At the official launch of dancer Catherine Donnelly's residence at the Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) building, from left, Pat Gallagher, CEO Westmeath County Council, Miriam Mulrennan, County Arts Officer, Barry Kennedy, IMR, Cathaoirleach John Shaw, Catherine Donnelly, Dance Artist, Paul Johns

Dance and engineering make happy bedfellows


The links between modern dance and manufacturing research are not immediately apparent, but the two are proving to be rather comfortable if unlikely bedfellows at a Mullingar facility.

Since the end of March, Catherine Donnelly has spent one day a week at the recently opened Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) building on the Dublin Road in her role as dancer in residence.

The first of its kind in the county, the residency is a Westmeath County Arts Office initiative in partnership with Irish Manufacturing Research and Dance Ireland

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner at its recent official launch in the IMR building, Ms Donnelly admitted that her latest project has left many people scratching their heads.

“I’ve been asked so much since I started talking about it: ‘You’re doing what? Where? So what’s that got to do with manufacturing research?

“For me coming in here, my interest is in movement and dance. Dance is about moving in time and space and what these guys are doing is going to move humanity on big time in time and space. There are so many things about being here that are stimulating. You’ve got huge empty spaces that are filling up very fast. And the speed at which things are developing here is quite surprising.

“So if you think about what they are doing here, developing research, developing new ideas, well so am I. Coming in here as a dancer I’m doing research. How do I do this? There is no road map, no rule book.

“How am I going to do my work alongside these guys and be inspired by the building, or the atmosphere or what they are doing?

“The one thing we can’t automate or mechanise at the moment is human to human interaction. I think that is really important so I try to interact as much as possible with the staff.”

Speaking at the launch, Irish Manufacturing CEO Barry Kennedy said that while his staff were initially bemused when he agreed to the proposal to having a dancer in residence at the facility on the site of the former Imperial Tobacco factory, Donnelly has already been a positive presence in the centre.

“We are really looking forward to her interpretation of what she has seen here,” he said.

The council’s arts officer Miriam Mulrennan said that residency is breaking new ground in Westmeath.

“Residencies in general have a certain pattern. There’s a person in a space and they are going to do certain things. We’ve kind of get our head around it. We get a writer in a library being a writer in residence. This is a little bit more juxtaposed I suppose. It’s a bit more experimental. The nature of dance movement is in its nature experimental.

“Where the synergies are is creative nature of what’s being done in this facility and so bringing another creative in there, to speak, to move and to see what happens and to trust that process is what we have been doing. It’s fascinating but its also not the usual quite restrictive format that you see with residencies. It’s about a conversation.”

As for what will come out of the conversation, Donnelly, who spent the first seven years of her life in Mullingar, says that her brief is “pretty open”, which is helpful as she is still unsure what direction her residency will go.

“I don’t know what the outcomes will be. I don’t know where this will go. It’s really about the process. But as humans we’re mind, body and soul. When human development starts off, the markers are movement based. A baby, can it lift its head. Can it roll over? Can it sit up? Can it stand? They are all movement based and we have brains to enable complex movement.

“Our bodies are not a means of transport for our brains. Our brains actually enable complex movement. But if we have developed those complex movements we then end up with a brain that is able to think complex thoughts, which is what these guys are doing.

“Their actual physical movements, like all of us, [are becoming less], because of screens. Where is the body in all that? Where is the intelligence of the body in all that?

“I think that it is really interesting to have a mover in this space working alongside them. So that ingredient is included. Will I influence their thought processes? I have no idea. I like to think I will.

“Will they influence mine? They already have.”