Maiden Voyage Dance explores pain of miscarriage in new triple bill
When the Armagh woman behind a dance company staging a production concerning the painful subjects of stillbirth and infant death had a miscarriage herself, she knew she could 'either buckle under it or use it as a kind of therapy'. She spoke to Gail Bell about taking the latter course
IT's one thing for life to imitate art when it comes to style and culture, but when a performance has loss and raw emotion gnawing at its core, you don't expect the grief to get personal.
Certainly, Nicola Curry, artistic director with contemporary dance company Maiden Voyage, didn't think so when working on the group's major new work, Landscapes of Loss, which forms part of a triple bill opening at The Mac this weekend.
One minute Curry was in professional mode, overseeing rehearsals with the dancers, who portray the intense effects of stillbirth and infant death on stage, and the next she was experiencing a miscarriage herself and all the heart-wrenching, heart-ripping pain that comes with it.
"It was the most terrible, awful loss that became real to me and not just something in the script," she says, "but, afterwards, I looked at it as an emotional experience which helped me understand better what we are trying to get across to people in the audience.
"Exploring the physical and emotional territory of infant death is obviously a very intense, deeply personal subject and it certainly became more so for me as the work continued to completion.
"Visual artist for the piece, Belfast-based Sharon Kelly, and writer Martelle McPartland, from Lurgan, had both experienced stillbirth multiple times and when it happened to me I also was in a very fragile, emotional place and could easily have cancelled rehearsals.
"However, I knew I could either buckle under it or use it as a kind of therapy to work things out. After all, that was the idea from the beginning; to create a different kind of visual understanding of the subject through movement and moving image."
It may be a more unusual means to express such a challenging topic in an artistic setting, but Armagh native Curry, who studied Law and later took an MA in contemporary dance performance before setting up Maiden Voyage in 2001, maintains the spoken word is not a prerequisite for conveying emotion and empathy in the theatre.
"We use contemporary dance with music and a projection of Sharon's visual art to set the scene, so I think the story will be made clear and the audience will be able to follow it without any problems," she says. "The story between a male and female dancer is portrayed in an abstract way but the feelings are real – maybe real for some members of the audience as well.
"We use a sparse setting to convey a physical absence and I hope people are moved by the sense of shock, by the utter loneliness of grief and also the division in a relationship because of it.
"It was difficult to articulate this all through dance, but it is powerful and it works. Often, when we experience loss in life, it is hard to express. Sometimes in life, words are not enough."
Landscapes of Loss is the poignant finale of the triple bill which begins with the work of acclaimed London choreographer Rachel Lopez de la Neita in an innovative portrayal of the pedestrian in Everything has a Somewhere.
"The idea was triggered by having recently cleared my garage of years' of stuff, objects and furniture, all belonging to myself and my family, including dead relatives," she explains.
"These things, some old and antique and some more contemporary, seem to be the relics and extensions of our existence and provoke nostalgia. I am fascinated by the values and labels that we attach to material form. Do we attach similar value judgments to people and objectify them as well? It made an interesting subject to explore through dance."
The second commission, Körper and Leib, features two male dancers and zooms in on the relationship between the physical (Korper) and spiritual (Leib) using the two German words for body.
The duet was created by Bangor-born international dance artist Oona Doherty, whose intention was to have the dancers move in "skilful, slow meditation" and bring the audience to "a place where they tune into the realms of the spiritual body".
All three new commissions will provide both a platform and space for many different aspects of love, loss and living to be thoughtfully considered, according to Curry – mother of a five year-old son and artistic perfectionist who spent three years working "sporadically" on Landscapes of Loss.
"The dancers – Ryan O'Neill, David Ogle, Vasiliki Stasinaki and Carmen Fuentes Guaza – bring an international flavour and are amazing, vibrantly bringing to life subjects that are thought-provoking yet sensitive to the subject matter at hand.
"They collectively bring a focus on profound and challenging life experiences which many of us find difficult to discuss. I hope dance opens up the dialogue in a different way."
:: Maiden Voyage Dance Triple Bill (suitable for 15-plus) opens at The Mac on Friday March 3, with a second performance on the Saturday (March 4). The three-in-one show also takes to the stage at the Market Place Theatre, Armagh, on March 9. For Belfast tickets and information, visit www.themaclive.com/event or call the box office on 028 9023 5053.