In The Blood

Mon 9th Feb 2015, 15:56

Myself and Ralph during FARM Leading professional dancer Emma O' Kane and WillFredd Theatre are preparing to present a show entitled JOCKEY which will premiere at VISUAL, Carlow on May 15th 2015. For this project Emma has been learning how to ride as well as researching her grandfather Phillip De Burgh O' Brien, a bloodstock agent and racing journalist who died before she was born. Over the next twelve weeks Emma will bring you an exclusive blog on about her family research, her riding lessons and the creation of Jockey.

Blog One: In The Blood

It's 2012 and I am in a field in Wicklow looking at Ralph the Clydesdale pony. I'm working on a theatre show FARM by WillFredd Theatre, and the director has asked me to drive a horse and cart into a theatre in Dublin city centre - I'm terrified. The director leans over and tells me that horses can smell your fear and it might be a good idea to get over that if I've to be driving him in six weeks. I'm a professional dancer - I didn't sign up for this! The last time I was near a horse I was four years of age and belly laughed because some poor kid fell off her pony straight into a puddle. Other than that I hadn't had any contact with these equine beauties. I got over my fear of Ralph by feeding him strawberries and found that I had a natural affinity with him. I learnt to un-harness and drive him which led to me eventually driving him into the Lir Theatre on Pearse Street in Dublin City Centre.

FARM was a huge success and after one performance two ex-jockeys came in to see the show, Helen O' Sullivan and Caroline Hutchinson. I overheard Caroline saying to the director "wow that horse handler can dance!" She thought I was a horse handler! The best critique of any onstage performance in my career so far. I jumped into the conversation and reassured her that I really was NOT a horse handler and had only met Ralph 6 weeks previously. Caroline looked at me and said "well, it must be in your blood."

I grew up in South Dublin City but after speaking to my mother later I realised that my grandfather Philip who died in 1972 before I was born, had been an independent bloodstock agent and racing journalist. So Caroline was right, it was in my blood. I knew very little about Philip and all his articles were thrown out when the family house got sold. All I have left are two photos of him and his binoculars.

I spoke with the directors of WillFredd Theatre (Sophie Motley and Sarah Jane Shiels) about my grandfather and we came up with an idea for me to do two very exciting things in preparation for making a show called Jockey. With the support of Helen and Caroline we set out on a quest to achieve these things : 1) To learn more about my grandfather and his connection to racing 2) To learn how to ride a racehorse.

Around the time of my initial research, WillFredd Theatre were awarded Arts Council support to be Artists in Residence at VISUAL, Carlow. As things fell into place it was decided that Jockey would be developed throughout 2014 as part of the residency in Carlow.

NEXT WEEK - Emma's Ballet Training helps in her first ever riding lesson with Louise Halford at Copper Beech Stables.

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