Free events to mark major milestone at Cork’s Firkin Crane

Doors of the Firkin Crane will be thrown open this Saturday for a special 30th anniversary event writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Free events to mark major milestone at Cork’s Firkin Crane

Laurie Uprichard, Executive Artistic Director at the Firkin Crane, Cork City. Picture: Jed Niezgoda - www.jedniezgoda.com

WHEN Laurie Uprichard was being interviewed for the role of executive artistic director at the newly- rebranded Dance Cork Firkin Crane, the American former dancer turned arts administrator says it seemed to her that because of the pandemic, it had been a while since the venue, in the heart of Shandon, had been active.

“So my first thought was that I should just open the doors and have a party and invite everyone in, making sure people know we’re here and making them feel at home,” says Laurie.

The Firkin Crane Theatre in Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
The Firkin Crane Theatre in Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

But when she started the job in September, 2021, Covid was still a reality with a lot of regulations in place.

“The board had always been talking about doing an event for the Firkin Crane’s 30th anniversary. I thought, this is where it starts.”

On Saturday, August 27, the Firkin Crane will have its doors open from 5pm-9pm, welcoming friends, neighbours, artists and supporters for a special programme of free events to mark the anniversary.

Internationally renowned Dancers Luke Murphy and Imma Pavon. Picture: Clare Keogh
Internationally renowned Dancers Luke Murphy and Imma Pavon. Picture: Clare Keogh

Kicking off the celebrations will be a group promenade at 4.30pm led by dance artist Imma Pavon. Some 30 performers will make their way from a city centre location to Shandon and eventually to Dance Cork Firkin Crane.

After this, a youth workshop with dance teacher, Maria Sinnecker, will take place in and around the building, inspired by the history of the Firkin Crane. The workshop is aimed at five to ten year olds.

There will be a reception with refreshments and music. People are invited to browse an exhibition of photographs and art work as well as curated dance films featuring work by Cork dancers Laura Murphy, Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín, and Luke Murphy to mention just a few.

New York-based dancer and choreographer Jean Butler will also be at the Firkin Crane. Picture: Luca Truffarelli.
New York-based dancer and choreographer Jean Butler will also be at the Firkin Crane. Picture: Luca Truffarelli.

Following short speeches, the next dance performance of the evening features solo works by Jools Gilson and Imma Pavon. Also, there will be an intimate performance by Jean Butler of Riverdance fame with local dance artists. Due to limited capacity, this event is booked out. Jean’s piece is for a very small audience,

There will be further dance performances and music up until 9pm at this inclusive celebratory evening.

Laurie, who was the executive director of the Danspace Project in New York for 15 years and was the director of the Dublin Dance Festival from 2007-2011, is all about inclusivity.

Because of the pandemic, she says the venue has only had a couple of professional dance performances (as well as schools’ performances) since Covid temporarily changed the arts scene everywhere.

“We haven’t had huge crowds. I think we have to give people the chance to take a chance. I want to make things available and enjoyable. We have had a couple of artists-in-residence who performed free showings at the end of their residencies.

“One was in May featuring Jools Gilson, Cindy Cummings and Mary Noonan. About 35 people came to their showing, which was very lively.

“Just last week, Alberto Denis, a dancer and choreographer from New York, gave a wonderful showing and talk. We had 30 people in for that. I was told that for showings after a residency, five to ten people usually attend. It’s something I’m building on.”

Laurie Uprichard, Executive Artistic Director at the Firkin Crane, Cork City. Picture: Jed Niezgoda
Laurie Uprichard, Executive Artistic Director at the Firkin Crane, Cork City. Picture: Jed Niezgoda

What does Laurie think of the Cork arts scene?

“It’s good. I think it’s waking up. The Cork Midsummer Festival had a great programme. I’ve been to the Everyman and the Cork Arts Theatre and the galleries.

“Cork is a great city. I like the size of it. You can do a bit of everything. You don’t have to miss things. In New York, there’s so much going on that it’s impossible. Here, you can see a good range of the arts.”

Laurie plans to collaborate with some of the arts organisations in the city. She is in talks with the Cork Midsummer Festival. Its production of Irene Kelleher’s play Safe Passage was staged at the Firkin Crane. Laurie is also keen to make introductions when she can.

“I introduced an actor/clown to Cormac Mohally of Pitch’d Circus Festival. He’s called Bill Irwin, a Tony Award-winning actor who started out in vaudeville and clowning. I knew he was interested in coming back to Ireland.

“He’s coming here in September and will perform in a gala. I think he’ll teach a workshop at Firkin Crane and he may do some Culture Night events.”

Laura Murphy, who features in the Firkin Crane anniversary celebrations. Picture: Pato Cassinoni
Laura Murphy, who features in the Firkin Crane anniversary celebrations. Picture: Pato Cassinoni

Laurie, who was the director and curator of performing arts at the Contemporary Arts Centre in New Orleans before moving to Cork, was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French ministry of culture in 2001. That was for bringing French dance to New York.

“I didn’t live in Paris until 2013-2014. I loved living there. It was a dream come true. But the job was challenging. I was working in an agency which is not my strongest suit. It’s a different part of the performing arts field.”

The French take their culture very seriously, says Laurie. While she can’t say whether the arts are well supported throughout France, she knows that even in small cities, there are theatres that are “packed out” every night.

What are Laurie’s plans to grow the audience for dance in Cork?

“I think it’s about being inviting and accessible. The plan is to have an opening night reception after every performance that everyone is welcome to attend. Hopefully, in most cases, there will be two performances. After the second performance, there will be a Q&A session.”

Laurie’s mission is to “demystify” dance.

“People can come in to the reception, have a glass of wine, meet the artists and ask questions. People’s experiences are valid. And if they don’t like what they see, that’s OK.”

Jools Gilson, is also involved in the anniversary celebrations. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Jools Gilson, is also involved in the anniversary celebrations. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

A permanent base for Cork City Ballet, the Firkin Crane site is a protected building and the site of the original Cork City Butter Exchange. It was opened in 1855, designed to a rotunda plan by Sir John Benson. A margarine factory (James Daly & Sons) replaced the market in 1924. This closed down in 1976.

Cork’s first lady of dance, Joan Denise Moriarty, created an Arts Council-approved dance space in the building until a fire destroyed it on July 6, 1980. According to the then Cork Examiner, Joan Denise was about to embark on a £400,000 campaign to renovate it. The Gardaí didn’t rule out the possibility that the fire was started maliciously. The building was rebuilt using funds from the European Economic Community Architectural Award for Ireland. It was reopened on April 26, 1992, by the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and became known as the Firkin Crane Centre.

Laurie had heard about Joan Denise Moriarty from Mary Brady, who was the dance development officer at the Firkin Crane.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Laurie started taking ballet lessons at the age of four. She did gymnastics at High School and discovered modern dance at college. A dancer for a while, she got into arts administration as she wasn’t interested in teaching and didn’t have the drive to be a choreographer.

Laurie has an MBA (masters in business administration) from the American University in Washington DC.

She may not have had the drive to be a choreographer, but Laurie is a highly qualified arts administrator who is full of enthusiasm for dance and for growing its audience in her adopted city.

See www.dancecorkfirkincrane.ie.

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