Echo Echo Festival Review by Liberty Rose

Echo Echo is pleased to be hosting an internship by Liberty Rose from University of Limerick through autumn 2022. This is Liberty’s review of the recent Echo Echo Festival Presents Tradition and Beyond events in Derry in September:

From the 14th to the 18th of September, the Tradition and Beyond Festival took place in Echo Echo Studios and Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin. The festival included workshops and performances by Joanne Barry and Anne O’Donnell from Siamsa Tiré – the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, Kristyn Fontanella, Aneta Dortová, Sarah Fennell, Laura Lundy, and musicians Moya Sweeney, William Troy, and band Áirc Damhsa. An opening of an exhibition of landscape painting curated by Sinéad Smyth was also launched as part of the festival, with a series of paintings by Peadar McDaid, Josephine Kelly and Paul Murray. To end the festival, a round table discussion was held where everyone who took part; teachers, performers, audience, were invited to discuss and reflect on the place of Tradition in Dance in a modern-day context, drawing from personal experience.

As part of my residency/internship at Echo Echo, I was invited to take part in all the workshops, to attend the exhibition and performances. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to be involved in a such a diverse professional and community arts event.

Airc Damhsa’s performance

I am currently studying contemporary dance, so the focus on footwork in this festival was a welcome change. The purpose of the movement, although inherently visual, was to create a rhythm. When watching members of Áirc Damhsa dance, I had the sensation that I was watching them play music instead of dance. As an audience, we watched their full bodily engagement, whilst the dancers’ own focus lay on the movement of their feet and the sound this created. It was like watching the hammers inside a piano hit the strings, whilst the pianist plays the keys.

Áirc Damsha at Echo Echo Festival – image by Lorcan Doherty

Aneta Dortová and William Troy

Aneta Dortová brought a very contemporary approach to traditional percussive dance. In her workshop, she encouraged participants to use the entirety of their feet when dancing, and to notice how this affected the movement of their whole bodies. What I noticed was how slight changes in the placement of the weight on my feet affected my stance, and way of moving. In fact, it affected the way I was feeling! I learnt how the part of my foot that I bear weight on encourages me to move in different ways and made particular steps easier or harder to achieve. I am usually quite oblivious to what is happening in my feet and am now encouraged to explore it further. When watching Aneta’s performance with live music from William Troy, I was entranced by the fast and fluid shifts that she made from the floor to standing, sometimes working with, and sometimes working against the articulation of her feet. On occasion she let her head lead her and allowed her feet to follow. I enjoyed being transported to the weird and wonderful world of this performance, never being sure of what would come next.

Aneta Dortová at Echo Echo Festival – image by Lorcan Doherty

Joanne Barry and Anne O’Donnell 

Joanne Barry and Anne O’Donnell from Siamsa Tiré shared some movements from their traditional Munnix dance style. In contrast to the other workshops, they were very specific about the way in which the steps were done. It was important to pass on the details of the movements, and their history.  I liked how their performance involved a lot of storytelling. Although some scenes were elaborate and larger than life, they maintained their personal relationship with the audience. Despite the heightened reality of the performance the intimacy with the viewer was retained. When they told their stories of joining Siamsa, it felt as if we had all been there with them.

Anne O’Donnell and Joanne Barry of Siamsa Tíre at Echo Echo Festival – image by Simon Alleyne

Sarah Fennell and Laura Lundy

Sarah Fennell and Laura Lundy’s workshop was energetic. They brought a modern twist to the traditional steps. They started with a cardio warm up and invited the participants through structured improvisation tasks around some steps from their performance. I found their one-two-three performance very humorous. I like the idea that Steve mentioned that dancers are pure clowns: ‘this is how things work in my world, come with me.’ Both in workshop and performance, Sarah and Laura worked with music that was not traditionally composed for Irish dance. This produced a way of stepping which resembled the styles of percussive dance which stem from West African Step Dance and tap dance. It was very captivating to observe how they juxtaposed a percussive step over an existing rhythm so that they complemented each other perfectly.

Sarah Fennell and Laura Lundy at Echo Echo Festival – image by Simon Alleyne

Kristyn Fontanella and Moya Sweeney

Kristyn Fontanella started her class with a gentle full body warm up. She taught participants some repertoire choreography, explaining a little about its origins. This was my favourite class. Although the focus was still on the footwork, the movements were loose and facilitated us to change directions and travel through the space. Her teaching style allowed for a lot of freedom to interpret her choreography in our own way. I liked how she used images and analogies to explain the intention behind her movements. We also had a nice discussion afterward about the use of sound-making as a choreographic score. She spoke about how her teachers would send her voice recordings explaining the steps she needed to practice, and how this reminded her of lilting; an Irish singing style which often accompanied dancing when there were no instruments around. Her performance was more like a shared performative research alongside musician Moya Sweeney. This made her the narrator of the story. I liked how she incorporated video projections of her dancing in different parts of the world.

Thanks to the nature of this festival, I felt I got to know everyone involved, including the performers. This made the performances feel like more of a shared experience. It allowed me to connect and engage on many levels during the performances.

Kristyn Fontanella and Moya Sweeney at Echo Echo Festival – image by Lorcan Doherty

The Round-table Discussion

During the discussion we spoke about how tradition can act as both a strong foundation/support and a burden. There was a powerful image I remember from the Siamsa Tire performance, where Anne was laden down with items that were part of the traditions she was a part of; spades, straw garments, baskets, etc.  Personally, I thought about how I felt somehow isolated when being introduced to these people who had strong support networks rooted in traditions and folk, as I had not grown up within these close circles. A few other people voiced similar experiences of arriving as an outsider into communities/places where music and dance tradition played a big part within that community and experiencing a sense of exclusion. In contrast, what I enjoyed most about this festival was that I felt welcomed into these traditions. Traditions that I had previously felt I couldn’t be a part of. Here traditions were being purposely shared to newcomers, so that they could be passed onto others and remembered for generations to come. One perspective we spoke about was how traditions need to adapt and evolve with the current times we live in if they are to remain relevant. By maintaining them exactly as they were, they lose their relevance to our daily lives and become historic relics of the past. I like the idea that the way in which dances and music were made can be preserved and remembered in their original form, but also challenged, modified and transformed in a modern setting, to tell the stories of today.

The ‘Landscape’ Exhibition

In addition to the dance performances and workshops, the festival included a visual art component. The ‘Landscape’ exhibition, which hung in the Echo Echo studios, exhibited the work of three artists, each with very different approaches to painting the landscape around the northwest. One artist used pixelated squares, another printed excerpts of local poetry, and another broad sweeping strokes in deep colours which emphasised the landscape in motion. What I did not previously know is that there is a strong tradition in Ireland of landscape painting, its origins dating back to Ancient Greek and Roman times. I learnt that the landscape paintings have gone through a similar process as dance and music traditions; Their prevalence declined and only began to re-emerge in the 16th century, gaining popularity in the 18th century. The tradition of landscape painting marries well with the contemporary approach to tradition that this festival takes.

Landscape exhibition artworks by Josephine Kelly, Peadar McDaid and Paul Murray – images by Simon Alleyne

After attending this festival, I feel inspired to explore traditions in music and dance and discover how I can incorporate them into my dance practice. I drew inspiration from one young participant in the festival, who shared her new game; this involved taking a step from different dances that she saw and putting them together in her own way to make a completely new dance! For me, this sums up beautifully the importance of festivals like this, and the way in which traditions and folk can be preserved and nurtured to evolve into the future.

Liberty Rose

Echo Echo Festival Presents Tradition and Beyond was supported by the Department of Tourism Culture Arts Gaeltacht Sport and Media (Ireland), Echo Echo’s Principal Funder the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and Derry City and Strabane District Council. It was produced in partnership with Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin and Siamsa Tíre.

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