Stepping out: 40 Cork ballet dancers shape up to headline show

The director of a new ballet show tells COLETTE SHERIDAN how it came about, and how it provides a golden opportunity for young dancers to shine
Stepping out: 40 Cork ballet dancers shape up to headline show

IN THE CLICK: Dancers from Cork Youth Ballet Company, from left, Eadaoin Collins, Eve Waterstone, Yasmine O’Brien and Chloe Riordan, rehearsing for ‘Cry Me a River’, a jazz ballet for the production ‘Hanging On’. Picture Denis Minihane.

A NEW show to be performed by Cork Youth Ballet Company will have its premiere at Firkin Crane this Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27.

Directed by Sinead Murphy, Hanging on will feature 40 dancers who will perform specially choreographed pieces in neo-classical, contemporary and jazz dance styles.

The programme will feature new and reworked choreography:

Andrew Wilson, head of Ballet and Contemporary Dance at Bird College, UK;

Alan Foley, artistic director of Cork City Ballet;

Jane Kellaghan, course director at Colaiste Stiofán Naofa and artistic director of CRUX Dance Company;

Patricia Crosbie, ballet mistress with Cork City Ballet and lecturer in dance at the University of Limerick;

Megan Blyth of PLAN BE Studios and daughter of the late Cork dance legend, Donna Daly Blyth;

and Robert Foley of IAB, Spain, who is from Cork.

Sinead says: “Cork Youth Ballet Company gives dancers the chance to work with new teachers and choreographers.

“It provides a great opportunity for the dancers to broaden their horizons and to work and train in a dance style that might be outside their original form of dance training.”

Part of the set of Hanging On will include a scaffolding tower that the technical crew uses for rigging on lights.

The theme of this new dance show explores the struggles everyone goes through.

“I guess we all go through life with struggles and problems,” says Sinead.

Picture Denis Minihane.
Picture Denis Minihane.

“Each dancer has their own individual struggles, their own story. They’re trying to hang on to teenage friendships that they’re beginning to lose because life changes.

“We decided not to go down the dark route where the person wouldn’t hang on. We’re looking at loyalty through friendship and support.

“We pull the person back from the brink of darkness. With support and friends, we can survive a lot of struggles.”

Sinead says it can be difficult to choreograph something as abstract as Hanging On — but she says that it’s a collaborative effort with dancers contributing to the direction of the show.

“Sometimes, when we watch contemporary dance, it can be very much outside of people’s grasp of what dance is. They can find it hard to connect to the piece on stage.

“We try to pick topics that people can relate to, rather than having to think too much outside the box.

“Also, the programme is very varied. We want audiences to enjoy themselves.

“The dancers love what they do and their joy and emotions go right through the audience. That’s the greatest gift the dancers can give back to the audience.”

Founded in 2015 by Sinead, Cork Youth Ballet Company provides opportunities for young Cork dancers to train as a company and also produce new works.

The company is made up of dancers from various dance schools in the city, including Colaiste Stiofáin Naofa, Cork School of Dance, Lucy French School of Dance, Montfort College of Performing Arts, Wolfe Stage School, Starstruck Studios and Maeve Kelleher.

Cork Youth Ballet Company has this year grown from having 20 dancers to 40. Sinead decided to introduce a junior section to the company, which will feed through to the senior section on an annual basis.

“For the last few years, we’ve only taken on students aged from 14,15 and 16 upwards,” she says.

“When they finish secondary school, they leave us either to go to university or further dance training in the UK. That meant that a bit of a void was left.

“I thought that if we have a feeder programme this year, it would help and we’d be able to have a broader company core. So we now have students aged from 13.”

Sinead also runs the Cork School of Dance, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and recently put on a show at Firkin Crane.

“My school is my business,” she says. “The company is for dance students from various dance schools around the city and county.

Picture Denis Minihane.
Picture Denis Minihane.

“The company enhances the training that the dancers receive in their respective dance schools.

“They all attend their regular dance classes four days a week and then they come to the company once a week. That supplements their training.

“They get to work with different choreographers who go from classical ballet to contemporary ballet to technical jazz, theatrical jazz and pure contemporary.

“It’s a broad mix. There’s something for everyone.”

One of Sinead’s goals is “to help improve the dancers’ techniques in genres they would not necessarily be comfortable in or wouldn’t have much experience of”.

Costumes for the forthcoming show include regular everyday clothing to beautiful costumes loaned by Alan Foley of Cork City Ballet — some of which have come all the way from Russia.

Sinead trained with the late Joan Denise Moriarty and also taught at her school. Ten years ago, she left the Joan Denise Moriarty School of Dancing to open her own school at Firkin Crane.

She adds: “A lot of my students were travelling to Dublin every weekend to dance with the Irish National Youth Ballet, a wonderful organisation. My own students benefited greatly from that.

“But not every student was in a position to attend the classes every weekend so I thought, why don’t I do something like it in Cork?

“I approached Paul McCarthy at the Firkin Crane. He was very supportive, giving us studio space. The dancers have the opportunity to work with international choreographers.”

The ballet scene in Cork “is thriving”, adds Sinead. “Obviously, it’s difficult for Alan Foley who doesn’t get funding. He does great work with Cork City Ballet putting on an annual production, on a shoe string.

“My ballet school and the other schools in the city are doing well. But if there was more Arts Council funding available for professional companies, the scene would be even stronger,” says Sinead.

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