SDC production White Doves premiered at the MAC, Belfast, with four performances between 3-5 August 2023 in the company's debut live production.
In a first for Belfast, Six Dance Collective put new dance and music centre stage in our inaugural production. In a collaboration between several creatives, White Doves was Belfast's first ever new ballet, created on a Belfast story for a Belfast stage and audience.
Bringing together local artists; Derry/Cavan choreographer Ruaidhrí Maguire, County Down composer Amelia Clarkson, Armagh's dancer Leigh Alderson, Visual Artist Conan McIvor from Derry; with international talent including Italian-Scots dancer Danila Marzilli and Welsh conductor Jonathan Mann, the project's aim was that of SDC, to re-position ballet for audiences as an adventurous art form.
New moves and music: Creating a ballet for Belfast
Following on from Amelia and Ruaidhrí's first ballet, Dear Frances, we knew that Six Dance Collective's first live production had to tell a story from home. As Belfast isn't represented anywhere in the classical dance canon, this would be Belfast's first ballet. The story of the emergence of the Peace People movement in the 1970s, with themes of tragic loss, community and hope felt like the perfect starting point for our new work. We had found our ballet.
The core movement style of White Doves was drawn from the neoclassical vocabulary. Choreographer Ruaidhrí said, "I wanted to create two different worlds within the ballet: the earth and the sky. In other words, the people of Belfast and the Doves. "Specifically with the characters of Mairead and Anne, I've taken inspiration from the slip jig in Irish dancing. Translating this into a more ‘classical’ movement style, I hope audiences will perhaps recognise some of the movements he was using and relate to them."
The movement language for the ethereal, the abstract Doves were quite different. "I was interested in the contrast between the elegance of bird in flight versus the aggressiveness you see as birds wash and preen themselves." Pairing swooping legato movements with sharp animalistic motifs, he wanted the audience to realise that they were spectators to the action and how the condition of the people of Belfast affected them within their ethereal world. "Through each movement and sequence we're expressing real emotions to take the audience on a journey through the past with an outlook to the future."
A new score for dance in today's climate is rare, and rarer still for a new dance company to have it performed by live musicians. Amelia’s evocative music drives the narrative, forming the heartbeat of our performance. The composer said, "The driving force in my process was around this idea of communicating the impact of violence and trauma on a community without actually showing any of the violence. Our Doves are a vechile for the the loss, love and hope that the characters on stage feel." With an ensemble of esteemed classical musicians pulled from across the province, all performances were conducted by Jonathan Mann.
Describing her musical landscape, Amelia said, "The White Doves soundworld is very much a cross-section between folk-influenced material and contemporary material. I was constantly chasing that moment between Earth and Sky, and finding ways to communicate underlying tensions and to build the arc of each character through what we hear."
Tying the narrative together were the innovative video designs by Visual Artist Conan McIvor, who attended rehearsals to soak in the choreography and music. His creative use of visuals intertwined the narrative with the abstract seamlessly, pulling from historic paraphernalia to provide audiences with context.
A platform for the next generation
In collaboration with collaborative partners High Points Youth Ballet, the production also served to act as a training opportunity for the next generation of dancers, placing 28 aspiring dancers from across the island of Ireland on stage alongside esteemed dancers and classical musicians.
Niamh Scates, who performed the role of 'Betty' said, "I've always loved ballet and always loved watching the professional, and to be able to do a proper ballet at this age is amazing."
Meeting our audiences
Audiences arrived from across the island, including many first-time dance attenders. One audience member said, "It was so clear and beautiful. I'd definitely go to more ballet now", whilst the Belfast Times wrote, "Ballet can be an acquired taste, something only a few might like; White Doves transcends that, it’s more down to earth, more real, more relatable, more engaging.. ..beautifully and skilfully performed by a very young and talented troupe of dancers; at times poignant and always engaging, I found it a very moving experience.’"
Six Dance Collective was delighted to welcome Nobel Peace Price winner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, her family and members of the Peace People to the premiere of White Doves. To have one of the people who our story was based on was such a privilege.
It was incredibly moving for all of us, but especially Junior Company member Leah McNally who was playing the role of Mairead on stage.
Six Dance Collective gratefully acknowledges the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, PRS Foundation Women Make Music, Vaughan Williams Foundation and Hinrichsen Foundation, and would like to thank the Belfast Ensemble, Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, Rana O'Brien and the MAC.
Gilly Campbell, Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Joint Director of Arts Development said, "We're really excited to be able to invest in this new organisation because they're producing and creating new work, new opportunities for ballet dancers and new opportunities for audiences."
For Six Dance Collective, White Doves was not just a performance; it is a testament to our shared passion, and mission to show that classical dance can be innovative and relatable to our audiences. We are delighted with how White Doves was received by our audiences and wider arts community and look forward to seeing you at our next production.
Images by Norm Keilty and Gareth Heron.