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Ruairí Ó Donnabháin

Ruairí Ó Donnabháin

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“Tugaim aghaidh ar chúrsaí ón seasamh céanna mar duine aerach i gcónaí, agus tagann mo mhothálacht ó sin.’ Iscoragrafadóir, léiritheoir agus ealaíontóir é Ruairí Ó Donnabháin ag obair trí ghluaiseacht agus amharclannaíocht. Rugadh i gCorcaigh é, agus caitheann sé a chuid ama arOileán Chléire, Gaeltacht agus an tOileán is faide ó dheas in Éirinn, an áit ina bhforbraíonn sé a chuid oibre, agus ins naháiteanna eile ar fud an domhain a chuireann sé a chuid oibre i láthair. The English version of this story can be found underneath the Irish version.

Tá suim aige i conas a chruthaímid coirp agus féiniúlachtaí trí rince, agus is ábhar suime chomh maith iad Éireannachas, aerachas agus an caidreamh idir na rudaí sin. Go luath in a ghairm beatha, agus é mar bhall do chomhlacht turgnamhach rince, bhí spáis aige féachaint thart ar an stíl oibre a bhí sa réimse seo in Éireann, obair atá d’eascair don gcuid is mó ó cuir chuige idirnáisiúnta, agus é sin a cheistiú. 

 “Táim ag lorg fuinneamh Éireannach, ní gá dom ballet, rince comhaimseartha, cineálacha rince a tháinig ó thar lear. Cad é an céadfacht Éireannach, an céadfacht aerach? Conas a bhfuilna stíleanna rince atá ar na stáitse san tír seo ag dheimhniú léiriú normatach an choirp?” Seo iad na cheisteanna atá sé ag tabhairt fúthu in a chuid taighde. 

Chaith sé am ag obair leis an coragrafadóir Ceanadach Keith Hennessy, ealaíontóir bisiúil dírithe ar an taithí aerach agus SEIF, a thug deis do Ruairí smaoineamh faoi cé a fhaigheann deis rince agus cén fáth. Bhí an t-am a chaith sé le Keith dúshlánach agus foirmitheach. Rinne sé píosa dar teidealTURBULENCE; a dance about the economy ina scrúdaigh sé an ghéarchéim eacnamaíochta, an ról a ghlac Éireann ann agus conas a bhreathnaigh sé seo ó dhearcadh aerach. 

Dhúisigh an obair le Keith an smaoineamh gur féiniúlacht sochpholaitiúil é an t-aerachas, níl claonadh gnéis amháin. “Bhog mo thuiscint ar féiniúlacht aerach mar claonadh gnéis go rud a bhaineann le caidreamh sóisialta, le smaointe faoi teaghlach aerach, geilleagar aerach. D’oscail sé tuiscint nua dom ar cad a bhí ar siúl in Éireann ag an am sin.” Thosaigh sé ag smaoineamh ar ghluaiseacht tobchumtha agus ealaín mar “nuatheicneolaíochtaí aerach atáimid ábalta a úsáid agus a roinnt agus a scaipeadh i measc bpobal.” 

Ag smaoineamh faoi gluaiseacht agus rince, chinnte go mbíonn damhsa ábalta an castacht agus an gné pearsanta a fhiosrú agus a chur in iúl agus mar disciplín tá cumhacht uathúil san ghluaiseacht. “Tuigimid níos mó anois d’eolaíocht agus draíocht an ghluaiseacht, agus is cinnte gur rud difriúil é don ndrámaíocht nó don dteilifís. Nuair a bhreathnaíonn tú arghluaiseacht, tá rud fiseolaíoch ar siúl. Rud cheallach, comhrácheallach. Tosnaíonn imoibriú agus bíonn sé sin láidir. An modh níos sláine cainte é? “sea chinnte, le ghluaiseacht atá ar chaighdeán – níl an tionchar sin ag rince lag” 

‘Sé áit móitíf láidir i saoil agus obair Ruairí, le fiosrú á dhéanamh aige ar an nasc atá ag áit le conas a thógaimid muid féin agus le conas a chuirimid muid féin i láthair sadomhain. Cibé acu is maith linn é nó nach, tá tionchar mór agan áit ina bhfuilimid ar phearsantacht. Tá fírinne faoi leith le seo in Éireann, i gcomhthéacs na staire, agus pobal atá fós ag taistil agus ag bogadh timpeall – de bharr rogha nó faoi bhrú, inniu agus fadó. 

D’fhéadfá rá go láidríonn an taithí aerach na mothúcháin sin, agus tá is féidir leis an gcaidreamh sin bheith míchompordach. “Tá an taithí faoi áit agus baile tábhachtach do dhaoine aerach Éireannach ó mo ghlúinse. Tá sort leath chompord ann, ceann a roinnimid, faoi ghrá agus mothú ag a baile ar an oileán seo agus ar an lámh eile táimid míchompordach le ár iompar mar thír, agus an t-iompar a théann i bhfeidhm orainn agus muidneag imeacht i bhfeidhm air”, deir sé. Sa bhraistint áite aerach, tá díláithriú agus muintearas. 

Cheapaim gur rinne sé gcás don saol aerach amuigh faointuath nuair a bhog sé go dtí ‘an chreag bheag i lár na farraige”. Deir sé “Tá a lán áitreabhaíocht aerach, saoil agus ealaín bhogadh amach as na cathracha. Tá deireadh anois leis an scéal go bhfuil bhrú ar dhaoine aeracha a shaoil a chaitheamh sna cathracha agus bhí athrú sochaíoch againn. Ní Bhaile Átha Chliath an t-aon áit do dhaoine aeracha san tír seo. Níl an saoil aerach cois tuatha foirfe ach tá sé ag athrú. 

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Bhog sé go dtí an nGaeltacht chun a chuid Gaeilge a fheabhsúagus fuair sé amach go bhfuil an taithí aerach in ngach áit, agus go bhfuilimid in ann caidreamh aerach a chothú i áiteanna atá scoite amach freisin. “Tá an stíl agus an saoil ar Chléire sort aerach in a lán slite, ní bhíonn daoine ag úsáid an téarma sin ach cheapaim go bhfuil a lán rudaí aerach leis an saoil atá ann, leis an caidreamh le an talamh, nó leis an teanga, an chorp, an gheilleagar, an phoblacht nó an nádúr.  

Tagann sé ón tuiscint seo go bhfuil an teanga Gaeilge freisinaerach, nó bhí sé fadó. “Nílimid ach céad bliain d’aois mar náisiún. Táimid cosúil le déagóirí agus tharla a lán cacamas tar éis an réabhlóid. Agus cad a tharla lenár dteanga tríd an phrócáil sin? Bhí caighdeánú na Gaeilge againn agus an bhrú ón eaglais freisin, bhain siad an corp amach as an teanga.  

Ach in ainneoin sin, deireann Ruairí go bhfuil daoine ag teacht ar ais go dtí teanga na Gaeilge tríd na n-ealaíon. “Tá a lán filíocht álainn scríofa agus ceoil bríomhar á sheinnt sa tír. Tá drámaíocht agus rince ag athscríobh an chorp ar ais sa teanga i stíl an-aerach, ag lorg an téarmaíocht a bhí caillte. Tá obair ar siúl atá ag féachaint ar ais sa stair, agus inár stair samhailteach chun todhchaí samhailteach a shamhlú. Tá sé sin saibhir agus tábhachtach.”

An dtreo a thaistil Éireann san aois deireanach, agus gnéitheachtaí an taistil sin maidir leis an gcorp, dlúthchaidrimh, gníomhaíochas polaitiúil, agus conas a admhaigh agus dtuigimid an taistil sin go cruthaitheach, níl sé sin ag tarlú i bhfolús. Ní théann uathúlacht ár gcúinsí - agus ár scéal spéisiúil agus mealltach - amú ar lucht féachana idirnáisiúnta. Is a mhalairt atá ann, agus tá luach foghlama ann. 

Le athrú treo, tá roinnt daoine tar eis stop a chuir le ag úsáid na foirmeacha iompórtáilte rince faoina bhíomar ag caint. Ta siad ag teacht ar stíl fíor Éireannach, agus tá siad ag cruthú an stíl sin sa bhaile agus á thabhairt thar lear freisin. Nochtann na stíleanna nua seo an taithí Éireannach do ealaíontóirí agus lucht féachana idirnáisiúnta. Agus é ar chamchuairt ag deireadh na bliana seo caite sa Chóiré, dúirt agallóir le Ruairí “Tá sé dochreidte taibhiú aerach Éireannach le fheiceáil i Súl - mar níl aon daoine LADT san Chóiré,” dearbhú fíorspéisiúilagus muid ag smaoineamh faoin Chóiré mar thír forbartha. 

Cé go bhfuaimíonn an ráiteas sin gránna go leor, osclaíonn taibhiú Ó Donnabháin agus a chomhghleacaithe comhrá faoi rudaí b’fhéidir go ndéanadh comhlachas Éireannachneamhaird orthu na laethanta seo, faoi nochtacht, rannpháirtíocht agus teagmháil fisiciúil, rudaí atá códaithe ó thaobh cultúir de i slí difriúil. Gan teanga comhchoiteann, nochtaíoch cumhacht cumarsáide agus bunaithraitheach an rince. Bhris an cumhacht sin teorainn agus fóireacha – agus is cinnte gur rud tráthúil é sin. 

Míle buíochas do Rachael Hosltead don tacaíocht leis an aistriúcháin.

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”I always approach things from the same position as a queer man and my sensibility is informed by that.” Ruairí Ó Donnabháin is a choreographer, curator, producer and artist working across dance and theatre. Born in Cork, he currently spends his time living between Ireland's southernmost inhabited Gaeltacht island, Cape Clear, where he develops his work, and anywhere presenting that work may bring him. 

With an interest in how bodies and identities are constructed and represented through dance, Irishness, queerness and the intersection of the two are to the fore of Ruairí’s practice. Early in his professional career, as part of an experimental dance company, he found a space to explore and challenge norms around the type of work being made in Ireland. Work that leaned heavily on imported, international modes of expression. 

“Rather than ballet, modern and contemporary dance, forms we’ve brought in from abroad, what are the Irish sensibilities? What are the queer sensibilities? How are traditional or more accessible forms of dance affirming normative representations of bodies?” he asks. Then and now, Ruairís work is an ongoing effort to better answer these questions. 

Time spent working alongside Canadian choreographer Keith Hennessy, a prolific maker of performance concerned with queer experiences and AIDS, allowed him to drill down into such grand ideas like who gets to dance and why. His time with Keith was challenging and formative. Specifically, he examined the 2008 financial crisis, how Ireland was implicated in it, and what this looks like from a queer perspective.

The encounter made Ruairí woke to the idea of queerness as a sociopolitical identity as much as a sexual one. He explains: “[It shifted] my understanding of queer identity as being rooted in sexual orientation to something more concerned with social relations; like ideas of queer family, queer economies. It opened another layer of queer understanding of what was going on in Ireland at that time.” Moreover, he came to see improvised dance and performance as “a technology, a queer technology that can be used and shared, or dissipated into the wider community.”

With the utility of dance in mind, aside from its role as a tool with which to investigate and express the complex and personal, it bears a unique power as a discipline more generally. “We’re beginning to understand more of the science behind [dance], but we’ve known forever and ever that it’s very different to theatre or television. When you watch dance, something physiological is happening to you. There’s something cellular, a cellular dialogue. It causes a reaction that works from the most basic level all the way up,” he says. Is it it a more visceral means of expression? “Good dance can be – bad dance isn’t.”

Place is a recurrent motif in Ruairí’s life and work, probed for its influence on how we construct ourselves as individuals and present to the world. Whether we are aware of it or not, where we are shapes who we are. This is particularly true for Ireland, given its history, its travelling and migratory population – be that by choice or through force, today and throughout time.

Arguably, the queer experience intensifies this feeling, although the relationship can be uneasy. “A sense of place and home is really important as a queer Irish person that’s of a certain generation. There’s a kind of half-comfort, one that’s shared, about love and feeling a sense of place and home towards this island, but then having uncomfortable experiences with how it behaves, and how it works on us and how we’ve worked on it,” he says. A queer sense of place can be one of displacement as much as belonging.

Moving to [Cape Clear] “a tiny rock in the middle of the ocean” to develop his work rightly undermines the notion that queer experience is urban experience. He elaborates: “I think a lot of queer homesteading, life and artistry goes on outside of urban centres. Maybe the narrative and story of queer urban life is stronger but there has been societal change and a mind shift in the country. The idea that young queer people immediately have to leave rural contexts and live in Dublin because it’s the only safe or available life is changing. It’s not perfect but it’s definitely changing.”  

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Moving to a Gaeltacht island to focus more on the Irish language has made evident, as above, and despite geographical remoteness, how broadly queerness can be constructed. “Some of the ways people are living on [Cape Clear] island, they might never express themselves explicitly as being queer, or have the language to say that, but I view them as radically queer. Because of their relationships to the land; because of their relationships to the language, to economy, body, community or children,” he says.  

What follows on from this understanding is the way in which the Irish language is itself queer. Or, was once more queer than it is today. “Our history as a nation is one hundred years. We’re a country in its adolescence and there’s been a lot bullshit since the rebellion. What has happened to the language through that process? We’ve seen the standardisation of the language and the Church’s involvement, whereby the body was erased out of the language,” he says. 

That said, Ruairí maintains that a quiet creative movement, diffuse and nodal, is taking place, in which people are ‘taking back’ the Irish language: “There’s a lot of beautiful poetry being written and vibrant music being played. There’s dance and theatre that’s rewriting the body back into the language in very queer ways, trying to find the [lost] terminology again. There’s work happening that looks back to the past, or imagined pasts, in order to visualise imagined futures. It’s rich and necessary.” 

The direction Ireland has traveled over the last century, and the specificities of that journey in terms of body, intimacy, political activisms and beyond, and how all of this is being acknowledged and understood creatively, is not occurring in a silo. The uniqueness of our circumstances – and the compelling and aspirational nature of our ‘story’ is not lost on an international audience. Much the opposite, it can be of great instructive value. 

In something of a step change, the ‘imported’ styles of dance touched on earlier, which may be limiting in their potential for meaning here, have been dispensed with by some. Instead, more truly Irish works are being developed at home and themselves brought abroad, allowing recipient international artists and audiences unlock more of their own experience. While touring in Seoul late last year, Ruairí was told, “It’s amazing to have this Irish queer Irish performance happening in Seoul – in Korea we don’t have LGBT people,” a startling declaration when one considers how progressed Korea is in terms of capital. 

While that statement might sound bleak, by showing there, a dialogue was opened around things an Irish company may today take for granted, like nudity, participation and touch, things that are “culturally coded” in a different way. Without a common language, the transformative and communicative power of dance, socially or otherwise was laid bare. A power that crosses borders and boundaries - it’s never seemed more timely.

Wren Dennehy

Wren Dennehy

Pradeep Mahadeshwar

Pradeep Mahadeshwar