Cathy Coughlan, the producer of Fable, reflects on the challenges and thrills associated with bringing hip hop and street dance to a theatre setting.
Where did the idea of Fable come from and how did you connect with Human Collective?
The idea for Fable came from two short pieces that Matt Szczerek produced as part of the theatre night at Dance2Connect, a festival that we run at Civic Theatre. We recently received Arts Council funding and substantial partnership from Dance Ireland to produce a bigger festival for 2019. It’s essentially about expanding and supporting the Hip Hop community in Ireland and giving dancers who exist on the periphery of the professional dance scene (skilled as they obviously are) the opportunity to produce work in a theatre context, as well as supporting the dance battles. We also bring in a large contingent of international dancers, mentors and participants over the course of three days (now seven days). I started working with Matt in 2016 and hired him as a dancer/choreographer in two of my residency projects at RUA RED. In September 2016, I will begin another year in residency at Rua Red and Matt/Human Collective will be a big part of a larger programme of work concerned with men and movement.
Is using street dance, to convey socio-political stories, considered a means of arresting the short-span attention of a younger generation? How effective can it be?
In short, yes. The idea around using screens and voiceovers as well as live performance, was about tapping into our ‘flickering’ attention span… however I feel this may have been lost on some reviewers who felt the elements of the performance were disconnected. There is definitely a lot of work to be done around bringing these things together in a coherent way, but the feedback from a younger generation has been quite different (more positive). For them it was no problem to focus on more then one element. All stories were taken directly from serious news stories and exaggerated in such a way as to make the audience question their legitimacy. Simply put, I wanted to make a show about the idea of fake news and present real stories as old fashioned fables. In a sense, it was about what it might be like to look back at these times. In a sort of ‘you couldn’t make it up’ kind of way. I’m not sure that came off…. but we really see this a starting point. We did it on a teeny tiny budget in four weeks (two in the case of one dancer).
How important was striking a balance between humour with more disturbing aspects considering the audience (13+) you are appealing to?
As the Reviews Hub said ‘Fable is a striking, accomplished piece of dance theatre that confidently trusts its young audience to understand and interrogate the world around them, and to recognise the need to change and shape the future”. As you know yourself, I am the parent of a teenager and there is NOTHING she doesn’t get. They are so wide to it all. Nothing shocks her… which actually makes it really difficult to move this generation. We want to draw people in with the dynamic movement and then challenge their relationship with media and information.
What was the greatest lesson you learnt in staging Fable?
In terms of staging, I learned that if you are going to layer elements or make a multi-media piece, all those elements have to be of equal value and run along side each other in the full rehearsal process. I tried to delegate (more than usual) as I was producing and directing but something got a bit lost in that process… Big multi-media pieces need big teams and big budgets. Which is why I feel this is the start of something that we will work deeper into going forward.
What were reactions to the opening weekend like?
We had very mixed reviews. The dancers were loved by all but I think the piece as a whole will come together over time. Audience reaction has been incredible though. I think when you understand where these dancers are coming from and the huge leap of faith they are taking, it changes your perspective slightly. My mother, who generally gives me her full outright opinion, thought it was the most exciting thing she had seen me do. (I think she’s had enough of people rolling slowly along the ground, haha)
The final performances of Fable take place this Sunday, September 16 at 1.30pm & 3.30pm in the Project Arts Centre. Adults €12, kids €8
Photography: Joseph Carr