Keeping the stories of the Magdalene Laundries alive on the Cork stage

A show inspired by stories from the Magdalene Laundries takes to the stage of the Firkin Crane in Cork city this Friday, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Keeping the stories of the Magdalene Laundries alive on the Cork stage

TAKING TO THE CORK STAGE: An emotionally charged show inspired by the Magdalene Laundries, combing aerial dance, song and live music, runs at the Firkin Crane, in Cork city this week.

WHAT strikes the creators of a dance show about the Magdalene Laundries, Kat Cooley and Máire Dee, is how easily they could have been locked up in one of these institutions.

The dancers, based in Limerick where they work for Fidget Feet dance company, have devised their own show, By A Thread, through their company Kat and Dawg Productions. The show, described as a new hybrid vertical dance performance, celebrates the women that were incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries and eventually came forward to tell their heart-breaking stories.

It will be performed at the Firkin Crane this Friday, September 6.

Kat, originally from Cornwall, says: “The type of women put into these laundries were like us. There is nothing that could have stopped either myself or Máire being put into one. That hit us very hard when we were researching for the show. The ‘fallen women’ had strayed off a path and somehow got themselves into trouble.

“Women who were seen to be beautiful or slightly promiscuous were sometimes sent to laundries. Now, we’re in more liberal times. But we pass these women on the street. We work with them, we have them in our families.

“We think what happened to them could never have happened to us, but obviously, it happened to many women.”

Kat and Máire — originally from Greystones — will be performing a new art form where you hang in a harness and use climbing equipment to create amazing aerial acrobatics.

“A harness and rope are used so we can climb walls. It’s the same equipment used in outdoor climbing. Whereas circus and aerial dance are normally performed on a trapeze or hoop, vertical dancing is a new way of expressing art.”

The show will be preceded by a short film on the same theme that the duo have made, called The Walls of Limerick. There’s more to the show than just aerial dance. It also involves a story that audiences will relate to — a story of courage, heartache and one that realises the value of each voice that was silenced. The story is relayed through song and live music, performed by rising star, Emma Langford (Best Emerging Folk Artist — RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards 2018) and Cormac Byrne, award-winning bodhrán and percussion player and composer.

Limerick-based Emma plays the main character in By A Thread.

“In the show, she is trying to find her voice. Within the piece, you see her growing up. She is a bold, very outgoing young woman who loves to sing. In the course of the show, she loses her voice and her ability to speak out because of horrific things that happened to her within an institution. But it’s actually quite an uplifting story because it’s about women finding their voices.

“It goes up to the present day when these women were able to stand united and to say ‘This is what happened and it should never happen again’. Emma is able to convey all this through her beautiful vocal ability.”

Cormac, from Waterford, is the director of the show and also plays live music.

“This is more than just a dance show. It’s a full production with music and a sound design. The aerial elements uplift you.”

Kat and Máire spend most of the show ‘flying’ through the air. Vertical dance enables them to move on the vertical plane and distort the observers’ perception of where gravity is pulling them. By A Thread utilises this ability by creating a series of images and movement sequences that help tell this moving story.

Kat and Dawg Productions is an emerging company.

“This is our second project as a duo. Fidget Feet are supporting the project and we’re grateful for everything they’ve done for us.”

Kat and Dawg Productions will continues to create more issue-based work.

“Aerial and Vertical dance is so new. It’s sometimes easier for people to understand stories and relate to the issues as a result of finding a way in through an art form like aerial dance.”

Is aerial and vertical dance not dangerous?

“No, not at all, although it seems dangerous to be doing all these crazy things, sometimes above the audience, swinging towards them. But we have qualified riggers and everything is completely safe. The equipment is checked daily.”

The show premiered in Letterkenny. It has Arts Council funding and it is hoped that a touring grant will be forthcoming.

“It’s very important for us to show it in Cork because of laundries such as the one on Peacock Lane. The Firkin Crane is an important venue. Máire has a relationship with it because she has danced there and has got a lot of support from it.”

Máire says: “It is such an honour to be given the opportunity to perform this show in Cork. It’s really important that we, as a society, keep the stories of the Magdalene laundries alive to ensure these atrocities don’t happen again.”

By A Thread runs on September 6, at 8pm, see www.firkincrane.ie

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