It’s been 100 years since the publication of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” a strange and singular novel considered one of the essential works of modernist literature. To honor its centennial, the Irish Arts organization Solas Nua has commissioned “Yes and Yes,” a two-night dance performance choreographed by Liz Roche and performed by her company on Friday, September 9, and Saturday, September 10, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.
We checked in with Roche, a leader in the world of Irish dance, to explore how she translated Joyce’s complex work to the stage and what to expect from this one-of-a-kind show.
District Fray: “Ulysses” is such an unusual book. Why do you think it still resonates with so many people?
Liz Roche: I think that “Ulysses” brings the reader into its characters’ thoughts and desires, and this speaks to the complexities of what it is to be human, something that we can all connect to. The book is multi-layered, frustratingly irreverent at one moment and then heartbreakingly touching in another. Maybe this dynamic contrast is why it resonates with so many people. I think readers are also free to experience the text in a very personal way, as there are multiple meanings and interpretations possible.
How does “Yes and Yes” explore Joyce’s major themes?
“Yes and Yes” maps through the changing chapters of the book, acknowledging the ever-evolving writing styles throughout. The work follows the book in different ways, sometimes using it as a set of instructions and sometimes taking one word or sentence for inspiration. It plays with contrasting energies, by exploring the sense of the epic in the everyday, sometimes slowing down to focus in on one tiny moment between people and then erupting out into states of spontaneity and freedom.
“Yes and Yes” is truly a multimedia spectacle, with dance, film, music, costumes, etc. What holds all these different elements together?
I think the forward motion of the narrative in the book acts as the impetus for all of these elements to come together, and ultimately this connects to the forward motion of the dancers throughout. The different elements are all responding and reacting to each other all the way through the dance work.
What draws you to live performance?
I love being able to connect with an audience and see how their energy affects the dancers and the overall performance. How everything becomes so alive once an audience is present is a really special feeling to witness and also be part of.
What were the biggest challenges in putting this show together?
“Ulysses” is a challenging book, and I found it quite daunting to begin with. But after some time those doubts faded, and I found a lot of beauty, humor and sadness that became very inspiring and creative to work with.
What’s something you’d like for people to know before they see “Yes and Yes”?
In “Yes and Yes,” with the dancers and my collaborators, we have asked ourselves what “Ulysses” means now, 100 years on. How does a body in 2022 respond to this epic text? So we have embarked on a journey with the book together in search of something new. Joyce articulates bodily sensation and experience in great detail, and in this dance we try to reveal some of this complexity and let the body find a way to speak it.
Do you have any plans on the horizon after this?
Yes, the piece will be performed on September 13 at the Topper Theatre at The John and Joan Mullen Center, Villanova University and later on this year, we perform the work at Project Arts Centre in Dublin. In 2023, we will bring the piece on tour around Ireland and to Luxembourg.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I hope you enjoy the performance!
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