A new documentary “Breaking Pointe” looks at 25 years of Cork City Ballet and how it has shaped the city.

On Tuesday, January 22, New York will hold host to “Breaking Pointe,” an in-depth look at the history and love for ballet in Ireland’s second city, Cork.

For many, Ireland may not immediately spring to mind when one mentions for the art form but in the Rebel City, a passion for ballet has grown from generation to generation alongside the hard work and dedication of Cork City Ballet, the city’s ballet companies and the tireless teachers opening up the door to both new Irish dancers and visiting international dancers.

Ahead of the New York screening, IrishCentral spoke to Alan Foley, the founder and artistic director of Cork City Ballet, who also directed this latest documentary.

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Cork City Ballet's Alan Foley.

Cork City Ballet's Alan Foley.

He tells us more about his own involvement and how Cork found itself on the international ballet map.

“Breaking Pointe” is being screening as part of the Origin 1st Irish Festival. More information on the event and tickets can be found here. The documentary will also be screened in New Jersey on Thursday, January 24. Further information can be found here.

For anybody unaccustomed to the story of Cork City Ballet, how steeped in the city is it as an institution?

Joan Denise Moriarty. Image: Alan Foley.

Joan Denise Moriarty. Image: Alan Foley.

We’ve had a tradition of ballet in Cork since approximately 1932 when Joan Denise Moriarty set up her first dance school in Mallow. Before that, another Irish woman - Ninette de Valois worked at the Abbey in Dublin with WB Yeats, running a ballet school from 1928-1934.

Joan Denise Moriarty (1912 – 1992) was a dancer, teacher, choreographer, founder of the Cork Ballet Company, of two professional companies Irish Theatre Ballet and the Irish National Ballet, and of Cork’s Firkin Crane Dance Centre. She was my teacher for many years, and it was from her that my love of the art form came about.

When she died in 1992, the mantle fell on me to continue her legacy and that is what we at Cork City Ballet have tried to do since the company was formed. Corkonians are very happy to have their own ballet company in the city and have supported us since the beginning.

What inspired you to make the documentary “Breaking Pointe?” 

Breaking Pointe a film documenting 25 years of Cork City Ballet

Get in behind the scenes of the growth and tireless work of Cork City Ballet with this screening of 'Breaking Pointe' a film documenting 25 years of this wonderful organisation! Tuesday 11th September, 8pm. €10* Book here  bit.ly/BreakingPointe *Booking fees apply to telephone and online bookings

Publiée par Cork Opera House sur Mercredi 22 août 2018

I wanted to show the rich legacy that was bestowed upon us by Joan Denise Moriarty and Professor Aloys Fleischmann in the early days, but also provide the public with a clear picture of what has been achieved by Cork City Ballet in the 25 years since the company’s inception.

You studied dance outside of Ireland but how important was it for you to return to Cork and oversee the future of dance there? 

L-R: Patricia Crosbie, Ballet Mistress Cork City Ballet; Alan Foley, Artistic Director Cork City Ballet; Colette McNamee, Chairperson of the board of Cork City Ballet.

L-R: Patricia Crosbie, Ballet Mistress Cork City Ballet; Alan Foley, Artistic Director Cork City Ballet; Colette McNamee, Chairperson of the board of Cork City Ballet.

That was always part of my plan – to return home and teach and impart everything that I had learned abroad. During my career, I was very lucky to work with so many great teachers in the US, not least Stanley Williams at the School of American Ballet, Finis Jhung at Broadway Dance Centre and Gelsey Kirkland at Katherine Kingsley’s studio in NY. I learned so much from these incredible people that I felt it was my duty to go home and share this knowledge.

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You've said before that Cork people know their ballet - why is the tradition so strong in the city? 

Because for many years the main Irish professional company (Irish National Ballet) was based in Cork. Joan Denise Moriarty believed very strongly in decentralization and when she was the Artistic Director the company toured to 44 different venues in Ireland each year, as well as the major seasons at Cork Opera House.

So, with a tradition nurtured over the past 90 years, Cork people know their ballet and are quick to draw your attention to something amiss in a production – particularly the classics which Cork City Ballet performs every year.

After the financial crisis and the withdrawal of Arts Council funding, do you believe that ballet is underappreciated by the powers that be in Ireland?

Cork City Ballet production of Swan Lake.

Cork City Ballet production of Swan Lake.

No, I believe that ballet in Cork is underappreciated by ‘the powers that be’ in Ireland! I think it’s shocking that a small number of people (one in particular!) has so much power to make decisions as to where the funding goes.

Right now, there are only two professional ballet companies in the country offering employment to dancers every year. One is based in Dublin and that company is in receipt of almost €400k ($456k). Cork City Ballet is the other company and we’ve received nothing from the Arts Council of Dublin…eh, I mean Ireland since 2011.

Admittedly, the other company tours all over Ireland (I would too with €400k), but in 2017 they had 11,727 people attend their performances. Cork City Ballet had 5,640 people attend our performances that same year.

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How does this documentary shine a light on the life of a professional dancer?

We had cameras following the dancers for many years and all this footage was just too good not to be seen by the general public, so when I decided to make “Breaking Pointe” I knew I had this enormous archive to draw from.

From our tours around the major theatres in Ireland to our press and media coverage, TV interviews, backstage footage of the dancers in class and rehearsals and the many interviews from various members in the company, it was all there. I just had to spend many hours, days and weeks putting it together with the team at Frameworks Films in Cork.

How hard was it for you to stop dancing yourself in 2007? 

Alan Foley performing.

Alan Foley performing.

It was very difficult for me because in many ways the decision was taken out of my hands. I had to stop dancing professionally because I had to have major heart surgery.

They say that dancers die twice, and I think it’s true. You spend all your waking hours rehearsing, perfecting and performing as a young student, dancer and artist (and remember it goes by very quickly), and then you wake up one day and it’s all over. Your body just won’t do it anymore; it can’t. That’s sad, but now I’m happy to be able to look back and be able to say, ‘I did it and I had lots of fun’, and for the most part, I wouldn’t change a thing.

What would you tell a young person in Ireland looking to study ballet? 

Be creative and remember (in the words of my mother) … “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Work hard and believe in yourself and try to be as realistic as possible about your options. Ballet is a very rewarding career, but it takes lots of hard work…everyday of your working life. And you must enjoy that side of it as well because that part makes up 90% of it.

What is your favorite or most memorable moment of the past 25 years? 

Alan Foley.

Alan Foley.

When Mary Clarke, the esteemed editor of ‘Dancing Times’ in London compared me to the founder of Britain’s Royal Ballet - Dame Ninette de Valois, in the forward of my first book “Ballet Through the Lens.”

“Breaking Pointe” is being screening as part of the Origin 1st Irish Festival. More information on the event and tickets can be found here. The documentary will also be screened in New Jersey on Thursday, January 24. Further information can be found here.

Alan dancing with Cork City Ballet. Alan Foley.