one of the showpieces of her Gaeltacht residency, a ‘Lá Mór Rince’ at Baile Mhúirne’s Ionad Cultúrtha on February 23.
In the mid-term week preceding this community day of dance, local teenagers aged 14 to 16 are invited to participate in a multi-disciplinary Irish language arts project, ‘Anseo’, culminating in a public performance on the Lá Mór.
In an “exploration of the ways people move through the region on a daily basis”, Cúil Aodha visual artist Helen Ní Chuill will collaborate on themes of movement and journey by guiding teenage participants in the creation of shoes of various textures and fabrics.
Macroom-based drummer Solamh Kelly will work with the group on interpreting sounds of nature in innovative percussive styles.
Siobhán, who began her own journey in dance by learning ballet and Irish dancing, says dance can appeal to those whose artistic expression has not found voice in other areas.
“I was drawn to dance because I didn’t like speaking but I really wanted to communicate,” she says. “With dance there’s a lot of space for people to find their own interpretation, which I really enjoyed. It can be about telling people something, but also there’s the space not to be so direct as words can be sometimes.”
She discovered contemporary dance after her aunt, singer Kathleen Dineen, invited her to Basel in Switzerland for work experience. Though her intention was to train as a ballet teacher, while in Basel she encountered American dancer Cathy Sharp and “once I saw contemporary dance I didn’t look back”.
A degree from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds was followed by a Masters at the University of Limerick, and though her work has since taken her across Britain and Ireland, a sense of place-based identity leads her home.
Her Ionad Cultúrtha residency ends with ‘Bláthú’, a dance performance on May 4 involving singers from local national schools, solo dance from Siobhán, and film portraits including one focusing on the connection between breath and movement in Múscraí sean-nós singing.
But her next project brings Siobhán even closer to home, to work on a live dance performance with her father Pádraig, founder of community boat-building scheme Meitheal Mara and Cork’s Ocean to City Race.
Currently building a three-hand naomhóg together at Coolcower, father and daughter will collaborate on a creative improvisation, turning the repetitive physical movements of boat-building into a two-person dance.
As her creative journey continues, “travelling back upriver from the city to Coolcower and further” into family and linguistic heritage, Siobhán has found both inspiration and a sense of place upon her return to source.
Lá Mór Rince takes place on Saturday, February 23 in Ionad Cultúrtha an Dochtúir Ó Loingsigh, Baile Mhúirne. All events are free, but booking is essential via: firstname.lastname@example.org or 086 1074770.