Cork City Ballet continues to innovate with Swan Lake production

Cork City Ballet continues to innovate with Swan Lake production
Choreographer Yury Demakov working with dancers during rehearsals at the Firkin Crane for the Cork City Ballet production of Swan Lake. Picture Dan Linehan

WELCOMING me into his office in the Firkin Crane, practically every inch of Alan Foley’s workspace is shrouded in tulle of various pastel shades— and it comes with a hefty price tag.

“A tutu can cost anything up to €3,000,” the Artistic Director of Cork City Ballet tells me. “I get all my tutus from the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.”

Alan Foley, Director of Cork City Ballet.	Picture: Miki Barlok
Alan Foley, Director of Cork City Ballet. Picture: Miki Barlok

The final preparations are well underway ahead of the opening night of Swan Lake in the Opera House on November 7. This year, Alan has deviated from the traditional tragic narrative, instead favouring to conclude the ballet with a happy ending.

“In 2015, when I did Swan Lake I decided I wanted to do something different and that I wanted a happy ending. There’s enough awful stuff happening in the world. The villain is killed off and the lovers reunite. It worked really well in 2015 so we’ve decided to do it again this year,” Alan said.

Admired for introducing innovative elements into a traditional framework, Alan said: “When we did our production in 2010, I introduced six male swans. That went down really well, but then when we did it again in 2015 I wanted all the corps de ballet to be the girls and we’re doing that again this year”.

Cork City Ballet, performing ‘Swan Lake’ at the Opera House in 2015.

Cork City Ballet, performing ‘Swan Lake’ at the Opera House in 2015.
Cork City Ballet, performing ‘Swan Lake’ at the Opera House in 2015.

Alan Foley with friend and former ballet dancer Katherine Lewis, RIP, who died tragically while on holidays last April. This year’s production of Swan Lake will be particularly poignant for Alan as it pays tribute to his late friend and former ballet dancer, Katherine Lewis, who passed away earlier this year.

A Cabra native, most of Katherine’s career was spent in Cork with Joan Denise Moriarty and the Irish National Ballet. “It was very sad to lose Katherine so suddenly in April,” Alan said.

Dancers, Erin Flaherty and Syanne Day, both members of the Cork City Ballet production of ‘Swan Lake’, which is coming to Cork Opera House.	Picture: Dan Linehan
Dancers, Erin Flaherty and Syanne Day, both members of the Cork City Ballet production of ‘Swan Lake’, which is coming to Cork Opera House. Picture: Dan Linehan

“The last time we did Swan Lake in 2015, it was a memorial production for Donna Daly, and similarly I wanted to honour Katherine at this year’s production. I am determined to make it a worthy tribute to her because she really was an iconic figure in the Irish ballet scene. She was a really beautiful person, one of the good ones.”

Indeed, Swan Lake looks set to be a stellar production, with two Russian principal dancers at the helm of the performances. Swan Lake, which Alan notes is “one of the most taxing ballets out there,’’ requires the lead female dancer, Ekaterina Bortyakova, to do 32 fouettés (whipped turns) in succession in Act 3.

With such a high standard of dancers, this doesn’t unnerve Alan who lauded Ekaterina for her incredible talent: “Katya could do the 32 while having a fag, making a sandwich and solving world peace, and she could do 32 double fouettés!”

The veneer of perfection in ballet has in recent years been pulled back to expose the enormous physical and mental demands on dancers.

Reflecting on this Alan said: “Here in Cork I pride myself on being the captain of the ship and I make sure that we all work in a very warm, friendly and professional working environment. Everybody makes the tea, I don’t care what kind of accolades you have, I don’t care what prima ballerina status you have — if you’re not dancing and somebody needs a cup of tea, go to the kitchen and make it.

“They all know that beforehand and they come back year after year and I think that bears testament to the way we operate here. We work hard, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the cup of tea as well. There’s always time to sit down and have a break”.

After the Arts Council pulled funding in 2011, Cork City Ballet, the longest-running professional ballet company in the country, has had to rely on sponsorship to keep the company afloat.

“The Irish Examiner and The Echo have always been very good to us and Moriarty before me really since God was a boy,” Alan said, also thanking RedFM, Cork City Council and Benchmark International.

“The box office is, of course, always integral to the survival of the company. We’re on a shoestring budget but I just try and stretch the shoestring as much as possible.”

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