Smart move: dance gets intellectual in Galway
Feminism, genetics, marine science, anti-capitalism: Galway Dance Days proves that dance artists can be intellectual equals to the sciences and humanities
Just another brick in the wall: Ríonach Ní Néill. Photograph: Elena Gallotta
Anti-Capitalism: The Musical by Deirdre Murphy. Photograph: Jeannie Wenham
Founder by Maria Nilsson Waller. Photograph: Michelle Browne
When French Aerospace needed someone to teach astronauts how to move in zero gravity, it didn’t hire a scientist. It hired a choreographer.
French dance artist Kitsou Dubois left her dance studio to take part in parabolic flights – where a diving aircraft simulates zero gravity – and over time she developed movement protocols for astronauts.
For Galway dancer-in-residence Ríonach Ní Néill, this is just one example of how choreographers can use their kinaesthetic intelligence to offer insights into the supposed parallel worlds of science and humanities. For the past three years, she has facilitated dialogue between these disciplines through Galway Dance Days, a dance festival with a public and academic reach.
“I want to encourage more understanding of dance and movement practice as a research tool, not just as a performance,” she says.
For three days, world premieres of site-specific performances, installations, workshops and a symposium called Corp_Real will bring together dancers, artists, academics and, most importantly, the general public. Previous Galway Dance Days festivals have focused on neuroscience, philosophy and dance, and last year it was part of a geography conference. Environment is a strong strand of this year’s programme: it features the premiere of Founder , a marine-themed dance created by Maria Nilsson Waller in collaboration with Galway-based marine scientists; and a field trip by psychotherapist and movement therapist Bernadette Divilly that illustrates how somatic practices can inform urban planning.
It’s not surprising that the built and natural environment feature in Ní Néill’s curatorial plans. Before embarking on her successful dance career, which has included four years as a member of Germany’s oldest dance company, Tanztheater Bremen, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in urban geography.
“I think I’m hard-wired to look for the particularities of place, and spatial interconnectedness. Without it being intentional, quite a few of my works have been about what makes a space a place, and the particular relationship between people and place,” she says.
This, she claims, can make her work seem closer to documentary than performance, but it can also can give it universal appeal. A good example is her first film, The Area , co-directed with artist Joe Lee. It features members of the over-50s dance club Macushla, dancing in desolate sites in a small Dublin neighbourhood that are heavy with the emotional memory of previous bustling times. It was chosen for the prestigious Dance on Camera festival in New York’s Lincoln Centre and won best film at the Cinedans Festival in Amsterdam.
In Galway, Ní Néill has taken dance outdoors and into ghost estates; this weekend features performances in a shopping centre and a vacant office building that has been taken over for the festival. “These places are part of our everyday experience, so instead of having to go somewhere removed from daily life to see dance, I think it can have quite an impact for dance to transform everyday landscapes,” she says.