The Monthly interviews the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Development Officer for Theatre and Dance – Caoileann Curry-Thompson – Part – Part 2 – Theatre practitioner and working for the Arts Council

What happens after you complete your PHD?

I was living in Belfast and I was working in a number of different areas. I was a freelance theatre practitioner. I did archival research for the Lyric Theatre when it was organising its 50th anniversary. I did some teaching at Queen’s University. I also did a fair bit of dramaturgy work, I worked at theatre making and built up my own practice and worked in live performance. I was always committed to a collaborative approach to my work and that is what sustained my work throughout.

When I was working at Queen’s University I was working advising students on thesis writing, particularly on scriptwriting. While I was doing thesis supervision, I became well versed in assessments and eventually I saw a job which came up at the Arts Council. I would say that I have a particularly niche skill-set, a specific knowledge of Northern Irish Theatre and this job suited that skill-set.

The Lyric

You look after Dance and Theatre. What are your aims and objectives in the next period?

One of the key pieces of work I want to facilitate is a strategic review of dance. It is long overdue, and of course Covid put everything back, so we need to examine what our situation is at present.

I think with regards contemporary dance, we are a very small community, yet for the size of the population and the people who are part of this community, we punch very much above our weight.

If you reflect on what is available to the sector, we have no formal training in dance here, we have very limited exposure to dance in schools, and in order to train properly in the craft you have to leave, either by going down south or further afield.

It is amazing that we have people locally making the work that they are making. Dance is a very demanding art form, in terms of training, then performing and then making dance productions. You need an adequate space and once you fill that space with bodies, those bodies need to be paid. The skills and the talent that we have here naturally, have achieved really impressive results and this is despite the fact that we don’t have, for example, a dedicated dance centre in Belfast,

We have all sorts of challenges with infrastructure, but we also have the situation with our local government and with the difficulties which arise with Brexit. What my objective is to find out what the gaps are both now and for the future, so that something sustainable can be produced, both with infrastructure, and with practice, which will nurture the local talent.

How is that review progressing?

I’m just about to start the review but it is worth saying that it comes at a particularly good time. The Irish Arts Council have just finished a review of the Dance sector and so I think we will be able to look at some joined up thinking once we have finished our review, especially given we are working in this post-Brexit period which shift the terrain regarding collaborative working particularly with our European counterparts.

I am also working with the head of dance in the southern Arts Council contributing to a research project headed by an academic in UCD, and an academic at Queen’s University, Aoife McGrath, looking at performing arts on the island.

This is part of the Shared Island Initiative from the Taoiseach’s Office. It will be looking at how unified the performing arts sector is here on the island, and this will tie in with looking more closely at Dance.

All forms of dance seem very popular, from Irish, Highland to Ballroom, from Latin to Hip Hop. Is the concentration on contemporary dance at the moment so that we raise its profile?

There are all sort of funding streams and all sorts of avenues for people involved in dance to get access to finances, but at the moment we are making sure that contemporary dance its having its profile raised. But, as I said earlier, we will be looking more comprehensively, more expansively, at all areas of the performing arts, and dance in all its forms will be part of that review process.

To see more of Caoileann Curry-Thompson’s work see the following link –
To contact Caoileann Curry-Thompson at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland –

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