I’m excited to report that I’ve submitted my first ever funding application to the Arts Council!
I’m working on an illustrated book, in conjunction with Dr. Orfhlaith Ni Bhriain, which tells the stories of set dances within Ireland.
The project outlined in this application is a joint undertaking by Dr. Orfhliath Ni Bhriain, Irish dance scholar and teacher and practitioner of both Irish music and Irish dance, along with graphic designer, illustrator and Irish musician Michael McCabe. Orfhlaith has studied, performed and taught Irish music and dance in Ireland and abroad for many years. One of her research interests is the connection between Irish music and Irish dance. She has noted with concern that while excellent standards of performance are being achieved by exponents of both art forms, they have become so separate and distinct that some key elements in the history of their joint evolution have become ignored. This project seeks to provide a resource that will in some way to address this rather fractured relationship through their shared repertoire of set dances.
Against a backdrop of discipline separation and a narrow focus on performance and competition, set dances continue to form a unique touch point between past and present, between musician and dancer. In the dance realm, set dances are a living transmission of exact steps, danced to specific set dance tunes from the time of the dancing masters to the present. In the music realm, the very same tunes have been used by master musicians as show pieces, and they are rare within enduring tune types in that the relationship between dance and tune, musician and dancer has not been entirely lost. Each set dance has a history to it, be that a story surrounding its choreography by a dancing master, or the history of the origins of the tune itself. The set dances also feature titles that reflect the socio-economic conditions, the wars, the victors and losers of the time they originated.
Through text, notation, illustration and graphic design, this project will gather a collection of some forty set dance tunes and give an account of how these came to the Irish dance tune and their associated steps to the Irish dance choreographic repertoires. Each set dance will have an accompanying text encompassing an aspect of origin, context or history. It will feature a transcription of the tune, notes on the dance choreography, plus illustrations and info-graphics to bring the story to life using visual metaphor.
The publication will assist with promoting and maintaining the relationship between legacy and live performance, musician and dancer, scholar and performer, learner, expert and enthusiast. It will act as a bridge between performance practice and scholarship for Irish music and dance aficionados nationally and internationally. The collection will be published in physical book form, along with an eBook version. It will be promoted at key gatherings of Irish music and Irish dance and through a dedicated promotional website with online sales. In this way, it may offer some redress to the ongoing discipline drift by providing an engaging culturally embedded history accessible to both musicians and dancers.