Thursday, 21 November 2019

Breaking Pointe

Standard youtube Licence 

When I visited Cork to see Swan Lake by the Cork City Ballet nearly two weeks ago, I received a full-length copy of Breaking Pointe from Colette McNamee the chair of the company's board.  The film was made to celebrate the first 25 years of the ballet company and consists largely of an interview with its founder and artistic director, Alan Foley.

The first question to Foley was how he started dancing.  He replied that he started when he was very young dancing behind closed doors to records in his parents' sitting room.  Later he was sent to ballet class where he did well in competitions throughout Ireland and beyond. Eventually, he met Joan Denise Moriarty who terrified him.  On their first meeting, he bolted out of her presence.  However, he returned and submitted to her discipline even though there were times when he found it chafing.

In 1989 the Vaganova Ballet Academy invited dancers from around the world to attend a summer school in Leningrad.  He applied without first seeking Moriarty's permission. To his great joy and surprise, he was accepted.  His teacher was about to reprimand him when the Irish national broadcasting corporation learned of his success and asked her for her reaction.  What else could Moriarty say other than that she was very proud of him? In some footage that must be quite rare, she warned him that he could expect to work.  Apparently, he lost two stone in weight while he was there.

Although he also received training in London and New York, Foley seems to have established some close links with Russia.  His lead dancers in Swan Lake were Russian nationals. The sound recording and many of the costumes for his shows came from that country. Foley remarked in the film that Russians and Irish folk share a similar temperament which is a notion that had occurred to me from my own friends and acquaintances from those countries quite independently some time ago. One of Foley's former collaborators, Monica Loughman, who is best known in this country for Big Ballet in which several of my friends and acquaintances participated, trained at the Perm State Choreographic College (Пермский государственный хореографический колледж).

Although I had attended a ballet at either The Gate or Abbey in Dublin as long ago as 1982 I had not been aware of the strength of the balletic tradition in the Republic of Ireland.  I should have been, of course.  Dame Ninette de Valois, who founded our national company and leading ballet school, was born in Co. Wicklow.  Indeed, the teacher who led me back to the barre after a gap of 50 years is an Irishwoman albeit that she trained in Brisbane. What I learned in Cork from a taxi driver who had never attended a ballet was that Moriarty had set up a ballet company and school in Cork as long ago as the 1940s.  She had been a considerable choreographer.  She is particularly well remembered for adapting Synge's The Playboy of the Western World to dance.

Although Foley seems to be adept at rallying support from businesses and politicians - as I mentioned in my review of Swan Lake the President of the Republic wrote a foreword for the programme - it has received no support from the Arts Council of Ireland for several years. I was flabbergasted to learn that.  Performing arts companies in the UK grumble about state miserliness but lesser institutions than the Cork City Ballet seem to get something. Kruschev knew the value of ballet as an instrument of soft power when he sent the Bolshoi to tour the West immediately after Hungary. Maybe we had learned that lesson even earlier when we send the Sadler's Well Ballet to the neutral Netherlands in 1940.  The Cork City Ballet is a valuable cultural asset which should be cherished.

In my introduction to Cork City Ballet, I wrote that the company did not seem to have a school or associates programme but having seen shots of eager children and classes all over Cork and surrounding districts I think I may have been wrong.  It may not be called an associates programme as such but Foley and his company definitely train the young.  And not just the young for adult classes are offered at the company's Firkin Crane studio every Wednesday. According to McNamee, they are often given by Foley himself.

I warmed to the Cork City Ballet the moment the curtain rose and I want to see it do well. I have found lots of personal links to the company.  I have already mentioned Big Ballet and Loughman. There are many others.  One of Powerhouse Ballet's best dancers trained with Katherine Lewis, the company's ballet mistress. Sadly Lewis died earlier this year but she appears in the film. One of the company's solo artists trained at Ballet West.  His principal was delighted to learn of the success of her alumnus.  I shall be back in Cork next year for The Nutcracker and I hope that a good number of my theatre-going compatriots will be tempted to join me.

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