Green Room Interview with Ríonach Ní Néill, creator of upcoming Dublin Dance Festival show Amú & Cótaí Dearga

ImageWhen or how did you catch the dance bug? Tell us about your teachers and training.
I started Irish dancing aged 3 or 4, but it was when I got a book called ‘Mary learns to dance’ aged 5 that I got smitten with the ballet bug. My teacher was Ann Tighe, who is principal of Killester School of Dance, and I owe my career to her.

Who was/is your inspiration in the dance world?
Finola Cronin, who danced for Pina Bausch for years and is lecturer in dance in UCD, is a big inspiration. The dancers I’ve worked with over the years have always inspired and excited me.

If you had not become a dancer, what might you be doing?
I did a PhD in Geography and was lecturing and researching at Leicester University when I got the chance to go back to dance. So I might have been still an academic, or a documentary maker.

What is your favourite dance act/artist and why?
I have too many favourites, but perennials are Trish Brown, Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, works by German choreographers Helena Waldmann, Reinhild Hoffmann and there are a lot of great performances coming out of Ireland too.

How do you unwind after a long day rehearsing/performing?
After rehearsal, its then on to 3 or 4 hours of administration, so unwinding has to be speedy! Kicking a ball around the garden with my kids does it for me.

What do you keep in your dance bag?
Spare gear, knee pads, shower gel, toasty socks and thermals.

What kind of music do you listen to?
Everything mostly, as long as its good. I’m always on the lookout for music for dance works.

Do you have a secret skill which no one knows about?
I hand-sewed the Cótaí Dearga costumes myself?

What gives you the most pleasure in terms of dance?
I am grateful every day for that I can bring to life the ideas I have in my head, and share them with other people. I love working in the studio with the dancers, literally creating something out of thin air, and giving form to ideas.

What inspired you to create these dance pieces?
Amú was inspired by the people living with dementia to whom I teach dance. There is a lot of fear about the illness, and a lot of negative assumptions about it, that somehow a person with it is no longer one of us. I’ve found that, faced with the challenges of memory loss, people retain their curiosity, kindness and humour, and are still learning, still exploring, and open to new ideas and new things. Words may start to fail us with dementia, but dance never needed words anyway, and through it we find a common expression. Amú explores some of those ideas, and how we use whatever resources are available to us, even as they wane, to express ourselves and make an impression on the world.

Cótaí Dearga developed form a residency on Áras Éanna, the arts centre on Inis Oírr. There was an exhibition of the traditional dress donated by the islanders, and I was particularly struck by the red skirts (cótaí dearga), and the habit of wearing them over you head as a cloak. The images look very alien now, but they were worn in living memory. The red skirts are everywhere in the iconic paintings of the west by Paul Henry, Grace Henry, Sean Keating and others, and I decided to give these silent femal subjects a fictitious and fantastical history. It’s light-hearted and surreal, with beautiful imagery.

Why should people come to see contemporary dance?
Contemporary dance is so varied, each company is different, but what they have in common is that they will give you a different view, make you see things differently to before. Contemporary dance can be exciting, breath-taking, poignant, shocking and beautiful, and that’s an amazing ride to go on.
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Amú & Cótaí Dearga premieres on Wednesday, 28th May at 8pm in the Civic Theatre, Tallaght.
Tickets are €10 and can be booked by phone on 01 4627477 or online (book here).

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About Civic Theatre

The Civic Theatre's Mission is to mount an artistic and challenging programme of contemporary and classical Irish and international work in Theatre, Dance, Opera and Music for the community of South Dublin county and environs. History The Civic Theatre, opened in March 1999, a project of South Dublin County Council and also grant aided by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The first production at The Civic Theatre Tallaght was Howie the Rookie by Mark O'Rowe, directed by Mike Bradwell and starring Aidan Kelly and Karl Shiels. It opened on the 23rd March 1999. Since opening we have developed relationships with most Irish theatre companies and most opera, contemporary dance, ballet and children's theatre companies, developing healthy audiences for these. We are particularly proud of our co-productions – to date we've produced; or co-produced 22 plays, involving new Irish writing. We have hosted wonderful international productions, fantastic local work, and we have had some terrific nights of music on stage at the Civic.
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