Epilogue – Artist Profiles

Epilogue is a collaborative new work from choreographer Eileen McClory and filmmaker Conan McIvor with performers Sandy Cuthbert and Jane Mooney, Poet Maria McManus and sound designer Helena Hamilton.

Created and devised from the lived experience and personal reflections of two professional dancers Jane Mooney and Sandy Cuthbert, Epilogue is a frank reflection of what the dance took from and gave to the performers throughout their careers, and what happens when the curtain comes down and the applause has faded.

Choreographer Eileen McClory

As a choreographer, Eileen McClory’s work looks at how bodies can tell stories.

One of the themes of Epilogue is the role of women in dance and how times have – and haven’t – changed. Eileen feels that when Jane and Sandy (co-creators and performers of Epilogue) were working as professional dancers, becoming pregnant would have been seen as a “career-stopper'” Most dancers didn’t have children in their 20’s – they waited until at least their 30’s and hoped that everything would be okay.

Eileen says:

“Nowadays, although it is perhaps more accepted for women to have children and work in the dance industry, there are still obstacles to be overcome.

Touring is difficult and there are residences which I can’t apply for because of my caring responsibilities. I also have to weigh up taking certain jobs if they are financially viable, as the cost of childcare often outweighs the available fee. It’s almost like paying to stay in the game.

Overall, many of the top jobs and opportunities in the dance world go to men, as they are perceived to have fewer caring responsibilities. This means that many major dance productions are dominated by solely male perspectives. However, this again is changing… slowly.

Filmmaker Conan McIvor

Conan McIvor is a filmmaker, theatre maker and video artist who creates experimental and fiction short-films, site-specific installations, immersive environments, and large-scale outdoor video projections, in addition to moving-image design for both theatre and live performance. To date, his work has been exhibited in site-specific venues and traditional gallery spaces; screened at International film festivals, national theatres, off-Broadway performances; and broadcast on National Television, and is held as part of the Arts Council NI’s permanent collection

Epilogue Dancer Sandy Cuthbert

Sandy Cuthbert is a woman of many talents.

Not only is she a trained professional dancer and former dance lecturer and choreographer, she is also a BAFTA-winning costume designer, a qualified art teacher, a former national gymnast, a one-time circus performer, a garden designer, a Somatic Movement Educator, a textile artist and feltmaker!

Well-known in dance circles for her distinguished tenure leading the dance department at Belfast Met, Sandy came to work with Maiden Voyage Dance as Company Manager when the college made the unforgivable decision to close the highly respected courses.

When the call from choreographer Eileen McClory to don her dance shoes again for Epilogue Sandy found it hard to resist:

“For me to commit seriously to performing again it had to be the right project. I had built up a strong and positive relationship with Eileen through collaborating on student performance projects together; we got to know each other well as artists through this process. When she suggested the project, I could see the rich potential and having the possibility of working alongside another mature female dancer – I could not resist the opportunity!

It has been a very rewarding process as the project has been developed around the dancers’ personal experience; being authentic to the dancers’ physical, mental and emotional journey can be very revealing and powerful. At the end of a day’s rehearsal you can feel physically and emotionally drained.

Epilogue has been a true collaboration between the choreographer, dancers, poet and filmmaker, where deep listening and response has been central to the creation of the product. It is wonderful to be surrounded by such committed and creative artists who are all as passionate about the project as each other.”

Epilogue Dancer Jane Mooney

As a child, Jane Mooney always wanted to fly. She says that dancing on stage is the closest thing to flying that she has ever experienced. Jane’s happiest memories of working as a professional dancer are performing with other dancers:

“It is such a physically and emotionally intense experience. I loved the artistic practice, the fellowship of belonging to a dance community and the inspiration that came from exploring different forms of expression as part of my creative development.

At the end of a performance, whether it was good or difficult, there is the feeling of having completed something, given your all and it is over. Rarely in life do we have that sense of doing one thing as well as we can, job done, ready for the next time, another opportunity.”

In her late 30’s Jane transitioned from being a performer and co-directing a project based dance company to managing a full-time company:

“When I stopped dancing, I missed that fellowship, the physical connection and trust with my fellow dancers. I lost the feeling of being completely alive – the intensity that comes of being physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually connected to dancing. I never felt more powerful than when I was performing.

Dance has enabled me to be also a teacher, mentor, producer, choreographer, manager, fundraiser, project manager and trustee. These are roles I have valued as they have kept me in the art form that I love.”

Jane says that co-creating and performing in ‘Epilogue’ has been a very liberating experience:

“Due to dancing on hard floors for so long in bare feet, I have been diagnosed with severe arthritis in my big toe joints and other areas. This would be unlikely to happen to today’s generation of dancers as there has been huge attention to dancer health and welfare now compared with 40 years ago.

When the choreographer Eileen McClory asked me to do the ‘Epilogue’ research project, I felt any chance of doing any dance again slipping away. But where there is a will, there is a way, so although a bit concerned, it felt right to have a try. This project has been a great motivator to help me overcome my longer-term injuries.”

Epilogue Poet Maria McManus

Epilogue is about more than dance. It is an artistic collaboration between retired professional dancers, Jane Mooney and Sandy Cuthbert, choreographer Eileen McClory, film maker Conan McIvor, poet Maria McManus and sound designer Helena Hamilton.

For Maria, her role as poet in the process of creating Epilogue was to be there and not be there, simultaneously:

“My part in this was to really listen in the broadest sense. In some ways, I disappear in the room while I am also fully present in an unobtrusive way. I listen, pay attention with my senses, dream somewhat, collect the images and questions that come into my head. I watch behaviour and pay attention to what is not being said, what hovers around the margins of the ‘scene’.

Eventually there comes a point when I need to withdraw. In this time, I read, gather thoughts, pay attention to what is stimulated in my imagination. I watch documentaries, and films related to the topic or themes. I look for technical information and follow a lot of lines of enquiry to amass a body of information. I walk. I clean things! I spend a lot of time in uncertainty, and doubt, and not knowing, but I understand this goes with the turf. It is always there working itself into being in the back of my mind.

Eventually the ‘thing’ begins to organise itself and I write it, often as a sort of ‘secretarial’ role, getting it right, and accurately as I can, for the ‘thing that needs to be written’/ pressing for attention. It’s a process of huge commitment to just be present to the work, to make space for it.”

Sound Designer Helena Hamilton

Perhaps unusually for someone who creates soundscapes, Helena Hamilton comes from a visual arts background.

Helena says that for her,”…sound and visual art are very much connected.  I often adapt everyday objects and convert them into live performative sound devices/interactive installations. I actually sample one of these in scene 1 of ‘Epilogue’ – an old overhead projector, which sounds a bit like the inside of a womb!”

When it came to transcribing Epilogue into a soundscape, Helena has an interesting approach:

“Initially, choreographer Eileen McClory and I had a chat about the work, she told me the various emotions and stories behind each scene.  I then watched some of the rehearsal footage.  I usually work with audio samples that I record – from walking on salt to tube lights to overhead projectors, anything that I can get my hands on basically.  

I start by visually sketching how I would like the sound to progress, using lines, dashes etc – this works very well with dance.  I then try to build a story using recorded samples of objects – for Epilogue I also use samples of an old out of tune piano in places.

I like to draw certain sounds out and push them into becoming their own by using methods of repetition and slight manipulation over time. I have attempted to do this in certain places throughout Epilogue.  Sound is a great way of creating atmospheres, and that is basically what I am trying to do.