- 30 Sep 21
At a virtual press conference today, Ireland has announced details of its participation in the delayed EXPO 2020, which opens in Dubai tomorrow – and there is a very strong emphasis on music and creativity in what promises to be a powerful statement about Irish culture, and what it has to offer the world… At a virtual press conference today, Ireland has announced details of its participation in the delayed EXPO 2020, which opens in Dubai tomorrow – and there is a very strong emphasis on music and creativity in what promises to be a powerful statement about Irish culture, and what it has to offer the world…
Creativity and music are at the heart of Ireland’s presence at EXPO 2020, which kicks off in Dubai tomorrow. Details of the highly ambitious Irish programme for the event, which will run for six months, culminating just after St. Patrick’s Day next year, were announced at a virtual media conference today. The theme for the Irish presence – which will centre around the Irish Pavilion, but encompass a range of major events in specially selected venues in Dubai and a host on online activities – is "Putting Creativity at the Centre of Human Experience in the 21st Century."
“Creativity builds empathy, human connection and community,” a note in the Irish programme for the event says. “Creative expression facilitates non-confrontational approaches to difference and provides a medium for addressing complex personal and societal challenges."
The Irish theme supports and feeds into the overall theme for Expo 2020, which is "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future." Expo 2020 is run by The Bureau International des Expeditions, the Intergovernmental Organisation in charge of overseeing and regulating World Expos, pursuant to the 1928 Paris Convention.
"Three strategic decisions shaped our participation in Expo Dubai,“ the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney (pictured) explains in a foreword to the Irish programme.
"First, it is a collaborative effort. The Team Ireland approach we chose means that the Department of Foreign Affairs is working across all Government, State Agencies, business, arts and culture, academia and the creative industries to ensure a high-impact presence. Second, high-quality personal interaction and engagement is at the heart of our work, both in our pavilion and across the wider Expo site. Third, our theme speaks to Ireland’s unique history and culture, but also addresses an important concern for humanity."
The Minister also emphasised in his note how Expo 2020 dovetails with Ireland’s work on the UN Security Council, and the implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goals. “Our approach to Expo is a practical outworking of Ireland’s commitment,” he explained, “to contributing to vital debates about the future of our shared planet.”
With creativity at the heart of the Irish presence, there is also a hugely important musical dimension to the Irish programme. Expo 2020 has taken one of Ireland’s greatest ever global successes on board with 'Riverdance at Expo’ – a co-production between Ireland and UAE – being positioned as a flagship event. It will open with a gala performance on 4th November, and will run for the rest of the month. This special treatment of Riverdance will include performers from Ireland as well as well as from the United Arab Emirates and the wider region, and spreading out to other parts of the world. Riverdance composer Bill Whelan will host a special musical masterclass at the Irish Pavilion in November.
The National Concert Hall, meanwhile, is co-ordinating the different strands of the musical programme, including the Great Irish Songbook, an online exhibition which is being curated by Niall Stokes, editor of Hot Press. There will also be two major concert events. In a twist that reflects the Irish theme of creativity, Ireland will bring together a special Expo World Choir for the occasion. All of the countries that are represented officially at Expo 2020 will be invited to participate in a project which “perfectly captures Expo’s collective and collaborative ethos.” The choir will be led and created by conductor David Brophy, who is best known for his work with the Homeless Choir in Ireland. The Expo World Choir will perform songs from the Great Irish Songbook.
To celebrate the Great Irish Songbook project, Declan O'Rourke also performed a powerful rendition of his classic song 'Galileo' as part of the Online Launch. Speaking ahead of the performance, Aideen Cooney, part of the Global Ireland team at the Department of Foreign Affairs, noted that the song "brings together the worlds of art, innovation and science," "embodies Ireland's programme," and "is part of the Irish Songbook, which we will be playing at Expo."
“It is a really exciting project to be involved in,” Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said. “And it has been fantastic working with Gary Sheehan of the National Concert Hall on the first iteration of the Great Irish Songbook. With the Expo audience in mind, the initial emphasis is on songs that people all over the world – and music fans in particular – already know. It is necessarily about really big hit songs, or ones that have already transcended the time and place they were written in. But it is a work in progress and, in the exhibition, that will act as a jumping off point for a wider exploration of the Irish genius for songwriting, the increasingly powerful role of women in Irish Music and lots more besides.
“The music programme which the National Concert Hall have shaped is a really impressive one," he added. "I love the idea of the Expo World Choir, which makes a real statement about Ireland to the world, with Ireland driving a major collaborative music experience. But there is also a unique project involving Martin Hayes, which – inspired by Paul Simon’s Graceland and Miles Davis electric bands – will take Irish music from its traditional roots through to a contemporary, rhythm-driven re-imagining of the music's various forms – with special guests performing songs from the Great Irish Songbook. Knowing Martin, I think that is going to be fascinating and brilliant. There is also an album of re-interpretations of the Great Irish Songbook in the works, so it is going to be full-on, and hopefully really powerful.”
The National Concert Hall has also brought together a rotating troupe under the banner of The Expo Players, a house ensemble who will perform Irish Music, and sing songs from the Great Irish Songbook in the Pavilion every day. Musicians in the Expo Players for October include Nicolle Figueroa (vocals, bodhrán), Ted Kelly (tenor banjo and electric tenor guitar), Rebecca McCarthy Kent (fiddle, piano), Los Kelly (button accordion, keyboard), Joanne Quirke (flute). Julia Spanuu (vocals in Irish, English, Arabic and French), Cliona Halley (concertina), Darren Roche (button accordion, bodhrán), Josh Sampson (drums, percussion) and Richard Delahunty (acoustic and electric guitars and tenor banjo).
Meanwhile, on the cinematic agenda is the powerful Pat Collins film about the great sean nós singer from Carna in Connemarra, Joe Heaney, Song of Granite (2017). Other films that will be available for screening include Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot (1989), for which Daniel Day Lewis won an Oscar for Best Actor; Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996); John Crowley’s Brooklyn (2015); and the Oscar-nominated Cartoon Saloon animated feature, Wolfwalkers (2020).
Two short film pieces have been commissioned for the Irish pavilion that tell the story of Ireland’s culture and creativity from pre- history to modern times — hey are described as "high impact, immersive, visual and aural experiences shown on multiple screens in a 360 degree setting."
The Irish pavilion will also encompass The Makers’ Gallery – a permanent exhibition that brings together a diverse group of contemporary designers and creators; a couple of exhibitions on the theme of Architecture, Sustainability and Creativity, titled European Architecture as Caregiver and The Architecture of Creative Learning; and a variety of Creative Conversations and panel discussions curated by the Royal Irish Academy, the Chester Beatty, Coderdojo, Fighting Words and the Arts Council.
All in all, it promises to be a huge celebration of Ireland's creativity, on a journey that is only starting.
• Expo 22020 opens in Dubai on October 1st and runs for six months.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 25 Feb 21