Tipperary becomes the centre of the dance world for six days

Tipperary Dance Project will bring a week-long flurry of international dance activity to the town

 

‘It must be very difficult for you in America to write music, being so far away from the centres of tradition.” When a Dutch musician confronted avant-garde composer John Cage, his riposte was immediate: “It must be very difficult for you in Europe to write music, being so close to the centres of tradition.”

Dancers Jazmin Chiodi and Alexandre Iseli are well aware of this tension between proximity and distance from artistic tradition. In 2008, both left careers dancing with leading choreographers in mainland Europe to take up a dance residency in Tipperary town. In the intervening years, the artistic isolation has helped them to hone their individual styles away from the glare of the spotlight. But it has also left them at times feeling undernourished by the lack of interaction with fellow dance artists.

Next week they will be feasting. The annual Tipperary Dance Platform, which they established five years ago, brings some of Europe’s leading dance practitioners to a six-day festival of performances, classes, screenings and other activities. This year’s artists include Daniel Abreu from Spain and Barcelona-based Francisco Córdova Azuela from Mexico, both award-winning choreographers whose work has toured worldwide.

 

‘Energise us’

“The visiting performers don’t just energise us as artists,” says Chiodi, who is originally from Argentina. “[They bring] together all the strands of our dance residency.” As well as performances, Tipperary Dance Platform will offer workshops for professional dancers, classes for children, a video installation and screenings, mentored research for emerging choreographers, a tea dance and a forum. This mix addresses their three priorities as dancers-in-residence: developing contemporary dance in the community, increasing resources for themselves as artists, and establishing and evolving Excel arts centre as a venue and resource for dance, including touring companies.

Tipperary, with a population of about 4,500, wasn’t completely new to contemporary dance – Jenny Roche had been a resident dancer for a couple of years in 2005 – but it was almost a blank slate.

“In the early days we discovered that, in order to develop contemporary dance, we needed to develop audiences and a knowledge around the artform,” says Iseli, who is from Switzerland. “Very quickly we started a dance-in-schools programme. Over the past years the residency has evolved and taken new directions, but the schools programme is still very strong.”

Chiodi also undertook an MA in festive arts at the University of Limerick. “That really helped us to think strategically about what Tipperary Dance Platform could achieve,” she says. “Ultimately we need to be realistic with the resources that we have and our location, but TDP has made and can continue to make an impact locally, nationally and internationally.”

Soon after arriving in Ireland, the pair constituted themselves as the Iseli-Chiodi Dance Company and have since toured Ireland, France, Germany, Russia, Venezuela, Mexico, the US and Korea. Along the way, partnerships were formed and professional exchanges grew. Invitees to Tipperary Dance Platform, however, are always chosen with the local audience in mind.

“The choice of visiting artists can’t be selfish personal preferences, but has to meet the needs of the residency,” says Iseli. “We’ve avoided work that is centred on concept in favour of dance that touches the audience emotionally. The movement needs to captivate and move the viewer.”

This year’s programme includes visceral thrills and spills. As well as Abreu’s highly physical Cabeza and Córdova Azuela’s contemporary and street dance-inspired duet, dancers Philip Connaughton and Ashley Chen will give the Irish premiere of Whack!! It’s a Franco-Irish collaboration between Connaughton and Chen’s Compagnie Kashyl. The two dancers’ reputation for high-octane performances that mix humour and thoughtfulness promise a crunching, full-bodied encounter.

Behind the scenes throughout the week, seven emerging choreographers will work with Shlomi Tuizer to develop new pieces, which will be given an informal performance at the end. As well as having an impressive back catalogue of choreography, Tuizer is an experienced mentor who takes a multipronged approach to unlocking potential, mixing hands-on advice with general discussion, and highlighting personal styles and impetus in creating choreography.

 

Wild fairy tale

Last year Andrea Hackl was in residency in Tipperary researching a new dance, and she has been invited to Tipperary Dance Platform with a solo , Black Ash, Singing Over Bones, which she describes as “a wild fairy tale”; and a video installation, Tales in Black & White. There are other video screenings during the week, including Kenneth Elvebakk’s excellent documentary Ballet Boys.

Tipperary Dance Platform concludes on Sunday morning with a walk through the Glen of Aherlow; after the visiting artists have departed, Chiodi and Iseli will return to teaching and creating choreography. The festival might highlight their isolation, but it also highlights the benefits of being based in Tipperary. “In cities, people are craving theatre spaces, but here we have a great venue available most of the time,” says Iseli. There are still frustrations, particularly the overall lack of funding for producing. “How many more duos and solos can we create?” he says.

Last week they were recipients of a GPO: Witness History Public Art Commission, as part of the Dublin Dance Festival project Embodied. Chiodi will create one of six new dance solos by female choreographers, so-called “physical proclamations” to be performed at the GPO in 2016.

“The commission gives our choreography a value that is important within the national context,” says Chiodi. “Even somebody who has never seen our work can judge it by this yardstick.” It is also a personal honour. “Yes, it is nice for someone to put a crown on your head,” says Iseli.

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