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VIDEO: Turning stories of addiction and trauma into a powerful dance show

Woman Stood Regardless, by Catherine Young Dance, takes to the stage this weekend.

CONTEMPORARY DANCE IS an intriguing area of performance, but for choreographer Catherine Young, it doesn’t have to be hard to enjoy.

She knows that people from outside the world of dance might find the form inscrutable, or wonder how they can connect with a piece.

But the key is approaching it differently, as she explained when TheJournal.ie called into rehearsals for her new show, Woman Stood Regardless.

She assured that enjoying contemporary dance is not do with how much knowledge, or experience, of the craft that you have, but just letting it be what it is – and not trying to find a ‘story’.

Whatever you think, and whatever you feel, is right.

“Irish people are storytellers, that’s what we do. We’re big theatre heads; we want story. There’s a loose narrative going through it, I have a loose narrative in my head,” she said of the new show, which was inspired by women who had been through traumatic situations.

Woman Stood Regardless

In 2012, Young – who is Kerry County Council’s artist in residence – undertook a movement class in Listowel with local women.

It turns out these women had gone through trauma, [from] rape to addiction to… you name it, they had been through it.

They talked about creating a theme for their work together, and that theme was peace.

“[I asked them] if we were to make the piece, what would it be about, so tell me a little about yourself – and they just opened the floodgates,” recalled Catherine. “They found it really helpful to just talk about it, because they didn’t know me, and I wasn’t a therapist.”

What struck Young was how resilient the women were.

“There was a level of the honesty that was so real. It made me think: How honest am I, how real am I? Could I be that vulnerable and share myself?” she said.

“I think in life we hold a lot back and we don’t share a lot because of how we are perceived or judged.”

The “intriguing and different and raw and vulnerable” movements that the women created led to Young beginning work on Woman Stood Regardless. The idea of women being resilient is the overarching theme.

Young wondered how people find the strength to get back up after a traumatic experience.

“Sometimes there is no ‘thing’, maybe the option of not getting up is not an option,” was the conclusion she came to.

As already alluded to, Young isn’t exploring the women’s stories through a set narrative. Instead, she’s taking what she learned from them and using it to inform her work.

“Dance is not so great for narrative, it can be very hokey, very pantomime,” she said. “Dancing for me is very good at ‘aboutness’, so you take a theme and feeling, states and ideas.”

Aggression

It’s an incredibly physical piece, which is notable because the dancers are all female. “Sometimes in dance the guys get all the great physical work, so I wanted a really, really physical, strong physical piece where the women get to throw themselves around.”

She has experienced that physicality on stage in other countries, but Young said in Ireland it is often shied away from. “There’s quite a lot of intellectualism in dance [in Ireland],” she said.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

That physicality is expressed through the women “wrestling with the self, and the attachments and addictions”. The duets in the piece are often about the same person wrestling with their psyche and the part of the self that tries to keep them down.

“Some of them were dealing with more physical violence. There are sections of the piece where the dancers are quite aggressive with each other, which I don’t think you usually see with women being aggressive on stage,” pointed out Young.

The journey

The four dancers go through a similar journey, but each of them has their own part in the piece. The score, written by Michael Fleming, is dynamic and expressive.

What’s been challenging to this is if you bring in an instrument like a piano or violin, there’s so much emotion, there’s so much story in that already, that sometimes it can quash the movement. It’s been a fine line of too much emotion in music, because there’s so much emotion in the movement.

Young doesn’t want to tell people what to think or how to feel about the piece. “I think everybody’s going to have a different experience through it. With the piece I didn’t want to be too dictatorial, too prescriptive,” she explained.

“I try to leave space so people can put their own story in it, because you never know what people will connect with.”

Woman Stood Regardless by Catherine Young Dance visits the Project Arts Centre in Dublin on Friday 4 April and Saturday 5 April; Firkin Crane in Cork on 6 April and Siamsa Tíre in Tralee on 11 April.

VIDEO: The secrets behind the scenes at the ballet>

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