I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to contribute to this meeting of the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to discuss the importance of dance as a performance art. In Ireland, dance has often been considered theatre's lesser sibling. However, in recent years, Irish contemporary dance has exploded out of this shadow to stake its place strongly on the national and global stage, as artists with rich, diverse voices appear at the world's major festivals and venues and their works feature in lists such as The Guardian’s best dance of the 21st century.
Arts and culture are cornerstones for a healthy society and dance is an elemental part of that fabric. I would like to start this presentation with words from our younger audience members as they left the theatre, having seen David Bolger's "The Wolf and Peter", to emphasise the fact that culture transforms, culture is not neutral and the language of dance is universal.
From an audio-visual presentation:
I really like The Wolf and Peter; I liked how they showed it all by dancing and not by talking; My favourite part was when the wolf was dancing; We thought it was really funny; I liked when they were doing gymnastics; The music was really good; It was interesting when the wolf was dancing; The piano could do anything without stopping; It was really good; My favourite character was the cat; My favourite character is Peter the cat; I like all the animals; They are all really funny; I think everybody should go and see this show; Me too; There are some funny parts and scary parts and some sad parts; I would give it ten out of ten; I would give it 100 out of ten.
CoisCéim is unique in an Irish context in the way that we coherently connect performance and participation activity to broaden, deepen and diversify the public’s engagement with the performing arts through contemporary dance. We aim to inspire, challenge, provoke and stimulate and actively seek to collaborate at every stage. Our work is benchmarked with the best in world and David Bolger’s distinctive style on stage, on film and off site has accessed millions of people, introducing many to the art form for the first time. Projects such as "The Wolf and Peter" with Creative Dance Tales, These Rooms and 38 Women, clearly show how an integrated approach can help to embed creative capacity into communities for the long term. With the support of the Arts Council of Ireland and Culture Ireland, CoisCéim has had an extraordinary five years as we have magnified this reputation as creators of relevant, meaningful work at the forefront of contemporary art practice.
For example, the show, ""The Wolf and Peter"", thrilled almost 20,000 children and their families from Sligo to the Sydney Opera House. Our major four-year co-production entitled, These Rooms, brought Irish artists back to the London International Festival of Theatre for the first time in 27 years and featured in the 14-18 NOW's culmination programme to mark the centenary of the First World War. The performance entitled, "Body Language", in collaboration with Royal Hibernian Academy Gallery, enabled more than 13,000 people to encounter contemporary dance in a different context, and their response to this work was remarkable.
The primary reason behind these successes was a synergy between funding and programming cycles. Both "The Wolf and Peter" and "These Rooms" benefited from Arts Council advance planning funding strands. This meant that we were able to initiate and lead collaborations and co-productions with presenters, festivals and other funders to allow the full artistic potential of the works to be realised at home and abroad, thus unlocking fascinating opportunities for the future for contemporary dance made in Ireland. For example, "These Rooms" brought CoisCéim together with ANU Productions and the Dublin Theatre Festival, London International Festival of Theatre, LIFT, 14-18 NOW, Shoreditch Town Hall, Tate Gallery in Liverpool, National Museum of Ireland. National Archives of Ireland, Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, and Culture Ireland, doubling the Arts Council investment.
Why is dance important? It is said that more than 65% of our communication is non-verbal. Numerous studies describe the benefits of seeing and participating in contemporary dance. As David Bolger notes in an interview for our new production, "Francis Footwork", which has its world premiere this evening in Galway:
When we are infants we are quite proficient at communicating with our bodies. We learn to understand movement as a language. We learn rhythm from the heartbeat in the womb, and carry forward that sense of rhythm. Dancing is a natural feeling, it makes you feel stronger, happier and is hugely important for our development as adults. It improves communication skills and has only positive benefits in every aspect of our lives.
Dance is not just an important and fundamental component of the performing arts; it is a core ingredient for happy and healthy citizens.
It is concerning that Dance Ireland is not represented here today, given the focus of the meeting on dance as a performance art. It is a bit like having a discussion about wages for artists without the presence the Equity union.
Finally, dance has been disproportionately affected by funding cuts in recent years, materially impacting on the ability of artists to create work. As an inherently non-commercial art form, State support is vital for the sector to thrive. We call strongly on the Government to deliver on its 2017 pledge to double arts funding by 2020.