The Arts Interview: Colin Dunne

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

The Arts Interview: Colin Dunne
Born in Birmingham to Irish parents (from Monaghan and Wexford), I lived there until my mid- twenties.

Born in Birmingham to Irish parents (from Monaghan and Wexford), I lived there until my mid- twenties.

After living in both Dublin and New York for a while I blew into Limerick around 2001.I graduated from the MA in Contemporary Dance Performance at the University of Limerick (UL) during my year as Dancer-in-Residence (20001/2002). However, after performing in Riverdance from 1995 to 1998, I was looking for a new stimulus in my relationship with dance and performance.

After living in New York for a year I started to see a lot of contemporary dance there.

I was baffled by it sometimes, and didn’t always know how to process what I saw, but I was drawn to the kind of work that contemporary dancers were making. It was like reading abstract poetry that resonated with me without knowing really why. I was curious, then, as to how a contemporary dance approach might work with traditional Irish dance, and enrolled in the UL course.

Contemporary dance is an umbrella term which covers a multitude of styles, techniques and philosophies about dance.

There are definitive techniques such as those developed by, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Trisha Brown, which dancers can learn and are recognisable. But apart from technique, contemporary dance is as much to do with a particular aesthetic, or point of view, from which artists chose to work. Many of the developments in contemporary dance have either followed or been aligned with the various modern/post-modern artistic movements of the 20th century. I tried explaining to my sisters once by comparing ballet to a Rembrandt painting, with contemporary dance being a Pollock. A good piece of contemporary dance will often alter our perceptions of dance, challenging what we think we already know.

Riverdance made Irish dance fashionable as well as giving dancers the opportunity to work professionally.

I had a really great time performing with the show for three years but it also acted as a protagonist for me. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I performed over 800 shows, but towards the end, I knew that I needed to find something else to dance, or else not dance at all. The Riverdance phenomenon can be strange. People will sometimes point at me in the street and say ‘Riverdance’ and then move on. This reaction is funny but also uncomfortable.

Recently, I finished a six-year long international tour with a solo show, called Out of Time. The show was commissioned by Glór in Ennis (2008), and was made both in Glór and here in Limerick. It was produced initially by the brilliant Monica Spencer. It was a very personal show about my relationship with Irish dance at the age of forty. It went on to play at the Barbican in London and at venues in Singapore, Paris, Milan, New York, Rio and LA. It was subsequently nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award in London following its run at The Barbican. The highlight was probably being invited by Mikhail Baryshnikov to perform it at his venue (the Baryshnikov Arts Centre) in New York.

There is a small but focused community of dance practitioners in Limerick City.

The two hubs are the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (IWAMD) at UL (where the MA program is run by Dr. Mary Nunan), and Dance Limerick in St. John’s Square. The latter run classes for professionals and amateurs and offer artist residencies to Irish and International dance artists, as well as programming events. Many students who take the MA program will often stay on in the city after graduating and continue to make work here.

Limerick Youth Dance offer classes in contemporary dance with the opportunity to perform work and there are dance classes offered at Dance Limerick for various age groups, starting at two.

Outside of Dublin, it can be challenging to find audiences for dance.

People are very willing to attend shows which have a branding or are well known (I believe all of the Riverdance performances at the UL Sports Arena in January, as part of City of Culture, were sold out), but are less willing to take a risk if something is called contemporary dance. In Ireland, the playwright, the play, and actors are still King. People love a good story and so they are more willing to leave their houses to go and see a play. Some of the most interesting theatre made in Ireland, today, is actually being made by choreographers and dancers. We need to continue developing audiences for this kind of work.

Based in, and around the Limerick area, for the past 14 years, I am fairly adaptable to a place once there are good people around me to work with. Limerick City of Culture has made a real difference here. Indeed, there has been a very positive vibe in town particularly during the summer. The arts in Limerick have had a rough few years lately and I hope City Hall see this year as the beginning of something rather than a once off. Limerick has huge potential, and I would rather live in a place with potential than one which thinks it has already arrived.

This Saturday, I will be performing with the Cork Gamelan Ensemble, which is a Javanese percussion ensemble, in a show called Telephones And Gongs. Also appearing will be Julie Feeney, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Malachy Robinson, Nick Roth and The West Cork Ukulele Orchestra.The Gamelan, which essentially consists of 66 bronze gongs, (the Javanese equivalent of a Western Orchestra), resides in University College Cork (UCC) School of Music. It really has a unique sound, and over the past ten years, Mel Mercier (Director of the Music School) initiated a series of collaborations between the ensemble and other Irish artists.

Colin Dunne will perform at The Lime Tree Theatre on Saturday, October 18 at 8pm. For more information please see The Lime Tree Theatre website: