Interview with Mary Brady

Mary Brady is the former director of the Institute for Choreography and Dance in Cork, co-founding member of EDN and member of the first project, IDEE, and currently individual member of the network.

Interview done in Barcelona in June 2014.

Have you been always into dance?
I suppose I’ve been involved in dance in many different ways throughout my life professionally for quite a long time over 35 years. First, as an independent dancer and choreographer, also as a teacher. Then, I moved into policy development as director of the Dance Council of Ireland, as a curator of international dance festivals, and then as the artistic director of the ICD and now as an independent advisor in strategy and development.

Talk us about your experience in ICD.
When I joined Firkin Crane in 1996 as development director it was a building-based organisation.  The premises had been a part of the important butter market in Cork and had a long history and had been central for the region. When I became director in 1998 I decided that the core aim of the work that I was going to do was to develop it as a choreographic centre and initiate a lot of research.  We decided on a change of name to reflect the operation of the organisation as opposed to its premises.

In these first moments there were two big issues to develop: residencies and documentation.
Yes, I suppose. The whole idea I had was to focus on choreographic research. I felt that we should give the artists space and, mainly, time for reflection and to carry out research, to produce a work, to make mistakes, to experiment. And one way of capturing this would be to develop the documentation. From the very beginning we found different ways so that the artists could record their own work and also so that the work could reach a wider audience.

ICD was the first dancehouse in Ireland…
It was the first in the sense that through good fortune the National Ballet of Ireland had been based in Cork. Its artistic director, Joan Denise Moriarty, had decided to locate the company at Firkin Crane, so the building was initially refurbished as a home for the ballet. The main studio was the same size as the Opera House stage in the city for rehearsals to take place… But her dream was never realised. As often happens, her funding was cut and the building was left empty and, after some time, it changed into a cultural centre under the direction of my predecessor, Robert McDonald, who soon started to wonder if dance could form the whole programme.

Why ICD dissappeared?
I was the director from 1998 to 2006, until we lost our funding. There was not a place like it in Ireland, at that time, but it was not in the capital city.  Although there is a strong sense of dance in Cork because of the tradition of ballet, most of the dance professionals live in Dublin so there was an alternative project to develop a dancehouse in the capital.

How did EDN started in 2004?
I think that EDN started because 7 directors wanted to get to know each other better. We already had met 2 or 3 times and exchanged information, but there was a moment when it seemed right to compare notes, to see if we could talk about how to support artists.

How were the issues addressed during the first meetings?
European co-productions had not been a part of what we were doing, neither in Ireland, nor in England. This was more a continental approach, probably because it is easier to travel around. So one of the issues I was interested in at that time was the notion of co-producing internationally. Some of the countries also felt that national funding bodies were not supporting international work, and there were concerns also about if the local work was ready to travel and to tour… Internationalisation was one of the areas we developed within our first European project under the network, IDEE – Initiatives in Dance through European Exchange. One of the people behind this, Sigrid Gareis, who was the artistic director of Tanzquartier Wien, led this particular project with the aim of initiating something that could enhance artists’ mobility.

The IDEE project was the testing project for EDN…
I think it was because there was a core group.  We did everything together, there were no other projects and everybody in the network was participating in IDEE. It was also important the fact that this was the time when other countries were opening up from Eastern Europe, so we decided that one of the stronger parts of EDN had to be political advocacy for new dancehouses in different places and the development of fresh dance scenarios.

Were there other similar experiences of cooperation in Europe?
This is much more common now than in those days. We know now – and particularly since the economic crisis – that we need to cooperate, share our limited resources, and that together we can build something better. The modul-dance project, the second big project, is a development on from some of the features of IDEE. We learned that there are many different ways to work with dancehouses, and with other partners, within the network, outside the network, with other disciplines…

What can EDN give to the dance community?
It is a very wide community of different players and many different roles: from the artists to the general audience, to the participants, to the directors, to the staff teams, to the press… In my opinion, what EDN has opened up is a space for deeper engagement between artist and audience but it is not a fixed space.  It responds to the needs of local artists and allows interaction with international best practice and ideas. We have a place within our local cultures, but also alongside the other art forms among the many cultures in Europe – and we are a strong lobby voice.

How would you define the dancehouse model?
I think it is about having a home, having space and time to experiment.  It is an important structure for artists, for creative work and it can come in many shapes and sizes: be it one room, a modern cultural centre on the outskirts, involved in a particular community… The model is fluid, a celebration of diversity, shaped by the particular features of each location.  The dancehouse model has provided the needed status for dance to develop and to sustain itself among other art forms.