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'We're so conditioned to keep quiet. I notice it in myself all the time'

On some days it feels like being a woman could be the reason I don’t get certain opportunities, but it’s not clear cut, writes Liz Roche.

Liz Roche Choreographer

IT’S VERY HARD to know if success in one’s career is defined by your gender. It’s a subtle thing.

On some days it feels like being a woman could be the reason I don’t get certain opportunities, but it’s not clear cut.

The main issue for me would be balancing family and career, which means that inevitably you have to make choices. Often those choices are about putting family first, which might mean not being able to travel or network as much as would be needed in order to progress quicker.

There’s not a lot I can do about it – so I’ve learned to accept it.

Just one perspective

Women can be more confident in their position within the artistic community, especially since awareness of gender equality has grown with movements like Waking the Feminists.

This also means that there is a greater interest in exploring issues around what it is like to be a woman working/living in Ireland today, and perhaps audiences want to think about these things and want to explore them through different art forms and ways of seeing – which is why, we, as an artistic community exist – to offer those alternative ways of seeing in order to open the doors and widen the view and to ask difficult questions of ourselves and others.

Next week, my dance company wll be performing WRoNGHEADED in Project Arts Centre at Dublin Dance Festival 2018. This piece merges film, voice and movement to confront these many issues surrounding women’s rights and freedom of choice in Ireland today.

Poor record

Ireland has a very poor record when it comes to the treatment of women. Though the record is just as bad for children and men. Generations of hurt are only beginning to come to the surface.

Once we acknowledge the pain, then there is the issue of being able to talk openly about it all. We’re so conditioned to keep quiet. I notice it in myself all the time. When it comes to talking or writing, I don’t feel confident that I can make a strong argument, maybe that’s why I make dance instead. WRoNGHEADED is my way of speaking out.

WRoNGHEADED grew out of the anger and sadness felt on hearing the news report of the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Having premiered the original version at the 2016 Dublin Fringe Festival, this new extended version showcases powerful dance performances propelled by the fiercely spoken words of Galway poet Elaine Feeney.

Responding to Savita’s death

Savita’s death sparked such a surge of frustration, where I felt that I had to respond in some way – so it is important the work is shown in light of the Eighth Amendment Referendum this month.

I approached Elaine Feeney and Limerick based filmmaker Mary Wycherley asking if they would both work with me on a response to the rising personal and societal frustration. It’s a complex work, full of energy and life, and sadness and shock.

The dancers say that they feel like they are in a state of “emergency” when they perform the piece, and I think that is a good way of describing it.

Just one perspective

I do think that over the last 20 years, dance audiences have seen less and less work by women that is funded at the same level of work we see being put out there by male choreographers. And you could argue that this has an affect on what eventually audiences want to see.

If they are only seeing one perspective or indeed, not seeing their concerns represented they will eventually move on. I’m happy that I was the first choreographer to have a dance piece, Bastard Amber, commissioned by the Abbey Theatre and presented on their main stage during Dublin Dance Festival in 2015.

I’m also happy that since then choreographer Michael Keegan Dolan has presented his work there and Oona Doherty will present her new show there next week for Dublin Dance Festival. For me, this more than ever is evidence of the growing appreciation and the acknowledgement of dance in Ireland.

As a sector it seems that we are always climbing a mountain to be acknowledged and valued at a deeper level within society; in this way I would say that this fight has nothing to do with gender, it is simply something for us to all work on together.

I think there is something about my work that is inherently feminine. Maybe that’s an obvious thing to say, but many choreographers battle with their nature, find their creativity in subverting the flow.

I try to go with the flow- when I say that, I mean the movement has a fluidity, balance, rigour and drive, and I would consider that a more feminine energy. I make dance that often feels poetic and beautiful but tries to honour the complexities of our lives, a more fair reflection of, I believe, of how all our lives are today.

Gender balance

My work in terms of gender balance is pretty equal – I work with the same amount of women as men, I enjoy that sense of equality and democracy that is at the core of contemporary dance; bodies are bodies and we try not to get too weighed down with labels and categories.

My dance company has grown steadily over the last 15 years. Thinking back now to the beginning, with group of close artistic collaborators we put our heads down, kept the pressure up year after year, worked hard and little by little built an uncompromising and honest company ethic with a very strong foundation.

I have a lot of help but the artistic drive of the company comes from me. I am supported by a number of key women and men who consider the company and its needs deeply and give a huge amount of their time and energy to making it. These people contribute from all sides; backstage, onstage, in the office, from overseas… it’s a real group effort and that’s the joy of it all.

Liz Roche Company’s new version of WRoNGHEADED opens at this year’s Dublin Dance Festival at Project Arts Centre (May 16 & 17); and transfers to Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire (May 22) & Hawks Well, Sligo (May 24) – Further info: lizrochecompany.com.

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About the author:

Liz Roche  / Choreographer

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