Stephanie Wolf: Hi all, this is Stephanie. A quick note about today’s episode. I mixed this episode just before 9a.m. Mountain Time on February 1st. I’m giving it a timestamp because the choreographer was contemplating issues around Brexit and a lot might have changed regarding that topic by the time you’re listening. Ok, now that we’re done with that bit of official business… on with the episode.
Liz Roche: There’s this serious Brexit crisis that’s going on. Well, if we know if it’s going to be a crisis or not. And there’s many things shifting in the relationship with Northern Ireland and what’s happening in Northern Ireland.
LR: Really thinking about that, what happens when you’ve known a time of difficulty and then the time goes away and it’s amazing how quickly you forget about that. You know, you just get on with life. And then when it’s reintroduced, this idea of possibly going back to the way things were. I just felt that the reaction was huge, like this sense of just not wanting to have to be fearful of those things again or be concerned or hear those things on the news again or see them on the street again.
AMBIENT SOUND OF REHEARSAL WITH LIZ ROCHE TALKING
SW: Liz Roche is based in Dublin, where the company that bears her name rehearses. She’s been creating work there for about two decades.
Her latest piece premieres in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s called “The Here Trio,” featuring just three dancers. She says it’s a departure from much of her previous work, particularly in how it all came together.
LR: I would normally be somebody who would work out a lot of things in advance. But I felt if I’m trying to make a piece around this feeling of being here now and what that means, I felt like I had to loosen up a little bit.
SW: Roche and I met up very early in her process. Just DAYS into it actually. And on today’s episode of UnSequenced, Roche shares what those early days looked like.
UNSEQUENCED ORIGINAL THEME MUSIC BY COMPOSER JOE KYE
SW: Welcome to the first episode of Season 02 of UnSequenced, a podcast about the choreographic process. I’m your host Stephanie Wolf.
SW: On a recent trip to Dublin, I got to experience a small slice of the city’s dance scene… and that included a conversation with Liz Roche. Well, two conversations actually.
I have no shame in admitting that I had a technical issue. My memory card that held our first chat got corrupted — the interview was really good and you’ll have to trust me on that because I lost EVERYTHING on that card. Needless to say, it was devastating. But Roche graciously agreed to meet up again… and the silver lining was that we got to go a bit deeper into this work.
LR: The piece is commissioned by Maiden Voyage Dance, which is a Belfast-based company and we’re co-producing the piece with them. Nicola Curry is the Artistic Director of Maiden Voyage Dance. And Nikki came to me about, would I think about making a piece for the company? And how would that work? And I suppose my first reaction was to just think about making a piece in Belfast at the moment and what does that mean? And I suppose I’m relating that to the more political aspect of things.
SW: The political aspect of things in that moment, Brexit.
I am not an expert on this, nor will I pretend to be. But here’s the thing. Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. The U.K. leaving the EU means Northern Ireland is also out of the EU, while Ireland remains.
It’s important to note that Roche and I spoke in mid-November of 2019. And there was a lot of uncertainty about what Brexit would mean for the border between the North and the South.
LR: And also I suppose being from the South, you know, I suppose your relationship to that changing, again. Because of course there was this terrible period of violence there and unrest. And I suppose we can assume that that has calmed in the last 20 years. Maybe it hasn’t completely gone away, and there are real fears about what’s going to happen if a border goes back in place or if a military border goes back in place.
SW: There were several decades of violence, bombings and shootings… killing thousands between the late 60s and the late 90s.
Roche says she spent part of that time away training in London. But she does have childhood memories of a hard border — before tensions started to ease following the Good Friday Agreement in the late 90s.
LR: As a child growing up, my personal experience would have been, you know, passing through the border to go to Belfast or to go to Northern Ireland and it would be a military border. So there would be guns pointed at you and there would be snipers, and it was very intimidating. I remember being in Belfast with tanks going through the center of the town and guns being pointed at you and I think I probably didn’t even feel the half of it. I have friends that grew up at slightly different times and in different cities that would have described, effectively, a war zone. That would have been in the very very early nineties because in the mid nineties then, progression towards something better started to happen. But in the early nineties, just you would keep a low profile. You would keep your accent to yourself because, you know, people were nervous of you if you were Irish.
SW: Officials have said they don’t want a hard border to return.
While Brexit is on Roche’s mind, her work ultimately tackles much bigger ideas: history, boundaries, belonging and being present.
LR: I wouldn’t feel very confident to try and make a very political piece. Of course, I’m looking at it from the point of view of the body, kind of adaptable, fluid form, which is the body, as a site for all of these events or as a site for this information or what happens. How that happens, when I suppose the prospect of going back into something unwanted. And what it really brought up in my thinking was also how the thinking in a difficult situation can be very black and white. It’s all comparisons and how you know one thing from the other. And we live in a time where everybody’s really categorizing a lot. And it feels like it’s meant to be in the spirit of more freedom and awareness, but it does feel very, like it shuts people down. I am this, this is me, this is my identity and I’m part of this gang. I don’t know, it sounds really naive. I don’t want to live in that type of world.
So in dance, I’m trying to present the body as the fluid possibilities that it can be. I suppose this sense of being here now, not projecting into some imagined future, but just being here, what does this moment mean now? So we’ve ended up in quite, I suppose a bit of a lofty exploration with this idea of being here. So, “The Here Trio.” Just this sense of what it is to be here, can we feel here together? How do we experience that? Is that the important thing at the root of everything that we need to feel?
Like when I’m talking about being in Belfast, I am nervous about saying anything too direct. Cause I don’t think it’s my place to do it, but I also have a perspective in the world and I think about these things. And even if it’s maybe not completely organized and defendable all the time, I still think that you can, you can create a space. It’s not all about what I feel. It’s also about what audiences bring to it. But I also feel like it’s the role of the artist to imagine and pretend to a degree. I know that sounds really childish, but to empathize, to just notice.
SW: She explains that they’re only about four days into the process. It could go a completely different direction. But she says, at the moment, this is where they’re at.
AMBIENT SOUND OF REHEARSAL CONTINUES
LR: So I’ve come into the research and rehearsal period just with kind of indications, ideas and with no solutions. And I’m a real solutions person. It’s like I, I often would say to the dancers, “Oh, I was thinking about this.” And then I give them about five seconds to not even digest. And I’m like, but I’ve already got the answer. We’re going to do this. So I’m really trying not to do that with this piece, so of course that’s a little bit nerve wracking because you never know if it’s gonna amount to anything.
Every piece has to be made in its own way. And there’s something about this piece that is calling me to do that. So there’s a few things that I know very clearly. I had this idea of, you know, the body as a site and also the site of a place and the history and what that means. I see the dancers in this kind of forward movement is all I can really describe it as. We’re talking in the moment as I go, like a kind of bulldozing this space. And then I see a strip of floor so that the space is restricted and that the score would be drums.
LR: I felt that it needed to be restricted, that the sound needed to be restricted and there needed to be something functional but necessary.
DRUMMING SOUNDS CONTINUES
LR: I suppose when you add instruments, you know, it can become more complicated and maybe different colors in there and all at once, that can really say something. I feel like there’s also an energy in this piece. There’s something in me that kind of wants to slow down. I make very intricate, I suppose like busy work a lot at the time. And I also was feeling a bit like, let’s just pick that apart. And we need to do that in the movement and we need to do that and the sound.
SW: The drummer is Bryan O’Connell. Roche says they’ll record the score rather than having him perform it live.
LR: I don’t want to give the audience too much. I want them to have to deal with the dancers and deal with the movement. And even though it’s really brilliant to see that connection between the dancers and a musician, you’d either be drawn to one or the other.
SW: A lot of improvising early on, correct?
LR: Yeah. Like, I would normally create more movement, but what we’re doing now is really loose improvising, recording it and then just taking all of that time to go: “I like that bit. Not that bit. Let’s keep that. What was that?” And I think it’s difficult actually for the dancers cause it’s hard. It’s hard to get back a moment all the time, but we’re in the flow of it now.
SW: The dancers improvise to podcasts at this point in the process.
AMBIENT SOUND OF REHEARSAL WITH PEOPLE TALKING
LR: We’ve been doing improvisations that are maybe half an hour, or 45 minutes, which is long for me. So they really like, they hit a wall of boredom or they hit the wall of there’s nothing left to do. And then something interesting starts to happen. And then kind of listening to podcasts about nature and people telling sometimes about their life story and the music. There’s this great program here called Mystery Train on Lyric FM and people come on and do music or they kind of do the music of their life and talk about their life. And it’s really nice for an improvisation. The sound is in this place of memory and kicking up images all the time. And then every now and then the dancers, just the image kind of chimes with what they’re doing. And it’s really nice.
AMBIENT SOUND OF REHEARSAL CONTINUES
LR: There’s been lots of moments actually from the improvisations that we’ve used. Ryan, he was improvising and he…
SW: Dancer Ryan O’Neill.
LR: …he kind of went into this very light sort of Zen movement. His legs were working really hard, like down into the ground and up and really kind of like hip sort of grinding, knee grinding stuff that you’re like, Oh God, hate to try and do that. But his upper body was very light and really gestural. But very light gestures, nothing fixed, nothing organized really. There just was this moment in the podcast where somebody was talking about a conversation that they were having. So then his gestures were that kind of light almost as if when somebody’s talking and their arms move just to explain what they’re doing… So that’s something that we’ve taken and tried to recreate.”
SW: The cast also includes dancers Sarah Cerneaux and Gloria Ros Abellana.
LR: The three of them, Sarah and Gloria and Ryan got into this kind of simple trio of replacing and displacing each other. And then this song came on. It all of a sudden organized itself into this completely choreographed like it was like a good minute and a half of something that looked like had been rehearsed and choreographed. And it was almost like the lightness of the song and the fluidity of the song just brought this order to what they were doing. So we actually just literally lifted that and learned it. We changed it a bit since, but it was like, as a base, that was really interesting.
THEME MUSIC STARTS TO COME UP
SW: We actually got to some new territory today, which was nice. Is there anything else you want to share though?
LR: Let me think. Just the piece is February 7th and 8th in The MAC in Belfast and it will be part of a double bill. And then it’ll go to Arma and then we’re hoping to bring it to Dublin and Limerick in April. So yeah it’s exciting I’m really happy to have the opportunity and to have the commission from Maiden Voyage and the possibility to do it…
THEME MUSIC CONTINUES
SW: That’s Dublin choreographer Liz Roche. As she just mentioned, her new work – “The Here Trio” – premieres February 7th and 8th in Belfast. It’s part of a double bill, co-presented with Northern Ireland group Maiden Voyage Dance.
That’s it for today’s episode of UnSequenced!
The podcast is produced and mixed by me, Stephanie Wolf. I also recorded this episode.
Our theme music is composed by Joe Kye. Thanks Joe! Also thanks to our sponsor MSeam Apparel. And our Patreon members. You can join them in supporting this podcast with a one-time contribution or by becoming a monthly subscriber today!
Listen to UnSequenced wherever you get your podcasts.
THEME MUSIC SIGNS OFF