The future of Daghdha Dance Company…

People are reacting with general puzzlement as to the future of Daghdha Dance Company, based in St John’s Church, in Limerick. I contacted the chairman of the board of directors last week, Karl Wallace, in the last 10 days and he told me that there would be an official statement issued soon but in case you (like me) are losing track of what has happened so far, here’s a recap.

On February 28, it was announced that the Arts Council had cut Daghdha’s funding by 100%. A statement was issued: “Daghdha Dance Company has been dancing differently for 23 years under the direction of founder member and original Artistic Director Mary Nunan, her successor Yoshiko Chuma and since 2003, the company’s latest Artistic Director, Michael Klien…Daghdha in the last eight years has carved out a niche for being daring, controversial, cutting edge, fantastically creative; and whilst moving from “favourite child to misfit” (Irish Times) always inspiring others to dance differently….We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our funders for their investment and commitment.”

Immediately, an online petition was launched—gathering 1,200 signatures so far—and Daghdha’s board sought to negotiate with the AC.

Daghdha held a farewell event, The Ponderous Counter-Spectacle Of Things Ceasing To Be, on March 26. The blurb for it stated that “Daghdha may have to close its doors, but not without celebrating the contribution of this special organisation to our lives as resident artists. The final grassroots event hosts many artists…”

A statement on March 28, said that the discussions with the AC did not “bear fruit” and all staff, including students on the Daghdha Mentoring Programme, had to made redundant. It also said that the directors “have taken the position that if it is not possible to have Michael Klien as Artistic Director then it is no longer possible to continue as a dance company”. It outlined plans to consult with a wide range of people on its future and “new vision”. The website currently says that another statement is “coming soon”.

Decline in funding
Daghdha was formed in 1988 by Mary Nunan and Teresa Leahy. It grew into a leading contemporary dance company nationally and internationally. The AC annual funding had been decreasing for several years; it was €160,000 in 2010 and €250,000 in 2009. The 2008 funding would have been around €340,000.

In 2009, the cut meant that Daghdha put on a reduced programme of activities. Klien was vocal on the issue, quoted in a local paper at the time saying: “We would like to express our distress and entrust that there will be a time when Daghdha will be officially acknowledged for what is has accomplished during this period…We will now restructure Daghdha according to our new economic reality.” In 2010, he said the AC was eroding their “artistic sovereignty” after the company’s funding was reduced to €160,000—a 70% decrease since 2007. “For three years the Arts Council has been actively manoeuvring to dictate Daghdha’s direction with a view to eventually avail of its assets to pursue their own vision, which, to our understanding, present unsustainable and locally irrelevant plans,” he was quoted as stating. Klien described the subsequent 2011 100% cut as “unjust”.

What now?
So, what will become of Daghdha’s base in St John’s Church? And what is the future for dance in Limerick?

The former church in St John’s Square became Daghdha’s home (after being based in UL) in 2004. A Government grant and independent fundraising covered the cost of the €1m refurbishment, which included a special sprung floor for dance. It’s a beautiful and atmospheric space, which has also hosted events such as the Cuisle Poetry Festival and the Eightball Productions ‘autumn:winter collection’ of gigs.

I spoke to city arts officer, Sheila Deegan, a few weeks after the initial announcement. She said that the city council holds the building in trust but Daghdha has a long-term lease on it. She added that although Daghdha’s artistic programme won’t be funded, the AC is committed to funding dance in Limerick. The council’s arts officials are waiting to see what form this will take but they still see St John’s Church as “a key cultural space” for dance.

My two cents
The company did excellent work giving classes to people with learning difficulties at the Garvey Enterprise Centre. Arising from this collaboration, The Love Spotters Dance Collective was formed by visiting Israeli choreographer, Daniel Vais, in 2005. It has performed all around Ireland and Europe. Daghdha established the innovative Mamuska Nights, which facilitated a “unique occasion to present and view evolving works, raw ideas, unrehearsed visions, trials and errors, short masterpieces, playful nonsense, first steps”. Daghdha eventually stopped holding them but the format has been used elsewhere. It also held some local events like family days and brunches.

Daghdha undoubtedly pushed boundaries with publications on choreography like Framemakers—Choreography as an Aesthetics of Change. It attracted “over 70 dance-artists to stay and make their living” locally. It ran the Daghdha Mentoring Programme (DMP) to allow dancers to do self-directed study into choreography and in early 2011 launched the very first MA in Choreographic Arts in partnership with LSAD (I’m not sure what will happen to that now). The company has a stellar international reputation and garnered a lot of critical praise. Daghdha’s achievements are many.

However, there are those that would question its high funding allocations, particularly in comparison to what other venues/organisations/artforms would get. According to a report by the AC on national arts audiences last year, 115,000 attended a contemporary dance performance once a year, or more often—out of 1.54m people who attended arts events once a year, or more often. To put this in context, 865,000 people went to a play once a year, or more often.

In my opinion, Daghdha had a tendency towards the esoteric. I wouldn’t go to contemporary dance often but I appreciate it most when it’s accessible to plebs like me. The last show I saw by Daghdha was Rolling, its contribution to the 2010 Belltable Unfringed Festival, and it didn’t impress (raw reaction here). I also went to a DMP performance once, which was possibly the zaniest event I’ve ever attended… and maybe the best €3 I ever spent. I could never be sure!

We are living in straitened times and no organisation is immune to cutbacks. I don’t think the AC makes decisions to cut like this lightly but it is sending a strong message that something needs to change. It would be a shame to see Daghdha go after 23 years. It is part of the cultural tapestry of Limerick and beyond. How it deals with this crisis will define its future. The AC is no longer the only funding outlet. With the set-up of the Fund It website, the public can make financial pledges towards projects and produce them. That’s a welcome addition, and something Daghdha could use for projects. The Dublin Dance Festival is currently using it for one element of the festival. The AC has also launched a promising, new funding scheme for dance graduates called Step Up.

If there is a dedicated audience for contemporary dance, they’ll put their money where their mouths are.

I’ll post on the upcoming statement when it is available and if you want to check out Daghdha’s past events, there are videos etc on the website.