LED BY PHILIPPA DONNELLAN | NATIONAL PROJECT | SUMMER 2020 

An invitation to create in dance, writing and film for people aged 50+

In July 2020, a host of romantics joined Philippa in exploring all of the joys and complexities of love letters – through conversation, through writing and through dance. It was a busy summer, as participants engaged in dance classes, coffee mornings and a film project – all via Zoom! In the face of such a new and unfamiliar means of engagement, the enthusiasm and commitment offered by those involved was incredible. Driven by participants’ own creativity and openness, Tuesday morning chats over cups of coffee quickly evolved into the LOVE LETTERS BLOG – a wonderful souvenir of Love Letters 2020 – showcasing all the creativity and dedication that went into this project.

ABOUT

Somewhere buried in a box in the attic, or at the back of a wardrobe, are old love letters. They’re notes from an old flame and cards from those you hold most dear. Battered and torn around the edges, they’re romantic, whimsical, funny, sexy and bittersweet.

They’re memories you treasure. You never could part with them.

Then again, maybe there are no letters. The box is empty. You threw them out as romantic tosh only fit for the bin. You lost them in the move. You never received a reply.

And what about that letter you should write, the things left unsaid that you always wished to say, but never quite summoned up the courage to put on paper or heaven forbid, to send.

Would you like to? Isn’t it time?

Drawing inspiration from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s tale Love in the Time of Cholera about two lovers who wrote to each other for many years, and from love letters either famously public or personally private, participants were invited to come together online to dance and share, to create choreography, to write a love letter – and to develop a series of short responses as films, sound recordings and writings.

LOVE LETTERS was produced in association with Age & Opportunity / Bealtaine Festival

LOVE LETTERS CULMINATION EVENT

FILM SCREENING & CELEBRATION | A LOVE LETTER TO LIFE (Online)


Dear Life, What do I love about you? Right. Ok. But where to start?

A joyful and irreverent tribute to life, this short dance film offers lively insight into the precious moments, thoughts and realities of this passionate group of dance lovers. This film was created, performed and filmed by the participants of LOVE LETTERS INTENSIVE in September 2020.

DAY        SATURDAY
DATE      24 OCTOBER
TIME      3.00pm, duration aprox. 15 mins.
WHERE  Live on Bealtaine’s YouTube channel

The film premiered as part of BEALTAINE AT HOME: OCTOBER – a week of online events from Age & Opportunity’s Bealtaine Festival. Running from 20-31 October 2020 – the full schedule of events can be found at bealtaine.ie

LOVE LETTERS FILM | A LOVE LETTER TO LIFE

 

AUDIENCE FEEDBACK:

“I absolutely loved it. It was an amazing thing to have achieved.”

“I enjoyed the visuals and the music and the lovely windows into people’s homes and lives and
movements and of course the chat at the end. It was lovely to hear what everyone got out of
the project. Well done!”

“Thanks for the invitation to enjoy your project “A love Letter to Life.” Well done. It was so meaningful and inspiring , opening up so many avenues and
opportunities for all of us. It stirred a new creativity in me and I look forward to ‘Seeing Anew’ things I may have taken for granted.”

“An inspirational piece during these challenging times. Really does go to show what is possible when we allow the creative juices to flow.”

“Wonderfully expressive. Hypnotic almost and beautifully edited! Big congrats and well done.”

“Very relaxing to watch and listen.”

LOVE LETTERS BLOG

MESSAGES FROM PHILIPPA AND PARTICIPANTS.

LOVE LETTERS INTENSIVE

The following texts were developed during the Love Letters intensive, and inspired the ideas and
choreography for the final film A LOVE LETTER TO LIFE:

Dear Life
What do I love about you? 

The obvious things of course – loving family, dear friends and the good fortune of a life free from
famine, war, displacement, homelessness.

But what are those little moments you offer that fill me with deep contentment? 
The pleasure of reading a good novel, ironic I know, as it is an escape into someone else’s life.

Lounging on the sofa, shoes off, dog snuggled into my back (how does he breathe?), watching a
disaster movie on TV, safe in the knowledge that in Ireland I will never be visited by mega
earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or devastating hurricanes.  Pestilence? Well in these Covid times
that is another question.

Dancing to ABBA, and of course thank you for the music…!
Sliding into a bed with freshly laundered sheets
Trousers with elasticated waists

The smell of fresh coffee after a long walk, I love the walk itself – along a sandy shore with the waves
endlessly swishing and pulling at my feet, or along a wooded pathway going from patches of deep
cool shade into warm sunlight; a metaphor for life itself.

There is so much more I could add, the smell of lemons, a glass of rosé before dinner, watching
feathery flakes of snow silently falling.
I could go on, but I won’t!

BY DEIRDRE HANDY

SENSES AND NONSENSES

I see
a single raindrop poised in a flower blossom
holding its breath

I hear
the sound of the purring cat
reverberating through my skull

I smell
fresh limes and instantly
remember your skin

I feel
the solid tree trunk at my back
giving comfort
but no substitute for your warmth

I touch the tender air
tactile tendons
sinews stretch
muscles elongate
pulsing fingers open and close
like an undersea creature
waiting for prey

I remember
the raised ridged scar on your palm where you fell on glass
the invisible scars
have faded

Hidden worlds everywhere
exuding magic to the closed eye

Time to throw the stars into the night
Bone soup when old
But for now, let’s dance

BY MARESE HICKEY

Life
It hasn’t been a straight path,
More of a meandering river,
Along the current of life
I’ve been swept along
And now I’ve come to a stillness,
And ripples of joy surround me:
A strong cup of Yorkshire tea an engrossing novel and the warmth of my beloved dog beside me,
Walking through dusk by the river and feeling the world fall into slumber,
Jumping the cold North Sea waves and feeling the sand on my feet,
Holding my mother’s shawl against my shoulder; she is with me still,
Singing a song I have known forever at the top of my voice,
Looking at my grown up children and realising they are good people,
Laughing till I cry with my best friend with whom I share a whole store cupboard of ridiculous and
poignant memories,
Stretching out in the haven of my bedroom attic,
Lying in bed listening to the world go by without me
And I am content.

BY HELEN WILSON

Eleven years ago I was confronted with my own mortality and yet here I am still gifted with a beating heart, vibrating lungs and reasonably functioning limbs, I can still dance! After my recovery colours were brighter, smells more potent, life more distilled and vital. I am now at one with the heroic in the ordinary. A comfortable home, a loving daughter, affectionate, witty grandchildren, loyal friends, a noisy family gathering, a nephew graduating, a eulogy by my brother at my father’s graveside; all equally majestic and part of the melting pot of human experience. At the beginning of the Covid 19 lockdown, I hesitated to throw out a neglected shrivelling indoor plant, instead I replanted it. A week later I spied a dash of red concealed by green, a flower attempting to bloom. The joy of watching its progress, as it gradually unfolded its tiny petals one by one, sustained me every morning for a week. When it finally completed its silent journey into the light I celebrated by forwarding a photograph of the tiny modest blood red rose to all my friends and family – a reaffirming symbol of the redemptive power of nature.

However, nature doesn’t always cut it for me. A steaming cup of Barry’s tea is an uplifting force in the morning. A glass of crisp extra dry prosecco anointing my palate and delicately bubbling down my throat (and then another one…) an ‘intoxicating’ deliverance at the end of a long day! However, I am conscious of the privilege of education and living a comfortable and healthy life in a democracy. I am aware of the confluence of circumstances and deprivations in my own culture and globally and the effect of natural disasters in many countries. Life is always in context and the redemptive power of human endeavour (as we witness in Covid 19) continually transcends expectation.

Participating in the ‘Love Letter’ creative project has reinforced how all art forms reflect our humanity (or inhumanity) back to us. This project highlights the symbolic power of gesture, colour, sight and sound: Two red boa’s dancing on either side of the shot frame, the Klink of crystal wine glasses, the contradictory ting of my silver tango sandals dancing on the tiles of my kitchen floor, ‘dancing’ with life and realising ‘this moment is my life’.

BY CARMEL ROONEY


TIME TO DANCE | A behind the scenes look at some outtakes from A LOVE LETTER TO LIFE:

WEEK 6-7

FROM PHILIPPAOver the last week there’s been plenty of dance activity as LOVE LETTERS creative intensive got going. Over zoom, twelve intrepid people joined me and dancer/filmmaker Cathy Coughlan to explore a few thoughts and ideas on themes of love. First off was getting to grips with digital technology – hats off to everyone for crossing this frontier! Cathy was a mine of useful information as we explored camera angles and choreography, and film locations (a few unexpected surprises there as our homes offered up some dramatic settings). Although this remote working isn’t always easy, and certainly doesn’t bear comparison with our live social events, I think it’s going to be fantastic to have a record of people’s creativity and dancing, and to have documented some powerful experiences about life and love. Feel free if you still wish to send me a love letter to share. Even five years ago, I’m not sure that any of us would have thought this possible…least of all me as a technophobe! Well I’m glad to say there’s something positive in all this. Final coffee morning coming up and of course more dancing on Wednesday. Join us!  

FROM DONNA – A visual poem created by Love Letter participant Donna Ansley:

FROM MARESE – TEN YEARS

Ten years ago today
You drew your last breath
In a bizarre way I was glad
Because you were free.

I watched you labouring for breath for a week.
It was a long dying.
I would have done anything to save you the pain
But that was your journey,
Not mine.
Mine was a journey through the landscape of loss.
No map, only rivers of grief excavating down soul deep.

I stood at your graveside and howled.
People stepped away from the rawness of my pain.
Except one friend, who held me close
And never told me to shush.

Once, before you lost consciousness,
I came into your room.
You looked at me and laughed at the absurdity of it all.

Ten years on
I talk to you every day.
I ask you for inspiration with DIY
And laugh at having flatpack bits left over.
I cry when I miss you so I cry often.
But then I always say, I know you are okay now, I know it.
The tears subside.
I’m not sure when it happened,
But one day I discovered that
I was free too.

FROM NORA – FOR A ON THE CLONLIFFE ROAD
Written for my daughter (my first child) when she was a few weeks old
Spring 1985

Great green chestnut trees
Smell of grass new-mown
And wallflowers
Heavy-laden cherry blossom
And the daffodils
And tulips
And primroses
And overall the bright blue sky
For you my baby
In your wide-eyed
Sleepy newness.

FROM BEATRICE – A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE SMALL DETAIL OF LOVE

Life is the result of endless details. Every day, everything we do is made of an endless amount of
them. I would say that love is basically made of details. I consider love to be the most important
thing in the world. Without it, we’d lack what is essential to live. It’s beautiful to be able to love.
Perhaps the one who truly loves gives their time for the little and big details of life. Trying to do the
best I can for someone, maybe these are small and big acts of love? Certainly it gives me inner
satisfaction. And when you calculate the sum of those small everyday details, I believe they truly add
up to a love of life.

WEEK 5

FROM PHILIPPA – Alongside regular attendees, it was nice that a few newcomers joined us today from Dublin and further afield in County Laois. Thoughts, questions and ideas were flowing around the upcoming LOVE LETTERS creative project, starting next week Tuesday 18 August! We talked about making short dance films, and about writing our own love letter to life  – about the people and places, and the special moments and memories in life that we love. Someone mentioned that they were inspired by the performance series Dear Ireland produced by the Abbey Theatre, and how powerful some of the pieces were. Conversation followed about ways to incorporate music, text or poetry, and how we might use the letters to help conjure up new choreography. We’ll also be looking at different places in and around our own homes as locations…and to help us grapple with the digital technology, dance artist/filmmaker Cathy Coughlan will be on board to explain the best ways to film, and to edit all the material. It’s so exciting talking about what we might create together; I’m looking forward to the next step of LOVE LETTERS! A final chat about love and the language of flowers wound up our third, very social coffee morning. Here’s a few quotes and pics to enjoy. Thanks everyone, see you soon!
 
Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow. – John Lennon

Minds are like flowers; they open only when the time is right.
 – Stephen Richards

A rose can never be a sunflower, and a sunflower can never be a rose. All flowers are beautiful in their own way, and that’s like women too.
 – Miranda Kerr 

I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds round my neck 
– Emma Goldman

Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same
. – Helen Keller  
 

WEEK 4

Our Week 2 mystery poet has delivered again – scroll down to Week 2 to see the story in verse unfold further!
Meanwhile, another anonymous love letter has been received – read below…

IN MEMORIAM 90315 (1911-1991) 

We were living in a country with earth red and white as flesh, where shadows thrown by leaves are sharp as blades

You shared it with me: we drove North, and also South amongst places with names meaning “Sound of the wind in the treesand “The stamp of the elephant”, crossing rivers in the Land Rover on floating rafts and rickety wooden bridges. 

My small self stood near the edge of the lagoon, quite still, in the newness of wonder at a flushing sunset, the air of which I felt my very skin to be drinking in, while you, unbeknownst, watched over me from close by among the towering, rustling grasses. Later, in darkness, and wrapped in my special blanket, you lifted me up out of sleep to see the fireflies emerging as though bom among the sparks from the camp fire

While my small feet still fitted on top of yours, we clasped hands and danced together, you stepping out for both of us

You filtered the adult world for me. Nevertheless, you responded carefully to the questions of a puzzled 7 year-old, with meanings which at the time were astounding to her : meanings of the words “suicide”, drug addict, fractured skull

Later, we clasped hands for the dipping and twirling waltzes that you allowed my exuberant, teenage self steal from you and my Mother. My ideal ballroom partner, holding me just right, with hands that could soothe large animals and charm smaller ones. Hands that had also been trained how to kill

Much later when we, unknowingly, said goodbye for the last time, I wrapped my arms right around you, now become frail and delicate as a flamingo

Between us, there will be no more clasping of hands. There is none to be had in the placing of mine on the red earth over you in the hope of some kind of synaptic leap across infinity. Yet, you are as close as clasping hand to hand with myself. It is me. And, it is you

Stay close to me my dear Father

WEEK 3

FROM PHILIPPA – Lots of chat about kissing today! And about the power of touch and the human need to connect, physically, socially and emotionally. It was moving to hear a few stories about personal love letters; how valuable they are as a memento of past relationships from people who are no longer here, yet who are still treasured. As the coffee brewed, we scrolled through some iconic paintings (see below) of ‘the kiss’ – Klimt (fabulous), Magritte (spooky and a bit weird), Rodin (stunning and somehow so real), and Picasso (colourfulwhich woman is he kissing  – there were a few!). We looked at some war time pics, and wondered whether a woman being kissed by the sailor was coerced ‘she wouldn’t let that happen now!’….hmm…perhaps. Someone asked if anyone remembered Aston Quay, Dublin on a late Friday night and all the people kissing each other goodnight – was that when the condom trains started? Anyone out there have any pics of that time and place? We also looked at more recent photos that were inspired by last week’s dance session when we explored ideas about touch and using gesture to create choreography for the camera.  There was some topical and poignant imagery of people connecting either side of a window, of reaching out and touching hand to hand with glass between them. We shared plenty of comments on how something as simple as physical touch, for so long taken for granted, is now so distant… See you soon for more dancing and love stories via Zoom!

Thanks to Maura for letting us know about this film about Klimt’s paintings during WWII: Woman in Gold (2015)

Another classic painting, which Deirdre mentioned that I had missed off the list: The Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederic William Burton

Thanks to Katharin for sending in this Indian love painting: A Prince and his Mistress in an Embrace by Mughal 

And this one too: The Love Letter by Johannes Vermeer

FROM BEATRICE 
My love letter is to life 
Life has given me a lot of very good and not so good moments 
It has given me knowledge and experience
And both joyous and sad times
I have had time to enjoy the warm and cold weather, to feel the rain and the sun, to see the birds and the flowers
And the sea, the forests and the mountains
Life has given me the joy of love, love to and from my children, grandchildren and family
It has given me very good friends – and dancing!
Those are my most important treasures
They are deep in my heart and no one can ever take them away from me
 

WEEK 2

The first anonymous love letter has been received – clearly there’s a mystery poet among us! 

Tis’ a letter I must write, but where do I begin?
Thoughts and memories come flooding in
You came to the front door, of my parents house
We’d never met before
Our mutual friends thought we would match
I think we thought each other quite a catch
And so I think of you my love, just sometimes
Not very often
But they were special times my love

And will never be forgotten 

I wore a dress of stripy pink, I think
It was a fabric destined for a curtain
And as clothes were rationed due to the war
I’d rather wear a dress I’d made myself
Not something boring off the shelf
 
You were a fabulous dancer
We took to the floor
You admired my dress
We danced some more
 
These thoughts my love remind me of you
Now you’re gone too
And the only thing I’d miss
Is that last and final kiss

FROM PHILIPPA – One of the most famous love letters to life was written by renowned poet Emily Dickinson:

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me —
The simple News that Nature told —
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see —
For love of Her — Sweet — countrymen —
Judge tenderly — of Me

FROM NORA – This article is interesting. The poem/letter that begins “Darling Marie- Louise , you are more to me than the scarlet poppies…” is particularly beautiful: Click here to read

WEEK 1 

FROM PHILIPPA – LOVE LETTERS began today, 14 July, with a welcome coffee morning.. great to see some familiar faces as well as newcomers. After brief intro’s, we read a few love letters from famous, historical figures. Plenty of flowery and dramatic language….and a few questionable relationships! The letters that really seemed to connect, were those that spoke simply and directly to the other person’s heart – or am I just being romantic! This led to us chatting about receiving personal letters in the post (a definite preference rather than email). ‘Even if you knew the news was old by the time you received the letter, it was still great to get it in the post’. One person said ‘it’s good to even choose the type of paper you’re writing on, the texture is important – and you can send scents/smells!‘, while someone else mentioned that receiving a letter, ‘it’s a more personal connection, you really feel you’re held in their mind and body just for that moment, by the person writing to you’. There was a sense that we’re missing the connection to others (the touch, sound, breath etc). Maybe this project LOVE LETTERS can connect us if we want…anyone sent a letter to one they love during lockdown?
Next coffee morning – we’ll take a look at a few iconic paintings and photography on the ART of love…as well as coffee and chat of course! All welcome….

FROM DEIRDRE – It was great to see everyone on Zoom yesterday, I was wishing I had a bigger screen! While we were discussing the letters, I asked if ‘The Great Gatsby’ was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda’s own lives. I realized afterwards that I was thinking of ‘Tender is the Night.’ Although there are similarities between Fitzgerald and Jay Gatsby, the plot of ‘Tender is the Night’ almost mirrors the events of Fitzgerald and Zelda’s lives, as characters are in and out of mental care, and the male character starts his descent into alcoholism. Fitzgerald had a very sad life, I think.

FROM BRIDGET – I checked out the letters between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. What a tumultuous relationship. There are many letters online which are interesting to check out. She had a very difficult time health wise. What a strong determined woman!

ALL EVENTS ARE FREE!

REGISTRATION REQUIRED
After you register, you will be sent a confirmation email with a link to click to join in each zoom session. Then you can pick and choose from the following sessions! JOIN ANYTIME!

WEEKLY DANCE CLASSES via ZOOM

Practise easy dance sequences, create choreography
DAY        WEDNESDAYS
DATES    15, 22, 29 July
DAY        5, 12, 19, 26 August
DAY        2 September
TIME      2.00pm – 3.30pm

COFFEE MORNINGS via ZOOM

Bring a cup of coffee and chat about love and other things…
DAY        TUESDAYS
DATES    14, 28 July + 11, 25 August
TIME      11.00am – 12.00 midday

SEND LOVE LETTERS

Send a letter to someone you love, whoever they are or wherever they may be – anytime!

TO TAKE PART YOU WILL NEED:

– Laptop, computer, tablet or phone with internet access for Zoom
– Personal email address
– Handheld device with option to record video and audio such as a mobile phone, video camera
– A safe space to dance at home: a clear floor area of about 8 paces square – free of movable furniture and all other hard objects
– The best floor surfaces are carpet, lino or wood (Dancing on ceramic kitchen tiles or concrete is to be avoided)
– We will be on hand at set times to help advise with technical assistance for ZOOM sessions and for filming

CREATING LOVE LETTER FILMS & WRITINGS | Intensive project via ZOOM | 18 AUGUST-11 SEPTEMBER

– Create and perform your own choreography inspired by a love letter of your choice
– Write and record new text: love letters, poems, notes
– Using your mobile phone or other device, record your choreography in a selected ‘home’ location
In this project, participants will work intensively with Philippa and film editor Cathy Coughlan to create short films, audio recordings and writings – these will be published online and will premiere at the film screening & celebration in October 2020.

Creative Sessions

MONDAYS         24, 31 August | 11.00am – 12.30pm
TUESDAYS        18, 25 August, 1 September | 2.00pm – 3.30pm
THURSDAYS     27 August, 3 September | 11.00am – 12.30pm
FILMING by participants will take place anytime between 4-11 September

PROJECT FEE

This project is free – as places are limited and attendance at all sessions is important, a €25 registration deposit is required to secure your place.  This will be refunded on your completion of the project. Contact us for additional fee and payment options.

SOLD OUT! CONTACT CAOIMHE AT BROADREACH@COISCEIM.COM FOR WAITING LIST OPTIONS.