Photography by Brian Hartley
Rob Heaslip talks about his new production Endling that's showing in the OneTouch Theatre on 13 + 14 Mar.
What is Endling?
Well, an Endling itself is the name given to the last member of a species on our planet. Once an endling dies, that species becomes extinct.
Endling is a performance work that re-imagines death – but not as one might expect. The show is where dance, vocals, music, design and a mound of confetti reinterpret Folk Theatre to tell tales of funerary and mourning rituals, their chants, songs and practices; many now already dead or dying amongst the Gaels of Scotland and Ireland.
It’s not a show about Gaelic in a traditional sense, in fact that’s what I set out to avoid. It takes the songs that are sung and the actions we do in sad times and re-imagines them in a way that pushes the boundaries about how we as Gaels try to come to terms with loss. It is most certainly respectful and carries the weight of our heritage, but I wanted it to look to the future in search of vibrancy and imagination.
It is certainly a solemn piece with beautiful Gaelic song by an incredibly talented vocal team and our amazing contemporary dancers bring in the twist – the mysticism around death that we will forever be trying to understand, that which remains unanswered. With the whole team I tried to portray all the unknown and misunderstood and find a way to bring it all together through performance.
Where did the inspiration come from?
We’re right on the edge of Europe, which I think is a great claim to make. Growing up in the south-west of Ireland I remember death being filled with such sorrow, and also joy at celebrating someone’s life, and I guess this work is my way to try to find somewhere in the middle of both.
I wanted to lift the lid on what people think folk theatre is. I began my career with The National Folk Theatre of Ireland before I went on to do my formal contemporary dance training here in Scotland. There is always space for experimentation in the contemporary arts, but I often find that folk theatre is trapped within a stereotypical expectation of that static black and white photo in a museum. So I set myself a task, to create a trilogy of works that rips that photo off the wall and fills it with mysticism, neon colours, sci-fi and all things weird and wonderful.
I visited academics, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Gaelic officers and centres across the country, but I have to say that I held one ‘bible’, a book by Margaret Bennett – Scottish Customs – from the cradle to the grave. It came into the studio with me every day.
Photography by Simon Scott
Can you tell us a little bit about the creative processes of creating Endling?
I wanted it to be a clash between traditional culture, pop culture and a lot of mysticism. Now, the balance is that the work still takes inspiration from the rich cultural heritage of the Gael, but its more focused on the Gael of today – who we are and what our tastes are as contemporary viewers. We have the Scottish treasure singer Gillebrìde MacMillan along with acclaimed Irish Contemporary Vocalists Michelle O’Rourke and Robbie Blake. They come from opposite end of the spectrum and meet in the middle to create a thing of beauty.
I knew I wanted the process to be a meeting point of a real world, and an imagined one. As humans we have our knows and unknowns, and we live life trying to fill in the gaps. We had this ethos when creating in the studio. We used records of mourning rituals that we were able to draw from - the songs, the actions, the proceedings – which we knew at all times that we need to bring to the modern viewer.
The work is set in a sort of waiting room. The limbo of death and how we try to come to terms with absence. Throughout the process we either re-imagined or invented rituals of morning from the isles, from the large funerary displays to the small everyday things that help people move on. We have the character of the Crow, our emblem of death, who moves through the work through each and every performer. He/She is the macabre, the blackness of the void, the fear, the loss, the sorry… our main character as such. It is through the crow that we go on a journey of sorrow, joy, ritual and mysticism.
Why are you excited to bring these on tour to Inverness?
Inverness is a Gaelic city – what a great way to start our tour. For me Inverness represents a meeting point of old and modern Gaels. It’s like a melting pot, just like the show and I think it can suit the tastes of all the different relationships to Gaelic that the people of the city hold.
Why should people come and see it?
It’s Gaelic outside-the-box, a different way of seeing the language in use.
I also wanted to make a work for everyone, Gaelic isn’t a requirement, the work welcomes everyone in. It’s filled with the feelings that cultures around the world experience – our human nature that unites us all in times of loss. As the audience, you don’t need to understand the words, there is enough beauty in the songs and dances to carry your imagination along for the evening.
Book online or call 01463 234 234.