Aoife McAtamney is a freelance choreographer, contemporary dancer and songwriter based in Dublin. She began teaching the Over 55s Movement Class in Richmond Barracks earlier this year and together they created a dance that formed the basis for the Winter Lights display on the Samuel Beckett Bridge this December.
Here, she writes about her experience of working with the group.
Wisdom and power
The Winter Lights Movement Group designed a dance for audiences in Ireland centered around the themes of holistic empowerment, fantasy and fun. With a group of ten participants from our weekly movement classes at Richmond Barracks, we all got together to work on creating a dance that would be projected onto the Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin City.
The group I work with at Richmond Barracks is for bodies over 55 and so it was inspiring to me to think that the aging body would be seen dancing in the centre of Dublin, and that this platform could be used to exemplify the great wisdom and power in an aging body through dance. In our first session with the participants, we spoke about things we would like to include in our three to four minute dance. We wanted movements that were strong, sensual, powerful, expressive and fluid. We spoke of characters that we would like to embody, and using the phrase ‘you’re never too old to live your dream’. Some of the dancers in the group went for an energy whereas others went for icons like Elvis and Grace Kelly – all were welcome.
We created the movement together. Each week, I would bring a song that reminded me of the themes we spoke about and we would create movement to that music. We learned from each other, sharing the movement we created in teams of two to the larger group. From there, we developed a movement repertoire that ranged from the haka, to salsa and ballet. Each week, our characters developed and I asked the group to find a picture, or bring in clothing that would make up their take on what they were drawn too.
Making the magic
Each week we crafted our dance together. The timing of our work together came just before our second lockdown of 2020, we were on level four throughout our seven sessions. This meant that we were rehearsing outside in the garden of Richmond Barracks. It was super cold at times but we were provided with teas and coffee at the end of each session and strangely we had perfect weather each time we came together – not much rain and a lot of sun. It was in fact a positive experience getting so much fresh air and dancing outside with space to move around. There was a lightness in the air and gratitude to be doing something so playful in such serious times.
We kept working on our dance and in the end we had a four minute medley with tracks by Frank Sinatra, Destiny’s Child and many more. The change in expression, temp and coordination was met with enthusiasm – we were going for it! On the day of filming, the participants were dressed in the costumes they had put together with the help of a costume designer. Everyone looked incredible. After some interviews and photo shoots, we had a warm coffee together and looked back on the time we had spent, weeks outside piecing together an energising dance full of purpose and charge. There was a feeling of pride in the air and confidence – we had gained energy from the hard work and vulnerability it takes to let loose, dance and play.
Flow and freedom
Throughout the creation of the piece my approach in engagement was to keep close to a martial arts philosophy of the ‘I Don’t Know Mind’ which means, even if I have had over 10 years of professional experience in dance, I wanted to meet each participant as if I knew nothing about dancing, as if I was meeting it for the first time too. This created a sense of freshness and flow during the creation of choreography instead of imposing any former rules or ideas about how the body should be moving. As a group we chatted to each other about what we liked and disliked, what we were into and not. This was a way of sharing the collaborative experience of creative and practicing voicing our taste within a larger group.
We finally filmed the dance on a green screen with visual artist Steve MacDevitt. One by one, we filmed each participant which will be used to create the light display on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. Overall, I had such an energising experience with the Winter LIghts movement group and from the feedback I received, the permission we gave ourselves to dream, play and bring a sense of freshness to our physical bodies was medicine for the times we are in. I can’t wait to see the Samuel Beckett Bridge and to congratulate all the amazing dancers and team that contributed to a shared message of possibilities within this pandemic, and within our attitudes towards creating something meaningful together.
Want to discover more?
You can view the group’s light display on the Samuel Beckett Bridge for the whole month of December. You can find out more about the Winter Lights Festival, and all 17 locations here.
Aoife has shared a playlist from the movement class so you can listen to some of the songs that inspired the Winter Lights projections.
Aoife McAtamney studied in London and Germany, completing an apprenticeship with four prolific choreographers including William Forsythe and Wayne McGregor. Aoife has numerous awards from the Arts Council of Ireland and Culture Ireland. She was an associate artist of DanceIreland, a Carte Blanche artist and an Aerowaves Selected Artist for 2014 touring with her solo “Sofer Swells”. Her ongoing collaborations include “Pink Breath” with musician Shane Holly and theater performances with director Zoe Ní Riordain.