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Swimming With My Mother
When David Bolger was invited to make a solo show for the Dublin Dance Festival two years ago, he turned to his early experiences of movement.
“My mother taught me to swim when I was very young. I don’t remember learning – in a way I could swim before I could walk!
“I had been toying with the idea of swimming and dancing. I was interested in the crossover with swimming.
It’s rhythmic and takes a lot of co-ordination.”
It felt natural to include his teacher in the process.
His mother, Madge, a former swimming coach, is now 77 and retired but still swims five times a week.
“My mother was up for it,” says Bolger. “She was incredibly brave. I thought I would tell her what we would do on a need-to-know basis – I didn’t tell her everything that was involved when she first started.”
Seeing as part of Bolger’s vision was a six-minute film which saw the pair dancing underwater, perhaps that was a good thing.
“I wanted to dance underwater and swim on land,”
he laughs. “We had to train for six weeks for the film. We had to go from gliding on top of the water to going down and being comfortable underwater, and learning sequences that lasted so many seconds down there.”
The film is being shown as part of the performance, which takes much of its inspiration from the mother and son’s experiences.
“When we researched the piece, I asked a journalist friend of mine to interview us as a resource,” says Bolger, who later used parts of the interviews in the piece. “He interviewed us separately and together about our relationship with the water and dancing.”
Among the revelations for Bolger were the fact his mother was taught to swim by her father when she was three, and learned to dance with her husband in their sitting room to the music on the radio.
“It was really interesting learning these things you take for granted,” he says. “You realise there are connections. My sisters’ and brothers’ children all swim and they were taught by their parents. I loved the idea of swimming being passed down generations.
Another theme in the piece is the idea of parents having to let their children go and watch them make mistakes as they learn to stand on their own two feet. “The idea of preparing a child for the world is a huge gift and responsibility that parents have.”
As part of the research for the piece, Bolger took his mother back to Sandymount Strand in Dublin Bay, where she had taught him to swim, and looked at ways he could make his mother feel comfortable on stage.
“When she used to drive us to swimming in her Mini, in the background would be this tape of Nat King Cole. He was her favourite singer and because we would hear that, I would always associate it with swimming. I thought she would feel connected to it – it wouldn’t be a piece of music that was foreign to her.”
Inspiration for the movement came from his mother’s many years as a swimming coach, where she would try to demonstrate moves on dry land to students in the pool.
“I was trying to be true to how the water would make my body move,” says Bolger, who as well as playing his younger self also plays his grandfather in the piece.
“That representation of how the body moves underwater was a challenge. I pared everything back onstage. I wanted to create an atmosphere and a world where the audience almost feel the water and location.”
Developing the piece also changed the way Bolger worked. “When I started, I would lose my patience because of the pressure. I realised I needed to listen more to my mother and it softened my way of working.”
He admits the experience has made them closer, allied to the fact they are now touring it across the world. “It was quite emotional at the time but it was great to get that emotion out. It isn’t a sentimental journey down memory lane – I think it makes people think of their own relationships with their children and the sea.”
Pavilion Theatre, New Road, Brighton, Wednesday, May 16, to Friday, May 18
Starts 6.30pm Wed, 6pm Thurs and Fri, tickets £12.50. Call 01273 709709