A double helping of dance

TWO OF Galway’s foremost dance companies - Corrib Dance Academy and Youth Ballet West -- take to the Town Hall Theatre stage in the coming weeks with exciting end-of-year shows.

First up is Corrib Dance Academy’s double-bill of Children of Lir and Movie Magic from December 12 to 15 at 8pm. Then Youth Ballet West take to the stage with another double-bill, Strings and Nutcracker Suite on Saturday December 21 at 8pm.

While Corrib Dance Academy and Youth Ballet West are entirely separate companies, they do have key personnel in common. Phyllis Hayes is both the owner and the principal of Corrib Dance Academy and administrator of Youth Ballet West. Phyllis’s sister, Judith Sibley, is the artistic director of Youth Ballet West and is one of the dance teachers at CDA.

Corrib Dance Academy

CDA’s upcoming Town Hall show is performed by the Academy students and begins with the famous Irish legend Children of Lir. One of Ireland’s oldest tales is retold through classical ballet and performed to a combination of orchestrated Irish and classical music. It also incorporates an excerpt from Swan Lake.

The second half of the programme, Movie Magic, draws its inspiration from popular films, both old and new. Modern theatre, tap, and jazz dance styles are all to the fore in a freewheeling tribute to the silver screen that seems sure to delight audiences.

“Children of Lir is a dance work I first put together some years ago when I first came to Galway and took over the school,” Phyllis tells me over a Monday phonecall. “It has evolved a lot since then. It relates the story of the Children of Lir told through classical ballet and is an original take on the legend. I’ve used orchestrated Irish music in the piece; a lot of it is from a score called ‘Island Wedding’ by Charlie Lennon and then we work in the piece from Act II of Swan Lake as well.”

Phyllis goes on to describe Movie Magic and reveals that the cast numbers are on the scale of a sizeable film.

“In this piece, we take music from lots of different films both old and new, everything from Chorus Line to Hairspray,” she says. “It’s very eclectic, the dance in it is mostly modern with some jazz and tap. There will be 150 dancers on stage altogether in the CDA shows, aged from four up to adult. Everyone who comes to the school is eligible to be in the show. It’s quite a logistical challenge backstage managing a lot of peoplel! Thankfully I have a lot of help backstage with the teaching staff.”

As well as Corrib Dance Academy’s ‘in-house’ multitude of dancers the show also features guest performances from two of its notable recent graduates.

“Brigitte O’Reilly, who joined us 13 years ago, has now gone on to get a place at the College of Dance in Dublin and she’s coming back to dance the role of ‘The Dying Swan’ in our excerpt from Swan Lake,” Phyllis reveals.

“Another of our former students is Rachel Noonan who is currently with the London Studio Centre and she’ll be performing the ‘What a Feeling’ routine from Flashdance. Overall, I’d describe the double-bill as a family-friendly show that is bright, fast-moving, and very entertaining. You certainly don’t have to be a dance connoisseur to enjoy it.”

Youth Ballet West

Moving on to Youth Ballet West, I have to start by giving a standing ovation to artistic director Judith Sibley in being able to put a show on at all. It was just over a year ago that Judith was told her daughter Lily Mae ‘Tiny Dancer’ Morrison, had the rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma. She has since been at the forefront of the public campaign to raise funds for her daughter’s treatment.

A few weeks ago Judith and her husband, dancer Leighton Morrison, received the magical news that Lily Mae’s cancer is in remission. Then, just last week, Lily Mae had to go back into hospital for abdominal surgery. Brave little battler that she has proved herself to be, she came through surgery successfully and has been already been permitted to return home.

Phyllis Hayes reflects on what has been a trying year for her sister.

“When the bad news first came last year about Lily Mae’s cancer Youth Ballet West were just about to put on Alice Underground,” she says. “Judith still wanted the show to go on without her so we all got together and managed to do that though it was very challenging. Then when Lily Mae got sick again in the last week it was like déjà vu because the new production was only three weeks away.

“It was tricky for Judith to make rehearsals but she managed it. She had been up in Crumlin Hospital with Lily Mae but after the successful surgery she was able to make it back to Galway for rehearsals on Sunday. The show embodies Judith’s vision and her choreography and it’s been good for her to be able to get into that side of herself outside of hospitals.”

Strings is a unique collaboration between Sibley and singer-songwriter Paddy Casey which was first performed by Sibley’s company Chrysalis Dance at the 2004 Galway Arts Festival. In the piece Sibley harnesses the emotion of Casey’s raw and honest music to create a modern dance work that evokes beauty, passion, and grace.

As Chrysalis approaches its 10th anniversary, Sibley completes a circle by setting excerpts of her first full length work for Youth Ballet West. Completing the programme is Sibley’s staging of Nutcracker Suite, the classic Christmas family favourite, which played to sold-out audiences in Galway when it was last performed in here in 2010.

“This show is a reworking of Strings,” Phyllis explains. “Judith has taken out four or five of the pieces from the original show and is probably using about three quarters of the original material, she has retained those pieces that are best suited to being done by a teenage company.

“Because it is quite a challenging piece we have brought in a number of ex-YBW dancers who have gone on to train in leading dance schools. The show features eight of the present YBW company and another nine dancers are coming in, some from abroad, in the spirit of the Gathering. We also have two guest artists. Andrea Santato and Hannah Windows, to take the lead roles in Nutcracker and Strings.”

Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie


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