The 5th Province

Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre explore social, political and multicultural identity in a rapidly changing society

‘The 5th Province is that place in each of us which is open to the other. It is a province of possibilities, of imagination, and of ethics.’

Premiering at The MAC in Belfast on January 30, the latest production from the Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre (DQDT) encourages the exploration of social, political and multicultural identity within our rapidly changing society. The 5th Province subsequently promises to be a veritable feast for the senses, combining the talents of five international dancers with that of leading Belfast-based visual artist, Seamus Harahan.

The dance show also involves the renowned milliner, Gráinne Maher, and multi-award-winning composer, Andy Garbi, with director and choreographer, Dylan Quinn, at the helm. Amid the dancing and the music however, the aim is to challenge fresh thinking in the audience about our identity, outside the restraints of both past and present.

Described by Quinn as a 'contemporary piece which is about raising questions and trying to explore the world differently', the production is inspired by the mythical ‘fifth province’. Folklore places this ‘Middle Province’ just between Ulster and Leinster, and DQDT is drawing on the neutrality of this ideological space to inspire new ideas.

'Hopefully, it will be a show that will engage and challenge,' says Quinn. 'It’s exploring a subject matter that I don’t think is very often explored in dance within Northern Ireland. It’s about identity and our place in the world in terms of the changing nature of the environment and the society in Northern Ireland, without really referencing Northern Ireland.'

As a Northern Ireland native himself – Quinn hails from Enniskillen and has based his dance company there – the questions posed in the production are ones he is also personally concerned about. 'We’re very monolithic with our ideas of identity, which doesn’t fit in with young people’s thinking and people who’ve moved here from elsewhere. We continue to explore that sense of cultural identity in a very narrow field.'

Using the narrative of dance without dialogue, The 5th Province will show audiences that there are other ways of exploring ideas and experiences aside from what they consider the norm. 'It’s about raising questions,' adds Quinn. 'Changing how people are used to thinking about things.'

Passionate about contemporary dance and physical theatre, and with a desire to 'say something about the world we live in', Quinn, it would seem, was always destined for the arts. Although growing up he was encouraged towards theatre, he soon found he engaged more fully with the physical demands of dance.

As a student, Quinn trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, where he discovered a Peace Studies course, sparking off another passion. After graduating with a BA Performing Arts Dance, he completed this course in Bradford and began researching social sciences while working for a dance company. An MA in Peace and Development Studies in Spain followed, with Quinn then moving to Sligo, where he lectured in peace and community development. He also became artist in residence with Fermanagh District Council and in 2009, decided to fully combine his two interests with DQDT.

'I was doing a little dancing at the time,' he recalls. 'I set up the company with the explicit idea that it should say something about the world we live in and that it would be predominantly in the south-west of Northern Ireland, because the focus is always so much on Belfast and Derry. We do a huge amount of education and community work in the Fermanagh area and I would also do work for the Arts Council.'

Such work includes everything from baby boogie and butterfly ballet classes, to contemporary dance, country jive and salsa classes. As an award-winning social enterprise, DQDT is also heavily involved in shared education projects, as well as collaborating with community groups, such as Community Dialogue (Belfast) for The 5th Province. 'We’re trying to see the very existence of DQDT as showing you can do things differently. We should be doing political and social work in all parts of Northern Ireland, and in different ways.'

Supported by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, DQDT is known for tackling challenging themes. Indeed, past performances have addressed sex trafficking, the objectification of violence in entertainment and the inherent fragility of humans. 'We don’t always necessarily work with subjects that are ‘live’ now,' Quinn explains, 'but it’s somehow inevitable, as these issues always affect us.'

The 5th Province is at The MAC, Belfast from January 30 – 31 and at the Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen on February 7.