Shall we dialogue, I mean, dance? Is it time to reinvigorate the concept of The 5th Province?

This may be Slugger’s first ever post about contemporary dance!

In a very small yet significant way, my boundaries are being stretched early in 2015. As a long-time sportophobe, I ended up at a Belfast Giant’s match (which inspired a 16-point newbie guide posted elsewhere) and now it’s un grand jeté into the world of contemporary dance!

Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre - The 5th Province - image 2 - photo by Ursula BurkeDylan Quinn Dance Theatre are premièring their new production The 5th Province at the end of January. The eponymous director/choreographer explained to me the background to the work’s title.

The Fifth Province is an old Irish mythological term that is based around the idea of there being five provinces in Ireland. It’s not clear whether there ever was a place referred to as the Fifth Province or whether it was a concept that was explored at the time. It was a place that the kings would have come together at times of dispute or disagreement, weapons were left outside of this place and they would come in and resolved any issues of conflict that were existing between them all. The idea that when in that place you weren’t controlled by the identities and the status you had outside of it: you were there to resolve conflict.

Philosophers Richard Kearney and Mark Patrick Hederman  used the concept as a “central line running through” The Crane Bag magazine “exploring cultural identity, political identity and social issues in Ireland at the time”.

There are issues in how we hold identity and the way that the monolithical ideas of identity that exist in Northern Ireland are controlled in large part by organisations, by political parties … You’re identified by who you’re not as much as who you are, and as a result of that you don’t get to loosen up who you are and understand and explore that in the way that I think we should.

In her inaugural speech as Irish President in December 1990, Mary Robinson also referred to the Fifth Province:

The recent revival of an old concept of the Fifth Province expresses this emerging Ireland of tolerance and empathy. The old Irish term for province is coicead, meaning a “fifth”; and yet, as everyone knows, there are only four geographical provinces on this island. So where is the fifth?

The Fifth Province is not anywhere here or there, north or south, east or west. It is a place within each one of us — that place that is open to the other, that swinging door which allows us to venture out and others to venture in.

Ancient legends divided Ireland into four quarters and a “middle,” although they differed about the location of this middle or Fifth Province. While Tara was the political centre of Ireland, tradition has it that this Fifth Province acted as a second centre, a necessary balance. If I am a symbol of anything I would like to be a symbol of this reconciling and healing Fifth Province.

As part of developing The 5th Province contemporary dance, the Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre group established a partnership with Community Dialogue who work with people and communities who are living in conflict.

But how do these themes translate from words into contemporary dance? Dylan says:

If we have issues and concerns and questions and troubling about a particular subject it doesn’t mean that we all have to explore it through dialogue in a verbal sense. There are other ways of doing that dialogue, whether that be a physical sense or music.

It’s not that you sit down and suddenly you watch a dance piece and it solves your internal conflict but possibly it helps raise some thoughts or experiences or emotions that allow you to connect with something, and then you can go on to discuss it.

It’s about having a whole plethora of ways to explore and investigate subjects and issues and concepts rather than saying actually we sit down around a table and we talk about this and that’s the only way it’s explored, or I stand at the top of a classroom and tell you exactly how it is.

No, there are a lot of different ways people can experience the world. Some people are kinaesthetic learners, some are audio learners, so we experience the world in various different ways … you can take a fairly complex conceptual idea and you can explore it through movement and music and visual art.

Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre - The 5th Province - photo by Ursula BurkeSo what does Dylan hope audiences will make of this piece?

In the performance I hope what happens is that people will experience something internally emotionally as a response of watching it. So it’s not that they’ll come away going “Oh, I understand what the 5th Province is and I can resolve all of this” but they can may come away going “I experienced something there that I wouldn’t experience in another setting and it brought be somewhere else, it put me somewhere ‘other’ and put be somewhere that felt good because of that ‘other’ or felt challenging or felt enlightening. That space of ‘other’ is what is important and not sitting in the one place going “This is what it is, this is how the world is experienced, this is what’s right”.

With a ten year old daughter, through the influences of Strictly I’m aware of ballroom and Latin as well as Dad dancing, but being a contemporary dance rookie I asked what I should expect? Dylan explained that watching the movement “touches you in an emotional way”. One of his college teachers once compared contemporary dance with improvised jazz, that “can start anywhere and goes anywhere”.

The movement and the shapes, the qualities and the dynamics of it, vary greatly compared to your traditional sense of what dance is. It isn’t quite as set in terms of its form.

The five dancers’ performance will be augmented with visual art by Seamus Harahan and music from Andy Garbi. The 5th Province is in the MAC on Friday 30 and Saturday 31 January at 8pm (tickets £12) before heading to the Ardhowen Theatre on Saturday 7 February at 8pm (£5).

As inhabitants of a land still in conflict, each with our own individual inner disorder and tumult, maybe we need to rediscover and repopulate our fifth province as part of a wider reconciliation? Is it time that we all explore our identities without being defined by others?

I’ll let you know how I get on at the dance! Updateposted a review.

Pictures by Ursula Burke.

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  • Kevin Breslin

    The usual suspect of the fifth providence is Meath, possibly the lands of Meath and Westmeath. I know that’s totally not the spirit of this enterprise or the Robinson speech.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    That was my understanding, also, Kevin. The status of Meath was associated with the High Kingship and soverignty, not something Richard Kearney is particularly comfortable with. I remember him gleefully speaking about “exorcising the Demon of Soverignty” in the late 1990s whe he was a major consultee by both governments in those years just before the GFA.

  • Séamus

    It was around Meath and Westmeath (Meath comes from Midhe, meaning “middle”), and Tara was its ‘capital’ for lack of a better term, the place mentioned by Dylan Quinn where the kings met. I have no idea where Robinson gets the idea of there being another, different “fifth province”.

    The term is still in use in modern Irish, not just old Irish. A province is a cúige (fifth), and you’ll still hear the four provinces of Ireland referred to as “cúig chúige na hÉireann”, though it is falling out of use.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Séamus, I supect Mary is coming from someone new age who has been reading John Moriarty.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Since the 5th Province is the “middle”, you could argue that her version of the 5th Province was the middle ground or equilibrium point where people compromise, share and learn from one another. I get the sort of esoteric spiritualism of a missing part consistent with the socialist belief, pretty much like the Undiscovered Country in Star Trek.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I was careful to mention the late John Moriarty without too much of my own baggage, Kevin. I have his books, and something of a weakness for some of his speculations, but then I have some family on a ranch at Big Sur (Irish speakers)…….

  • I’ve posted a review elsewhere.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Alan.