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Maternal stroke of dance at the Belltable

“PEOPLE wrote to us after the show to say that it inspired them to make up with their mothers or that they rang their mother straight away after seeing it. It was very moving to hear that.”
David Bolger is talking about audience reaction to his new stage show, Swimming with my Mother, which examines the relationship between a mother and a son and plays at the Belltable in Limerick on January 28 and 29 as part of the Unfringed Festival.
A dance duet between David and his mother, Madge, the show looks at how Madge taught him to swim and uses this to explore memory and the way things are passed down between generations
“Swimming stands as a bond between us,” explains David on a break from rehearsals. “My mother was taught to swim by my grandfather – her father – and she taught her kids to swim. So it’s the idea of something being passed back. I think it’s a timely piece: it talks of another time and how people get over things,” the playwright explains.
The show started as a work-in-progress commission from the Dublin Dance Festival in 2010 and is based on an interview with David and Madge about music and swimming made by Vincent Woods for RTÉ’s Arts Tonight radio programme. 
David is a classically trained ballet dancer who now specialises in contemporary dance. He is artistic director of the Irish dance company CoisCéim, which he co-founded in 1995. His mother, Madge, is a swimming instructor who attends dance classes for older people but has no professional dance experience.
So how did she react when he approached her with the idea of a live dance show solely consisting of the two of them dancing a duet?
“She said ‘yes’. She’s 77 and it’s very difficult when it’s not your career. But she’s been incredible and has risen to the challenge. She was the one calming me down in rehearsals. But mothers are always mothers; they’re always teaching us.”
Rehearsing with his mother was a privilege for David, saying, “I feel very lucky – like I’ve hit the jackpot. It’s been a very humbling, enriching experience. One of the lines in the show is, ‘I thought I was teaching her to dance. But she was teaching me patience.’ She’s taught me to value what I have and to look at things deeply.”
But it hasn’t been without minor complications. “We’re very close but, like anything involving family, it can be frustrating,” he admits. “It hasn’t all gone swimmingly – if you’ll excuse the pun. The rest of my family think we’re mad.”
Not only did David ask his mother to perform in a live dance show with him, he also told her that they were making an underwater film together. Deep End Dancing is a short film where Madge pushes a fully dressed David into a swimming pool. As he dances, she joins him and they play out their relationship through underwater dance. The film has been nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA).
David describes Swimming with my Mother as a “very gentle, connected and honest” work. There is little room for error during the performance as the only props on stage are a bench and a towel. The idea of paring back the production to the bare minimum was important to David.
“The show is incredibly simple. I feel like everything I’ve done has brought me to this point. I feel like I’m using all the experience I’ve gained. Simplicity is the key,” he says.
In his work with CoisCéim, David aims to create live performance shows in a variety of dance styles that resonate with today’s society. He has choreographed CoisCéim productions throughout Ireland and in Australia, the US and China.
He’s a man, who clearly relishes his job, saying, “I’ve a real hunger to tell stories. It makes me want to get up in the morning.”
As well as dance, David works in opera, film and theatre. Since 2005, he has directed three operas for Opera Ireland and worked with the English National Opera on their production of La Traviata. His film credits include choreographer for Dancing at Lughnasa, which included a dance scene featuring Meryl Streep.
David’s reputation in theatre can be gleaned from his involvement in prestigious productions for the Abbey Theatre and the Royal National Theatre, London, where his role is coordinating “movement direction”.
He has also worked closely with the Druid Theatre on John B. Keane plays and the company’s Druid Synge programme where it performed all JM Synge’s plays before touring them nationally and internationally.
In 2003, David choreographed A Dash of Colour for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics. The piece featured two representatives from each of the 250 host towns. It was an “extraordinary event” and was based on a very “simple idea: power of the people”.  
Recalling how Ireland embraced the Special Olympics might help us when we think about our current problems, he suggests, “As a nation, we’ve incredible heart, passion, resilience and spirit. I hate talking about how awful things are today but we’ve a really generous spirit; we should remember that.”
What would David say to someone who is interested in the theme of the show but has never been to a dance performance before and is daunted by the prospect?
“The show has a lot of ‘ins’: mother-and-son relationships, swimming, dance, storytelling. It’s got a wicked sense of humour and includes a lot of the mother/son awkward moments. It will speak to people who like narrative and is told to the music of Nat King Cole – one of my mother’s favourite singers.”
David is delighted to be bringing CoisCéim to Limerick again. “This will be our first time back to the Belltable since it reopened,” he says. “It’s great to be performing in the context of the Unfringed Festival. We’re really looking forward to it and to speaking to people after the show.”
If some of the audience are already on their phones to their mothers at the end, he might have to wait a little while.
n Brendan Daly is an
Ennis jopurnalism student

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