Bringing the body to the big stage
Roche made that possible for herself when she founded Rex Levitates (now the Liz Roche Company) with her sister in 1999, but despite her success – and the ascending national and international profiles of companies such as Coiscéim and Fabulous Beast – not that much has changed for young Irish dancers hoping to hone their craft here.
“There are some training options here now,” she says, “but it’s still not the same as [the standard in] the UK or Europe. There was a real push for a number of years for having an academy for excellence or a conservatoire, but then it fell away. It’s a bit sad that people still have to go abroad and there are a lot of people who end up not dancing because training would mean going away and that costs money. Of course, there would be a much richer tradition of dance [in Ireland] if people could see performances regularly and go into training here.”
Roche’s fascination with the Abbey didn’t end with her childhood encounters at the Peacock. In fact, the first time she saw a professional dance production at the Abbey as an adult is seared into her memory too. It was 2002, the Dublin Dance Festival had just been launched and the great US choreographer Merce Cunningham was programmed to play on the theatre’s main stage.
“It was a really important moment for dance in Ireland,” she says, “that dance should be placed on the national stage. It was an acknowledgment of dance’s relationship to other art forms; how people move or don’t move is part of [all the performing art forms].”
Dance was not always so peripheral to the theatrical arts in Ireland. In fact the Abbey Theatre once housed its own ballet school, run by the prolific ballerina Ninette de Valois, who had an enormous influence on the work of the theatre’s then-director, WB Yeats; Yeats himself wrote a series of dance plays in the following years. Yet dance has been slow to become part of the broader narrative of Irish theatre, which has tended towards the literary; the privilege of text over the body.
This has gradually begun to change since the 1970s – from the early work of Thomas MacIntyre to the contemporary work of Corn Exchange – but even classic theatre these days boasts a better relationship with the moving body, as choreographers such as Roche or David Bolger, whose work was central to the recent production of The Dead, are drafted in to help bring depth to the physical movement of the production.