Cork City Ballet: “Never Use the Words ‘I Can’t'”

Over the last 25 years, Cork City Ballet has gone from strength to strength, hosting international superstars and bringing the genre’s classics Leeside. Ahead of the premiere of their new documentary ‘Breaking Pointe’ at the Opera House, MIke McGrath-Bryan speaks with director Alan Foley.

The arts are a labour of love, of this there is no doubt. Look at the city’s veterans, the people that have rowed in behind their passion, and laid the foundations for future generations to build on theirs, and you see an unswerving dedication to their work, inextricably tied with the city, building their artistic and facilitative identities in its venues and spaces. These same intangibles are evident as your writer sits down upstairs in Cork Opera House for a chat with Cork City Ballet director Alan Foley, as he casually discusses corralling over twenty-five years of archive material for ‘Breaking Pointe’, a documentary on the troupe’s development and milestones, co-produced with Frameworks Films. Premiering at the Opera House on September 11th, the documentary feature includes interviews, professional performance footage and never-before-seen audiovisual material.

For Foley, it certainly doesn’t seem so long ago since he made a break with the city’s musical establishment to do something new, a change borne of frustration and the need for a body to represent the city’s dance community on the world stage. “I was a dancer, myself. I got to dance with the legendary Joan Denise Moriarty. I came to her when she was older, and tired, I suppose, and it used to drive me bonkers, when I asked her, ‘please, may I do this, may I go to New York, or London, or Russia?’, and she’d say ‘no, you may not’. ‘Why?’. ‘You just may not.’ I put up with that for so many years, I could not be dealing with it and needed to do my own thing. I was always very sure from a young age that I wanted to be in the driver’s seat, so as a result, maybe out of ignorance, I did. So, I set up Cork City Ballet in 1991, and we had our first performance at the Everyman Palace in 1992, and it’s just gone from there… it feels like about five minutes ago, then I look at this lifetime it’s been, and I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone.”

Foley has choreographed and produced all of the troupe’s productions since its foundation, alongside a busy professional career, both as a dancer, and later on the boards of various ballet organisations around the country. One imagines the work/life balance has been a bit of a challenge to maintain. “Necessity. Bottom line. It had to be done. All the jobs, I’ve always done myself to save money, and the one thing I did learn from Moriarty was to never use the words ‘I can’t’. Don’t be coming to me with excuses. If you do have a problem, come to me with it, but come to me with five solutions, and we’ll pick one. So that’s what I’ve employed, even with the young dancers I teach today… I can’t stand bureaucracy, the bulls**t that goes with so much of the world today. ‘Oh, you can’t do this because Memorandum A, Subdivision Q, Article 13 states that the green form and the blue form have to be triplicated and duplicated, etc.’ Are you serious? I want to do a ballet! That kind of thing used to, and still does, drive me to distraction. I can’t cope with it, so I avoid people like that as best I can. I surround myself with doers. Anyone that causes grief, or isn’t willing to make the tea. I don’t care if you’re the prima ballerina or the cleaner, we’re all on the same train, and it’s worked!”

The City Ballet is well-known and regarded on the international stage, with dancers from all over the world coming to town for its productions, as well as to coach and hold seminars. As anyone in the arts will tell you, relationships are everything, and Foley has over the years made a virtue of building on international working agreements. “Very much of it comes from my training or upbringing. I was the youngest of eight kids, airs and graces weren’t tolerated by my parents or my family. Very often, in the arts and particular in the ballet world, the elitism is there. Maybe not so much now, thankfully, but I’m one of those people that believes ballet isn’t just for the privileged. Talent doesn’t have an address. And I bring that ethos into every part of my working life, as well, when trying to attract sponsors or patrons, because we don’t get Arts Council funding. There is a very good product, we deliver that. And if you have that you can go anywhere. You can do anything. Another thing I don’t do too often is dichotomise and politicise. ‘Here’s the ballet, if you like it, fine, if you don’t, that’s fine, too.’ It’s a bit like Picasso, he painted, ‘d’you like it or don’t you?’.”   

The troupe’s business model has increasingly included community and corporate patronage, which allows those involved to enjoy the benefits of supporting the troupe – DVDs, discounts on the door, etc. In an age of crowdfunding and collectivisation of resources, Foley is open about how this model has added to sustainability for the group. “Ballet is very expensive. The tutus that ballerinas wear can go for upwards of three grand. The pointe shoes that they wear, they can go for €100 per pair. They run through three or four pairs of them per show. That’s a lot of money just to make this happen. We’re very lucky over the years to have had some great sponsors, great supporters. The Irish Examiner, Evening Echo, RedFM, have all been brilliant. The Arts Council pulled all their funding in 2011, they don’t approve of us as they say we’re too old-fashioned. Heard that a thousand times before. Innovation is great, it has to come along, but you also have to respect the traditions. Ballet as a modern artform has been around for over 250 years, and will be there for the next 250. The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty. They’re all milestones, that great dancers are judged by. This is what I’m trained to do. I don’t want to bring swans in on horseback or in roller skates. I want to bring them in on pointe shoes! We’ve had a presence here for 25 years, we’re bearing the torch of Aloys Fleischmann and Joan Denise Moriarty before us, so there’s a very rich legacy, and the support we get every year is phenomenal. That’s how we survive.”

‘Breaking Pointe’ began production earlier this year, mining the troupe’s extensive and meticulously-kept archive, as well as engaging dancers and staff in new interviews. While the Ballet had chronicled itself in years prior in text form, the idea occurred to Foley amid unhappiness at how the history of dance had been documented prior. “I had gone to see another documentary about Joan Denise Moriarty, and I was appalled at some of the footage that was used. It was all very well to use old footage, but there was nothing new or progressive. Nothing young people can identify with, and go ‘oh my god, this is cool’. Young people see the fifties or sixties, and it means nothing to them. They can’t relate. Bring it into their world and let them have a look at beautiful dancers, doing beautiful things, to their kind of music. You’ll attract a new audience. And I looked at the archive we have, and I thought, ‘I want to do something different’, and show people what we have today. We are all only of our time. Moriarty had her time, she did things her way. This is my time, it’ll be over soon, and someone else will do it their way. You can only do what you can in your time, and make the most of that.”

While an extensive archive certainly expedited the process of production, the dig for material wasn’t without its surprises, especially when dealing with external footage and its owners. “There wasn’t much of a process as we have a huge archive. I knew we had it documented. I went to press clippings and marketing materials and they were all there. I had wonderful interviews with some of the dancers that we’ve had, big stars, from the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, the Royal Ballet in London, the Met in New York. I knew I had all of this. And then, in the last two years, there was much more footage. Backstage interviews, interviews with the public. But once I had started exploring, I found some real hidden gems that I’d forgotten about. RTÉ came in and filmed me teaching with the Kirov Ballet when they were at the Point about twenty years ago, there was stuff from TV3. So, I was able to draw on all that.”

It’s a tall order, really: the Opera House’s capacity is about 800, all-seated, a challenge for any promoter to sell out on the local level in the current climate. For something as otensibly niche as a historical treatise on local ballet, though, it seems an even heftier challenge, one for which the venue was only more than ready, says Foley. “The plan was to screen it in the Firkin Crane, the 250-cap theatre where we’re based, and do all our classes and rehearsals. When I was speaking to the CEO of the Opera House, Eibhlín Gleeson, she said ‘no, this is your performance home, you have a great following, you sell out every year, I think you should have it here’. I thought, ‘oooh, it’s very big, will we get an audience, what if we don’t’, etc. And she said ‘no, we’re gonna do it here, and that’s it’. So I went with her gut instinct on it, and I’m pleased to say tickets are selling very well. The company and myself are used to the venue, we’ve been here for many years, so it makes sense that the showing is here.”

With the first twenty-five years of the group’s history now comprehensively catalogued, it’s time for the group to look at the future, both in the short-term and as the arts scene in the city changes alongside the city’s expansion. “We have the premiere on September 11th. On Wednesday 12th, we’re straight into rehearsals for the Nutcracker, which opens at the Opera House on the 8th of November. Nutcracker is always a sellout. There are plans afoot for ‘Breaking Pointe’, to bring it to Irish Arts Centre in New York for a screening, to London, to Cannes. But for now, we’re just focusing on the premiere and, getting that over the line.”

‘Breaking Pointe’ premieres on Tuesday September 11th at 7pm at Cork Opera House. For more info on Cork City Ballet, check out

Brickx Club: “We Try and Keep It Ethical”

Next month sees the Radisson Blu Hotel play host to a special Corkonian edition of Brickx Club, a regular event for Lego lovers of all ages with its roots in education and therapy. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-founder Kathy Lambkin ahead of the event.

Whether you’re an old-fashioned six-prong bricklayer, a Technic connoisseur, or a current-day youngster engrossed in seeing your pop-culture heroes recast in an infinitely destructible world, there’s little denying the cross-generational appeal of Denmark’s number-one cultural export: the humble yet seemingly ubiquitous Lego. An institution that has thrived over the years from the simple idea of allowing children and adults to develop their coordination and push the boundaries of their imagination, it’s little wonder that the line has stood the test of time. From down-to-earth playsets, allowing children to fabricate castles and police stations, to providing the building blocks for satire in many official film and TV spin-offs, Lego has moved with the times, and provides a perfect happy medium for generations of families at playtime.

It’s this time that former teacher Kathy Lambkin shared with her young son that led her to innovate Brickx Club, and put the pieces together on a social space geared toward developing trainee builders’ skills and perceptions. “I’ll tell you, I fostered a little boy named Leo. He has a club foot, so he couldn’t do anything ‘physical’, so we had to find some entertainment, and that happened to be Lego. I was a montessori teacher at the time, and whatever I did with him, I did at school, and they just loved it. And when they went on to primary school, and I’d meet them, they’d go, ‘oh, nobody ever does any Lego with us’. So, I said, ‘d’you know what, we’ll try it’, and I set up a club in Trim, at the school, and it was jam-packed from the minute I opened the doors. Then I had various friends approach me to say ‘whatever you’re doing, this is good’. So I trained a few of them up and they went off to their own areas. I went and did a Start Your Own Business course, because it was getting that way, and I now have twenty-eight running their own, a licence kind of thing. We try and keep it ethical, and make sure that as many people as possible have children, and many of them have children with autism. So, it means that they can have a job, run clubs, have a few quid and (balance that with family).”

From a single primary-school club to training in twenty-eight coaches around the country, it’s been a period of rapid growth for Brickx Club. Lambkin explains the process of laying foundations for aforementioned growth and how people can empower others in the process. “What I did was, I went over to Copenhagen and trained, I did a thing called Lego Serious Play. It’s a whole system of Lego that teaches people to think for themselves, and problem-solve. It’s for everyone, a lot of the people there were businesses going team-building, but I adopted it montessori-wise. I also went to the UK and did Lego therapy, with a girl over there who’d done a PhD, Dr. Gina Gomez. It’s for kids on the spectrum number one, but now it’s huge, I use it to help advance language skills, speech therapy. It’s so good, a very simple approach where you break it down, back to its basics. I teach kids how to put bricks together. I had a session there yesterday where I showed the kids how to make a basic tower. Sometimes it takes a few sessions, but you see it, and they really, really learn properly, y’know.”

The same school of thought applies to the idea of Brickx gathering around the country as destination events – creating a format, looking for venues and garnering momentum behind extracurricular Lego play presented challenges, but none that couldn’t be overcome by the medium’s inherently social nature, and the impetus to raise funds for wider causes. “I have two kids that we fostered, so we’re used to shenanigans, and we’ve been to refugee camps in Greece, giving Lego mini-figures out ‘cause we heard they had no toys. I run a charity called International Orphan Aid Ireland. We’re going twenty-six years now, we work to bring medical and dental treatment over to (rural areas and islands there). So we’re raising money for that, and for local charity Bumbleance. It’s a good way of fundraising, as it involves fundraising, and we’d have a huge contingency of kids from the special schools come as well, in the locality. It’s a great weekend out, and there’s a huge adult community,, and it’s a great showcase for them.”

This August 25th and 26th, the Radisson Blu Hotel plays host to the Brickx Club Festival, with ten ‘zones’ set up for kids to get to work on, from tables and classic playsets to literal Lego pits, into which kids can hop and get started. Even on this aspect of setup and production, the thought and consideration required is quite something. “All those Lego guys, they’re a separate package, find out who’s going, and we provide them a room, look after transport, etc. are charitable as well, so we host them, have a night out, etc. They’re serious, and need a whole day of set-up, there’s going to be a big turnaround, and we’ll be ready. But in my home, I have a store room, full of Lego, and I have it set up in a way that we’ll have several vans pull up in the drive and take away containers of Lego, sorted into, y’know, Ninjago Lego, architecture Lego, etc. all divided up, and tonnes of bricks for the pits. We’ve done it a few times now, so we’re well able for the set-up!”

A native Corkwoman herself, with a penchant for coming home to spend family time on Fountainstown beach, Lambkin has made the effort to reach out not only to families and Lego social groups nearby, but also the known community of adult Lego enthusiasts, in order to showcase their creations and pass on their experience to enthusiastic young builders. When asked for the scoop on their show-stealing creations, however, Lambkin tells us that they’re keeping schtum. “They’re reluctant to talk about them! A lot of these people don’t like bringing the same thing twice, so a lot of these would be new builds. They’d send me a press release with a few words and a picture, perhaps. But there’s a very big community in Cork! We’ve quite a lot of teenagers. I work in Castlemartyr, Bandon, all over the place, and there’s a good mix of people out there, a big population involved in Lego.”

The event is priced for groups and families specifically, with tickets going five-for-40. It’s a staple of event marketing: get the kids, you get the parents. But what is the importance of family participation in the event? “It’s a family event, and we have drop-off workshops. But we find parents that will come in, have a cup of tea, we’ll turn around and five minutes later they’ll be on the floor playing with Lego (laughs). Every big event like this, they have to be for families. They love it. We have one family that comes to everything we do. They come from Palmerstown in Dublin, and they plan out everything around these events. I have tonnes and tonnes of (specialist) bricks that some of these builders just love to get their hands on!”

After a period of rapid expansion, the bricks are coming into place for the Brickx Club, with business about to pick up exponentially. Lambkin takes a breath before going into the details. “We’re going bigger in September. I have two girls with me now that are going to help us go countrywide. We’ve all these people and we’re hopefully going to take on another thirty. We know we’re ready. If we can keep it… we know it’s commercial, but the plan is for people to work in special schools, we’re kind-of all inclusive, and that’s the way we want it. That each person would do a bit of charity work, or special stuff in their own area.”

Celtic Championship Wrestling: Running the Ropes



Four years old and growing exponentially, Celtic Championship Wrestling has overcome the odds to find a regular hometown audience among Cork city’s fight fans. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with promoter/performer Lee Cahalane about the ring, the business, and the fans.

“The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theaters. And in fact wrestling is an open-air spectacle, for what makes the circus or the arena what they are is not the sky (a romantic value suited rather to fashionable occasions), it is the drenching and vertical quality of the flood of light. Even hidden in the most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.” – Roland Barthes

Professional wrestling, both as pop-culture pillar and sporting performance art, is approached with a double-standard that may not necessarily be applied by casual viewers to other venues of theatre, popular culture or athletic exhibition. Like any other performance art or athletic endeavour, pro wrestling is an acquired skill, one requiring hundreds of hours of practice to perform safely in the ring, and whose idiosyncratic narratives and logic are inherited from generations of adjustment and change out of it. Perhaps in reaction to the grand debate regarding “worked” (pre-determined, as opposed to “fake”) combat, or simply identifying with some aspect of the presentation or the athletes/personalities of the time, pro wrestling has lasted the test of time, drawing a fanbase from across the socioeconomic spectrum as generations have passed. From the strongmen of the genre’s 1920s birth, to the “skill boys” of British rings in the sixties and seventies, to American-style “sports-entertainment” from the 1980s on, served up by the Technicolor travelling show that is World Wrestling Entertainment, to today’s multicultural and layered worldwide panorama, it’s a genre that teeters on the precipice of mainstream acceptance and cult following. It’s in this space that Skibbereen man Lee Cahalane discovered a passion that drove him to start an independent wrestling promotion in Cork. “I’ve been a wrestling fan for as long as I can remember. Started really getting into it during the Attitude Era of WWE, and have loved it ever since.”

The rough-and-ready shock TV of the 1990s informed WWE’s on-screen product, as it jostled for television time and licensing fees with such titans as South Park, Jerry Springer, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Anti-heroes like beer-chugging, management-harassing “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the man that would become The Rock propelled the profession to the top of American cable television as the last millennium drew to a close. As the new millennium began, the seeds of Irish pro wrestling were sown in companies like Irish Whip Wrestling and NWA Ireland, in tandem with the return of the genre from obscurity in the UK. It’s from these pioneers that Cahalane learned his craft, as we find when he provides a little insight into his experience in the wrestling business prior to establishing his company, Celtic Championship Wrestling. “I didn’t have a major amount of experience pre-CCW. I promoted two wrestling events before CCW for another independent promotion in Ireland, but that was it. I had to learn the business from scratch, and surrounded myself with experienced members of the Irish wrestling scene in order to do so”, muses Cahalane, referring to athletes & that came through the doors in various capacities, such as Ross Browne, Blake Norton and Bingo Ballance.

Cahalane began organising and promoting pro wrestling cards in Cork city in 2012, seeing a gap in the market as a fan himself, and seeing both an opportunity on which to capitalise & the entry point to the industry he loved that had eluded him and others over the years. “I always wanted to be a pro wrestler, as opposed to a promoter. I realised one day that we hadn’t seen wrestling in Cork in years. So I took a gamble. I invested money into a show to test the market, so to speak, and fortunately it got a great response. We have now ran almost forty events in four years, have a fully operational training facility for people to learn pro wrestling in Cork city, and I am now also doing what I’m passionate about, which is being an in-ring competitor”, enthuses Cahalane, portraying a corrupt promoter under his own name, and heading up a faction known as The Establishment, cosseting himself with villainous talent, loyal to his own ends.

Shortly after the promotion started rolling, CCW started taping their shows for YouTube, at present for free viewing. With no access to regular television slots with which to set up and advance storylines, promote upcoming shows or feature merchandise, UK and Irish independent companies have taken to the world of on-demand streaming to counter both apathy from broadcasters, and the inexorable retail DVD slump. Indeed, the industry’s major players, such as WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling have already begun future-proofing themselves, using subscription services to counteract piracy and declining ad revenues from legacy media. CCW hopes to follow suit. “We have taped almost all of our shows over the last four years and the plan is to indeed have them available to view on a on-demand service as well as DVDs. YouTube is a great resource to show the fans what we’re all about, and to give them the opportunity to follow our stories as they unfold.”

With the foundations laid, Cahalane set about founding a training facility, the CCW Academy, with the help of various Irish and international wrestlers as coaches and visiting tutors. The rigours of the ring are different from any martial art or pugilistic exercise, as trainees require not only ring savvy and spatial awareness to perform safely, but theatric psychology, such as remembering where cameras are placed, and communicating facial expressions & body language to a live audience. Falling between two pews as it does, the school has seen a high turnover. “Pro wrestling isn’t for everyone. We see a lot of guys come and go at the Academy but we are also developing some amazing talents, a lot of whom have been there since day one. The training is hard, but that’s to be expected with any physical sport. For those that are truly passionate and motivated, to be a pro wrestler it can be the best experience of your life.”

In recent times, CCW has also established a second brand, CCW Riot, which has presented an Attitude-adjusted alternative to the usual family-friendly matinee wrestling shows, pitting their own homegrown talent against independent stars of the UK and European circuits in a more raucous atmosphere ramped up by home venue The Kino’s BYOB status. How has Cahalane seen the difference in crowds at the Kino and, say, the more family-friendly audiences? How does story-telling in and out of the ring differ? “As far as storytelling is concerned, we remain consistent with the stories that are showcased on our family shows, but we allow the product to be grittier, and explore more adult-themed areas. The crowds are great in both the family and over-18s events, and they really get into the action. The opportunity to work with international talents is fantastic not just for our own home grown talents to mix it up and learn from, but also for the fans who always look for the most competitive and entertaining matches possible.”

The company has a Hallowe’en show on October 22nd, another CCW Riot affair, to be entitled Nightmare on Washington Street. Cahalane, in time-honoured wrestling fashion, keeps his cards close to his chest, with the event’s matches yet to be announced at the time of interview, but insists that the brand itself, and the atmosphere it engenders, is an attraction in and of itself. “Expect to see all the top CCW stars from here in Ireland and Europe. Expect us to go the extra mile to entertain our loyal fans. Expect an alternative great night of entertainment!”

And so, we get to the elephant in the room when discussing the nuances of pro wrestling for a wider magazine audience: the derision the artform receives from various quarters. Written off as “fake” in the same breaths that carry excitement for TV boxsets, or “reality” shows, or dismissed as redundant Americana by those not cognisant of the global reach of the artform, pro wrestling deals with stigma that negatively affect its progression and development, from stereotypes of its fanbase, to broadcasters unsure of advertising revenues from same. Cahalane dismisses critics of the genre. “I’ve said this many times, you’re either one-hundred percent a wrestling fan, or you’re one-hundred percent not. I don’t worry about the people that don’t appreciate pro wrestling, my only concern is the passionate wrestling fans of Ireland. To us, wrestling is the coolest thing on the planet!”

Celtic Championship Wrestling presents Nightmare on Washington Street at the Kino on October 22nd. For more info, check them out on Facebook and Twitter @ccwrestling1.