Two men with strong West Cork ties have important roles in the success of Ireland’s longest-running professional ballet company, writes Aisling Meath
Kevin Hayes, a dancer from Skibbereen, will be part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of Cork City Ballet’s performance of Sleeping Beauty, and its director, Alan Foley, is known all over West Cork as a dance teacher of some renown. The Tchaikovsky masterpiece will be performed at the city’s Opera House from November 9th to 11th.
Husband and wife Prima Ballerina Ekaterina Bortyakova and Akzhol Mussakhanov, both stars of the Moscow State Ballet, will perform the lead roles and 26-year-old Kevin Hayes, who began his training in his native Skibbereen, will be showcasing his talents.
The choreographer is Cork City Ballet’s Yary Demakov who trained with the Bolshoi Ballet, and the production is directed by founder and artistic director of Cork City Ballet, Alan Foley.
Alan, who grew up in Fountainstown, has contributed enormously to the cultural landscape of Cork through his work with Cork City Ballet and the Alan Foley Academy of Dance where he also teaches jazz and contemporary dance.
Over a long number of years now, he has nurtured many fledgling dancing talents (ages three to 18) to maturity with classes in Skibbereen, Bantry, Clonakilty and Carrigaline, ensuring that ballet is alive and well in rural Ireland and not just the preserve of urban centres.
Justine Foster of Uillinn Skibbereen Arts Centre, where Alan has been running dance classes for many years said: ‘Alan is an absolute pleasure to deal with and has a wonderful sense of humour. My own kids attend his classes too.’
One of his Skibbereen students, Kevin Hayes, is now a professional, freelance dancer. He started classes in the West Cork Arts Centre when he was 10 and went on to study at the London Contemporary Dance School.
He said: ‘My Mam was wondering what to with my excess energy and when she enrolled me in dancing classes I just loved it.
‘Alan has been an amazing mentor and encourages self-reliance. I’m really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel the world through dance – I’ve got my eye on Berlin next,’ he said.
Kevin is currently back in Ireland and will be dancing the role of ‘The White Cat’ pas de deux in the upcoming Sleeping Beauty.
‘It’s an absolute honour to be on the same stage as Ekaterina and Akzhol, they are both phenomenal dancers,’ he said.
Back in 1983 Alan Foley was blown away by the performances of ‘Maniac’ by Michael Sembello and ‘What a feeling’ by Irene Cara in the film Flashdance.
‘From then on dancing was all I dreamed of,’ Alan said.
This ambition led him to the premises of the late Joan Denise Moriarty, founder of professional ballet in Ireland, who was running dance classes in Cork.
‘“So” she said, “you want to be a dancer? Go and learn about classical music, art, opera – and all I had wanted to learn was Flashdance!” remembers Alan.
‘She had a way about her that commanded respect,’ he continued. ‘Pupils even used to curtsey in front of her. When she said jump you jumped – literally!’ he laughs.
Under Joan Denise Moriarty’s tutelage Alan was soon an accomplished ballet dancer.
‘Yes, before long she had me in tights,’ laughs Alan and although he took a ribbing from the local boys at the time he persisted and gave back as good as he got.
‘I asked them if they were strong enough to lift a girl over their heads,’ he said. ‘I didn’t care how much they teased me, I was just focused on my training.’
He spent eight hours a day stretching in front of a mirror and being careful with his diet in order to maintain his physical agility.
He remembered his mother’s words ‘calm yourself’ in overcoming the nerves experienced by many performers waiting in the wings to go onstage, looking out into the darkness as the audience waited.
‘I remember thinking what would happen if I just put on my coat and left right now?’ said Alan.
He persisted and went on to train in the Harrison School of Dance and Drama the Pineapple Studios in London, the Broadway Dance Centre in New York and was the first Irish dancer to attend the Kirov Ballet School in Russia.
In a message of congratulations to the Cork City Ballet on their 25th anniversary, President of Ireland Michael D Higgins said: ‘Alan Foley is revered by the many people who owe their love and appreciation of ballet to him.’
This sentiment is reflected in the ethos of Ireland’s longest running professional ballet company of making it accessible to everyone – here’s to the next 25 years.
• See corkoperahouse.ie for ticket information.