New dance piece puts best foot forward for the birth of a nation

Luke Murphy’s new dance piece explores issues around the independence struggle.

By Jo Kerrigan, Irish Examiner



By now, we have had almost every possible interpretation of 1916 and what it meant to this country.

On Triumph and Trauma, however, receiving its world premiere at Cork’s Firkin Crane this week, looks at the event in a more extended light.

Created and directed by dancer and choreographer Luke Murphy for Attic Projects, this provocative new multidisciplinary dance theatre work is described as both a poetic dedication to a turning point in the nation’s history and a rigorous examination of what Irish identity, politics and nationalism mean today.

Murphy, now based between New York, Brussels and Ireland, is originally from Cork.

“I grew up on Patrick’s Hill and started dance classes fairly early on with Philip McTaggart at Cork Arts Studio. I did jazz, tap, acting.”

Soon he found himself moving instinctively to more contemporary work. “Classical ballet training didn’t come until much later in my life.”

When about 14, he took a course in Longford with Michael Keegan Dolan (founder of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre and associate artist at Sadler’s Wells). “He was an amazing guy, and from that I realised that maybe I was really interested in dancing. I went to England where I started real training, and then got a scholarship to study dance at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.”

Afterwards, he was lucky enough to be cast in the huge hit show Sleep No More, which was a sell-out in Boston and is still running in NYC. Based on Macbeth, it involves audiences entering a darkened time-capsule hotel where they interact with performers in unexpected ways. Since then Murphy has worked both as dancer and as choreographer.

You don’t necessarily move on from one to the other though, he stresses.

“I still work as a dancer. There is this classic idea that eventually you become a director or composer instead of the dancer but really it’s exercising different parts of your brain. When you’re working with others, you’re contributing as a collaborator, it’s about interpretation and everything else. I don’t see it as less or more, it’s opening up your creative imagination.”

And creative imagination has been the focal point in the piece he is now finalising for its world premiere this week. Working with an international cast and incorporating a striking visual landscape, On Triumph and Trauma takes the audience through an experience of theatre, dance and film.

“It’s really coming together now,” says Murphy exhaustedly during a brief break from rehearsal.

“In this year when we have so much going on to do with the centenary, I was as interested in seeing where we are right now, as for the last hundred years. Look at our current struggle to form a government. Regardless of whether people wanted Home Rule, a Free State, whatever they were fighting for, there was an idea of Ireland that was in the air 100 years ago. Does the Ireland we now have bear any resemblance to that? What are we?”

He has been working on this piece for two years. “Eventually we had to bring it down to simple ideas, explore each one of those, give it time to develop on stage, and then move on to the next one. It’s a morphing world. History has no single truth to it.”



  • On Triumph and Trauma, Firkin Crane Cork May 20/21. Other dates on the tour include Dance Limerick on Thursday, May 26. 


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