Associate Artist: Zoë Ashe-Browne

Find out about our Associate Artist Zoë and her experiences of bringing her piece 'Us' to the International Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2022:

This summer has been packed with creative opportunities for me, most notably the experience of attending EFF 2022 as a choreographer.

My piece ‘Us’ was originally programmed to be performed at the 2020 festival as part of Ballet Ireland’s double bill ‘Bold Moves’ in Edinburgh alongside Marguerite Donlon’s ‘Strokes through the tail’. However, the pandemic postponed these activities until now, so it  was really exciting to finally premier this bill with the national ballet company, alongside another Irish female maker. Creatively, it was invigorating to re-visit and complete this work with
a new group of dancers. It has been a sort of long standing work in progress since I first created the bones of it in 2018, through an Arts Council Ireland Dance Bursary, so seeing it finally complete 4 years later was immensely satisfying.

The piece explores the theme of emigration and the psyche of ‘the outsider’ I was initially inspired to connect with this idea as it resonates so much with a dancer/artists life. But a lot has changed since my first research period in 2018 and with the political landscape of Europe shifting so drastically, demanding so much enforced change for so many, it inspired me to weave the subject of immigration into the piece as well.

Ultimately the Fringe version of ‘Us’ looks and feels very different to its initial building blocks. Once we completed the re-staging of the works in Dance House in Dublin we flew over to Edinburgh to begin our run.

We had a matinee slot in Dance Base, so the middle part of the day was focused on the dancers warming up together, receiving notes and performing at 3pm for one hour. The time frame was extremely tight as the venue hosted 4 performances a day, so our window was really small to get in and out, a very unique fringe experience!

We were delighted with the run of shows, 9 sold out performances which received two 4 star and two 5 star reviews. The dancers were exceptional throughout the run, we had one cast of 7 people, and every
one of those dancers was integral to both works, so while the run was heavy for them, they managed it incredibly. I loved the quick succession of shows with just one day off in between a 9 run stint. The progress day to day was visible as the information just became more and more instinctive and clear to everyone.

I was also very lucky to receive some invaluable mentoring from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui right before the premier online. He watched recordings of the rehearsals and gave me a huge amount of food for thought when it came to introducing characters, highlighting the beautiful light design with spacing choices and giving his expert opinion on the movement vocabulary. This was a wonderful element to my fringe experience, having someone with decades of experience take the time to watch and comment on the work in such a helpful way.

My top tip for Fringe as a spectator would certainly be to not try to do everything and don’t feel bad for missing stuff, it’s inevitable! I once over did it with 4 shows in a day which turned out to be my maximum, my advice is to space it out by walking around the beautiful city, or just sitting in one of the lovely parks and giving yourself time to digest what you may have just watched.

Since Fringe I have staged another of my works ‘Flux’ on a preprofessional company ‘Valencia Dancing Forward’. It was such a rewarding experience. Working with dancers at that fragile freshly graduated stage of their lives is honestly a privilege. I would love to do it again. For now it’s back to a full season at Opera Ballet Flanders, where I’m confident the summer of artistic stimulation will no doubt feed into my dance practice once again.

Image credits to Howard Jones and Maria Falconer

Reviews for 'Us':

‘ The first sequence of performance, Us, choreographed by rising star Zoë Ashe–Brown, is an emotive exploration of belonging, friendships and relationships far from home. The piece combines traditional ballet techniques with a more contemporary style.
The sound effects of train station announcements and the ticking of a clock combine with the music to build suspense. The piece shows the contrast between those trying and failing to belong, in an unfamiliar setting, and those that are intrinsically linked by their past.
Alone, each sequence of Bold Moves is a beautifully choreographed and executed performance but combined, these contrasting sections merge to become a unique experience for the audience.’

The Scotsman
'Unafraid to pull on the heartstrings, Ashe-Browne includes a delicate storyline of loss that rallies the whole group around a bereaved couple. While her musical choices, featuring the likes of Max Richter and Ólafur Arnalds, also serve to keep our hearts engaged.’

Broadway Baby
'Zoë Ashe-Browne's choreography is startling, full of angular, unexpected poses, hugely experimental and exciting informed by her classical ballet experience as a dancer but also studying under modernists like her mentor, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Alain Platel and Crystal Pite.’