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Meet the Team


ESSENCE is a pilot programme developed by Joan Davis, exploring environmental, interactive, immersive and primarily dance performance funded by the Arts Council. It is an outgrowth and development of Garden as Gallery which was funded in 2021 by the Arts Council.

ESSENCE takes place over the next two years through Arts Grant funding through the Arts Council, with five mid-career dancers and two hosts. In 2024, five early career dancers will join, thus creating a generational field of experience and expertise. 

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Joan Davis (Artistic Director) has been exploring the nature of creativity, particularly from a body based perspective, for over 40 years. She pioneered contemporary dance in Ireland in the 70s & 80s and has experimented with collaborative art as a professional artist and therapist. ​ Joan has three children and four grandsons and is committed to the spiritual approach of Advaita Vedanta. From 1996, when she moved to Wicklow, she developed the arts practice and performance offerings of Maya Lila. ​ Joan is a Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, has studied Authentic Movement with Janet Adler, and Voice Work with Chloe Goodchild and Rajeswar Bhattacharya. ​ She continues to study developmental processes as well as embryology and early infant trauma. She has extensively studied Process Oriented Psychology (Mindell) and is a Hakomi Sensorimotor Trauma Psychotherapist. She has undertaken training in Dynamic Attachment Repair Experiences (DARE) with Dr. Diane Poole Heller in Europe. She continues her studies with training in HANDLE, a holistic approach to neuro developmental healing and repatterning. Joan completed her training as a teacher of the Discipline of Authentic Movement, with Julia Gombos as supervising teacher of her work, over a period of six years. ​ In 2013 Mary Wycherley, a dance filmmaker based in Limerick, Ireland, was funded to make a film of the work of Maya Lila. This film, called ‘In the Bell’s Shadow’ has been screened nationally and internationally since it premiered in 2015. Joan offers group work and solo retreats. To find out more about Joan please visit

Kristyn Fontanella (Producer) finds producing, rehearsal direction, and performing other artists’ work to be a benefit to her own creative practice. Some artists that she has worked & assisted with productions are Jean Butler and her non-profit organization Our Steps Foundation, and Rob Heaslip’s creation & tour of ‘Strawboys’. Kristyn has also co-produced and managed choreographer Laura Murphy’s dance piece ‘ABACUS’ at the 2017 Dublin Fringe, 2018 What’s Next Dance Festival, 2021 FiraTàrrega Festival in Tàrrega, Spain and Tanzmesse 2022 in Düsseldorf. Kristyn also performed and line-produced in Murphy’s new work ‘The Shake’ at the 2021 Cork Midsummer Festival and 2022 Dublin Dance Festival. Most recently she produced for Catherine Young Dance; ‘Floating on a Dead Sea’ in 2021 and ‘A Call to You’ in 2022 as part of Dublin Dance Festival. Kristyn is currently producing the 2023 eight venue tour of ‘A Call to You’, supported by the Arts Council. Kristyn resides in Co. Galway where she continues her own creative process exploring the two worlds of Traditional and Contemporary dance. She creates, directs and produces her own work which has successfully toured 7 venues across Ireland in February of 2020. She is currently funded by the Arts Council, GIAF and THT for research into her current solo work.

Rosemary St. Leger (Arts Administrator) has a degree in English from University College Dublin and worked in publishing in the US and Dublin for many years. She was Assistant Editor for IT Magazine in Dublin. She discovered a love of Yoga and Dance while living in Boston and when she returned to Ireland she studied Authentic Movement with Joan Davis and trained in Somatic Therapy. She also worked as an Administrator with John Scott’s Irish Modern Dance Theatre. She will qualify as a Cranio Sacral Therapist in June and has a great appreciation and curiosity for the human body and the stories that lie within its layers. Rosemary worked on Garden as Gallery in 2021 and is delighted to be back supporting the artists in these exciting and vibrant outdoor creations. She lives in Dublin with her family.

Helen Arthur (Musician) is a Music Therapist and Counsellor working in children’s palliative care and in education settings. Alongside her interest in the therapeutic use of music, Helen has a long standing interest in somatic therapy and movement practices which led her to Joan Davis’ Origins training and process work. Both aspects of Helen’s work came together in taking on the role of ‘musician’ in Joan’s Garden as Gallery project in 2021. She practices and promotes the use of creativity as a tool in maintaining wellness as well as a central resource in supporting our self-expression and emotional worlds.

Deirdre Cotter (Dancer) an independent dance and performance artist for 30 years, holds a Diploma in Dance and a 1st class honour post grad Dip in Dance from University Limerick. Her early career saw choreographic collaborations in physical theatre and intercultural performative practice. Through dance studies in Turkey and later India she developed an ensemble performative style at the intersection of Contemporary Theatre Dance, Classical Indian Dance and Middle Eastern women’s dance traditions, leading to an Inter -European dance community exchange and Dance as Lived Practice networking. In the last decade she has specialised in somatic embodiment teaching and practice and is registered as a Somatic Movement Educator, Therapist and Dancer with the international association ISMETA Her artistic enquiry has led her through community arts provision and collaborations with visual artists, photographers, filmmakers and deeper into a personal and performative practice in the natural environment and embodied dialogue with elemental forces. She continues to build an intimate relationship with revisited wild sites and places in nature near her home in West Cork and particularly over a decade of embodied interpersonal enquiry and Witness Practice on the lands and garden at Gorse Hill, Co Wicklow.

Sally E. Dean (NO/UK/USA - Dancer) is a PhD Research Fellow at Oslo National Academy of the Arts. She has been a professional artist and teacher for over 20 years throughout Europe, USA and Asia between the fields of costume design, dance and somatic practices. Her somatic training includes Skinner Releasing Technique, Amerta Movement, Scaravelli Yoga and Environmental Movement (Helen Poynor). Her performances have been supported by the Arts Council England and the British Council. Along with performing in her own work, she has performed for choreographers/directors such as Liv Kristin/Hanna Barfod (NO), Joan Davis (Ireland), Stephanie Skura (USA), Joan Laage (USA-UK), and Marie Gabrielle Rotie (UK). Since 2011, Sally leads the collaborative ´Somatic Movement, Costume & Performance Project´, designing Somatic Costumes that choreograph psychophysical awareness in wearers and immersive sensorial performances. Recent publication in ‘Performance Costume - New Perspectives’ (2020), exhibited at A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, Moscow (2019), and performance at 14th Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (2019). /

Laura Murphy (Dancer) is an award winning choreographer, a performer and a teacher based in Dublin, Ireland. Taking an expansive approach to dance, her work includes staged work, dance film, video installations, site-specific performances, solo and ensemble pieces and large scale, socially engaged dance projects. Laura Murphy Dance has been presented at galleries and festivals to include Reykjavik Dance Festival (IS), Irish Arts Centre LA (US), Judson Church (US), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest (RO), NN Contemporary Northampton (UK), Dublin Dance Festival and Cork Midsummer Festival (IRL). Her work 'Abacus' was recently selected to present at FiraTarrega, Spain (2021) and Tanzmesse (2022). Laura has been a recipient of numerous National Arts Council awards, as well as several prestigious national and international residency opportunities. Notable awards include Dance Ireland's HATCH Award 2019 and Best Movement Director, The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2017. Laura's teaching is rooted in her choreographic and her personal dance practices, along with her specialisation in Choreological Studies, the contemporary practices of Rudolf Laban. She teaches professional and community classes, and at third level institutes. She currently teaches on the BA Drama and Theatre Studies at Trinity College, Dublin.

Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín (Dancer) is a dance artist from Cork, Ireland. The primary focus of her work is on place-based and site-specific dance film and live performance. Siobhán enjoys a multidisciplinary and collaborative process and has created work with sean-nós singers, poets, geologists and visual artists. She often works bi-lingually in Irish and English and was Dance Artist in Residence, Gaeltacht Mhúscraí 2018-2020 funded by Arts Council. Siobhán’s work has been shown nationally and internationally including at Tipperary Dance Platform, Echo Echo Festival of Movement and Dance, Cork Midsummer Festival, Dance Limerick, Folkestone Fringe (UK) and Kaunas Biennial (LT). Siobhán is an Arts Council Next Generation Award recipient. She was Associate Artist at Dance Limerick and the Irish World Academy, University of Limerick (2021-2022) Siobhán trained at Northern School of Contemporary Dance (UK) and subsequently completed a Masters in Contemporary Dance Performance, Irish World Academy of Music and Dance graduating in 2012. She has performed with Joan Davis, Jessie Keenan, Junk Ensemble, Laura Murphy, Mary Nunan and Mary Wycherley. Siobhán was also a member of Croí Glan Integrated Dance Company performing works by Fearghus Ó Conchúir and David Bolger.

Ailish Claffey (Host) is a freelance collaborative dance artist based in Kildare. Specialising in choreological studies, Ailish is concerned with dance, health and well-being. Over the last two decades, Ailish has worked with diverse groups within the community developing her co-creative and Dance for Health practice. Heavily informed by landscape, Ailish’s work explores the complexity of human relationship and examines the lived experience of those she works with. As Dance Artist in Residence at The National Centre for Arts and Health (2015 – 2019) Tallaght University Hospital (TUH), Ailish’s dance film documentary The Dance Back Home received a Certificate of Excellence from the HSE Excellence Awards (2018). 2022 Kildare Platform 32 recipient, Ailish has designed and delivered many large-scale projects nationally. Her work is kindly supported by Dance Ireland, The Arts Council, Ireland, Culture Ireland, Kildare Co. Council, South Dublin Co. Council, The Meath Foundation, Creative Ireland,, The National Centre for Arts and Health among others. Ailish is the recipient of the inaugural Artist in Residence programme at The ACRE Project, Celbridge, a partnership with Kildare County Council Arts Service (2022-2023).

Sophie Rieu (Host) is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, dancer, writer, and performance artist. Born in Auvergne, in the Massif Central in France, she trained in choreographed dance (ballet, jazz, modern, contemporary) in her childhood and adolescence in France, and practised different forms of conscious dance (5Rhythms, Movement Medicine, Open Floor) when she moved to Ireland in 1994. She is fascinated and deeply moved by the conflicts between nature and culture in the modern western paradigm and has explored different professional modalities to research, promote, create and support ways that reconcile and heal these tensions. As a former journalist she specialised in environmental and social issues. As a press officer for a Green MEP she was an ecological, human rights and social activist alongside a politician. She launched and ran the first Irish fair trade eco fashion brand, Unicorn Design, in 2003, until she became a holistic therapist working with various forms of trauma in 2018. She writes a blog inspired by embryology and the principles of craniosacral therapy. She co-founded Breaking Cover, a performance art collective centred on ecology in 2021, and co-created a number of participative and durational pieces for IMMA's Earth Rising eco-art festival in October 2022.

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