A Walk In My Shoes
Zoë Uí Fhaoláin Green and Camphill Community
Funded by the Arts Council Artist in the Community Scheme
Zoë Uí Fhaoláin Green is a dancer and visual artist living in Corca Dhuibhne. In 2017 – 2018 she collaborated with a group from the local Camphill Community in Dingle, County Kerry. By taking their work to different sites and using dance, live performance and film, the group explored their relationships with each other, the spaces they inhabit and also their place within the wider community.
As the work developed it became centred around friendship, trust and (in)visibility, and how one’s experiences of these change dependent on context.
Eight residents and day attendees of Dingle’s Camphill Community took part in the project, as well as two voluntary co-workers from Germany who spent a year living and working with the community and supporting individuals. Camphill is a place for people of all abilities, many of whom have special needs, to reach their potential by focusing on and developing their skills.
It was very important that each member of the group was an artistic contributor and not there merely to support others. Therefore the two voluntary co-workers who were part of the group were also encouraged to make an artistic contribution. They achieved this very well despite never having been part of a dance project or class before. At times additional support was available in the form of a number of Camphill employees, which was essential and effective, especially when the group travelled to other sites to rehearse or film.
Camphill is a semi self-sufficient community, growing their own fruit and vegetables and producing cheese and milk from their dairy herd. It is also a very creative place with many of the participants training as weavers on hand looms or peg looms, and the community regularly taking part in local festivals and choirs. Community members enjoy painting, dancing, cooking, gardening, practicing yoga and performing a Christmas play each year. Music and singing is a very important part of Camphill life. The group that took part in this project all very much enjoy dancing and music. For several years prior to A Walk in My Shoes, Zoë worked with a number of residents each week and they explored movement together. Wanting to move their work up a gear and starting to think about producing some specific outcomes for audiences, the group decided to make their keen interest in film (having previously filmed their own piece about their lives in the community) an aspect of their project plan. The group applied for and were successful in gaining funding for Strand One (Research and Development) of the Artist in the Community Scheme award, and subsequently Strand Two (Project Realisation).
As a group of people who are not necessarily very well represented in the wider arts world, it was very important that the group should present in a highly professional manner, and that the work could stand beside other professional performance and film. Most members of the group love to have an audience and both this joy and professionalism grew with experience and practice. It was also important to acknowledge the desire to hide from view when we feel like it, and to create space that allowed for this to happen.
It was also essential that the diverse members of the group each enjoyed the process and had space to grow their skills, whilst also being challenged and stretched. Zoë, as the artist on the project, certainly experienced all of this too.
The group aimed to work together through dance, developing concepts and furthering research in a very practical way. They took the work to different sites to explore our relationship with those places and discover how different environments change the ways people move and interact.
The group includes members with a very broad range of abilities and while the work was challenging, inclusivity was ensured so that everyone could engage with the artistic process. The group as a whole is therefore very proud of and grateful for the different skills that each individual contributed to the project.
Zoë met with the group twice weekly throughout the eight months of the Project realisation strand, and in the week leading up to each performance they rehearsed or filmed on site daily. The group was challenged by rehearsing for a live performance as well as making a different filmed version during the same week.
Contact improvisation was at the core of the group’s working methods. A number of individuals do not have verbal language, so the group used dance and physical contact to communicate on a deep level and develop work that explored the questions of leading and following, skills which are integral to dancing in pairs and groups.
Many different creative dance exercises were used in a workshop situation to create material and develop skills, before this material was rehearsed and choreographed into finished pieces at each site. Some members of the group excelled at creating and developing sequences of movement and these same sequences were used at all four sites in order to make the work cohesive. Others in the group were skilled improvisers, especially when working with a partner, and so their strengths were drawn on in the work.
Wooden staffs and long pieces of fabric were used to explore movement and this worked to take the focus away from the self and allowed a further freedom, as well as inspiration for new ways of moving.
The group produced three live performances throughout the final six months.
The first performance was the opening dance at the inaugural Dingle Dance Festival – Aonarach le Chéile/ Going Solo Together, with an audience packed with local, national and international dancers and enthusiasts. This was a fantastic occasion and An Díseart (an old convent building, now a centre for cultural and spiritual study) was used to take the audience on a journey featuring solo, duet, and group dances both inside and outside the historical site.
“This was a boost to everyone’s confidence. I learned a lot from my group who were very professional in front of an audience, and who loved to perform their work for others. The audience was very moved.”
Zoë Uí Fhaoláin Green
Part two was rehearsed as a winter walk of light along the Dingle Marina, but due to inclement weather was moved indoors. The group used the same dance material and umbrellas filled with fairy lights to create a touching atmospheric occasion.
As a contrast to the previous live performances, Part three was held at Dún Síon beach in glorious April sunshine and featured the use of flowing fabric and costumes, which the group had been experimenting with throughout the whole process.
An exhibition of portrait photographs taken throughout the process and a 20 minute dance film were the final outcomes of the project. These were presented as part of Dingle’s Féile na Bealtaine. The film screening at the Phoenix cinema was a fantastic finale to the project and very well attended by family, friends and festival goers. The photographs were displayed for several weeks during the summer in the Grey’s Lane Bistro in Dingle and were seen by many people, who were impressed by the work.
Filmed by Mickey Kelly at four West Kerry locations – two indoor and two outdoor – and directed by Zoë, the film was the final result of an exciting collaborative process. The soundtrack features a completely original score with improvised piano music by three members of the group, a beautiful poem about friendship composed and recited by one group member and the addition of fiddle music from local musician Mark Crickard, who watched early drafts of the film to inspire his composition; a mixture of improvised and traditional tunes. Filming occurred at the three sites where the group had made live work – An Díseart, Dingle marina, and Dún Síon beach, with the addition of Ionad an Bhlascaoid/The Blasket Centre as a fourth site. The group danced some of the same material in each place for filming and allowed the site – the architecture (stairs, windows), natural physical features (sand, rock, water), the weather and other people to influence how the work was framed, and how the group interacted with one another and their surroundings.
Each participant kept a scrapbook that was added to during sessions following each performance and also at the end of the project. This was a very relaxed and enjoyable time that provided space to reflect on what worked during each phase. The photos included were from our workshops and rehearsal times as well as the live shows. They spent these sessions talking about and enjoying the memories, as well as bringing up the challenges and discussing hopes for the next phase of work.
Camphill management incorporated evaluation of the project into their usual contact and assessment time with all the group members. Zoë had a lot of contact with Camphill employees and management throughout the entire process, especially in terms of practical challenges and timetabling. This also contributed to an assessment of how things were going and what challenges needed to be addressed. Zoë also kept written notes on what she saw as working as well as the challenges that arose and plans for tackling these. Each session she spent with the group was carefully planned and then assessed afterwards.
The group’s film was shown at Kerry Film Festival with other ‘Kerry Made’ shorts in October 2018 and during Echo Echo’s festival of dance in Derry in November 2018.
Each individual achieved a number of personal outcomes including increased confidence on stage, particular dance skills such as safe lifting, floor work and choreographing sequences. They also deepened their understanding of filmmaking by practicing skills such as quietly waiting one’s turn and setting up an effective shot.
“I believe that through the work and its dissemination we nurtured a sense of the group’s belonging in the wider artistic context and community. The beautiful and touching occasion that was our first film screening and exhibition (with opening speech delivered by group members) was a moment in which we felt immensely proud and one we will all remember with a great sense of achievement.”
Zoë Uí Fhaoláin Green