Read: Dancing at the Crossroads: Joseph O’Connor writes for the Irish Independent
Writer Joseph O’Connor has shared a piece with this weekend’s Irish Independent Weekender magazine on the evolution of Heartbeat of Home. We’ve published some extracts, which should give you a flavour of what Heartbeat of Home is about, below:
Heartbeat of Home is a show that blends the thunder and drama of Irish dance with the sultriness and attitude of Latin American salsa and the glorious rhythms of Africa. It sees Ireland as an increasingly multicultural and outward-looking community, ready to engage with the world – and itself – in new ways.
Three years in the making, it’s been assembled by a mainly Irish team. During that time, our country faced serious challenges and difficulties, and began to envision different futures.
‘Heartbeat of Home’ – subtitled ‘A Dream Voyage’ – is a journey into the imagination, where all countries start. It’s why we have cultures. They express what we are, where we came from, where we’re going. They’re a way of opening out a conversation.
Ireland is at a moment of reinvention where new decisions have to be made. You might say we’re dancing at the crossroads.
Music and dance know we’re deeply connected. They’re the only truly international languages. For that reason, ‘Heartbeat of Home’ doesn’t try to be literal in its storytelling. It takes place in a dreamland of tall ships and starlight. Neon-shining cities and epic, open spaces.
After the dream-voyage of Act One, Act Two is built around a wedding; the whole piece is a love story of what might happen if beautiful cultures met in a vision. Brian Byrne’s music weaves jazz, flamenco, tango and boogaloo with the glories and poignancies of the Irish tradition in a composition that blazes new trails.
The Irish dance choreography of John Carey is itself a daring and beautiful act of storytelling, aware that the greatest music is always a marriage. This is absolutely an Irish show, but it’s doing something new. It goes away in order to come home.
‘Heartbeat of Home’ reverses the mirror. It imagines that the place we used to call ‘abroad’ is dancing with Ireland, in passion, pride and friendship. The joy, the wildness, the emotion of our music, expressed in the truly borderless eloquence of dance. To animate the hopes and victories of the emigrants who built the world’s skyscrapers, as they still do today. To evoke the starlit oceans and the high lonesome places. But to do it from the vantage point of a contemporary Ireland, whose emigrants are of the Skype and Facebook generation and whose best days are yet to come.
Parts of every Irish city have been regenerated by immigrant families: Poles, Estonians, people born in Africa, Russia, China, Europe or South America, in search of what a songwriter once called ‘A Place for Us’. How deeply moving to see their pride at citizenship ceremonies up and down the land. To be part of the inheritance we own together was their greatest hope. We’ve such richness to learn from one another.
Brian’s music, and David and John’s choreography, are alive to this fact. Our band is a stunning blend of international experience and youth. And our dancers, drawn from many countries and backgrounds, are the heroes of ‘Heartbeat of Home’.
For a writer in the garret to see words given expression in this way has been among the most deeply moving experiences of my professional life. To work with storytellers of this calibre is to be coaxed in speechless admiration to the most overused adjective in modern English.
I’m sorry. They are awesome. They make you drop your jaw. I listen to that thunderstorm they make with their feet, and I get the sort of joy you feel when actors smash china on a stage. It’s not the body dancing to an instrument. The body is the instrument. These people drum. With their feet.
I look at these members of the same species as you and I, and they’re soaring, lifting, swaying, afloat – now up on their tip-toes like superheroes about to take off, now weaving and melding with air.
Awe. You open your mouth. Find you breathe a bit harder. A strange choke in your emotions. You might weep. What they’re doing with their bodies is what every soul burns to do. What all of us long for. What poetry yearns to reach. The truth on the far side of silence.
If only I could express who I am. What I feel. The depths I’ve been down to. The skies I’ve sometimes touched. The tempest-blown dreams of the place I was born. Battered, not perfect, but so special and beautiful, like nowhere else on earth. Where my ancestors had to leave. Where my children leave now.
That’s what these dancers can do with the body. Tell us stories we somehow recognise – because they’re ours. The body, with its fragilities and its needs and its wants, its rhythms and pleasures and pains. It’s where all of us live. In this strange ship called the body. And we sometimes long to jump from it, to fly into a dream.
That’s what these dancers do. Carve pictures in air. Make music with the ground. It’s dancing to music, but it’s music itself.
When these young magicians dance, a spell of beauty unfurls. You’re a part of the heartbeat. You’re home.
You can read the full article online here.