Nano Choreography

From Process to Performance

Adventures in Ireland: Creating NanoDance...

Inspired by the research lab of Dr Jessamyn Fairfield at NUI Galway, I spent four weeks choreographing and staging a new dance theatre production based on nano science and quantum mechanics, which premiered November 15, 2018 at the O’Donoghue Theatre on the campus of NUI Galway as part of National Science Week Ireland 2018 and the Galway Science and Technology Festival.  This project was supported by a public engagement grant from the UK Institute of Physics, and the development of the performance is documented below!

October 21:

I arrived late last night in Dublin, flying through a gorgeous sunset and into night, after spending seven weeks in art residencies in the beautiful country of Iceland.  This morning I strolled through the cobbled streets, marveling at the wondrously warm weather (mid 50s F) and light rain–about 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than Iceland!  Modern storefronts shared views with rising brick towers and gothic facades, and the bells of Saint Patrick’s cathedral rang out across the city.  I walked through Dublin Castle, gazing up at the gates and scaffolded tower–most of it has been rebuilt since its original construction in the early 1200s, and it has served as a medieval fortress, a seat of government and a symbol of freedom during its storied history; in front of the castle grounds the two sets of gates are presided over by Justice and Fortitude–fitting muses for Ireland.  

In the afternoon, Margot and I wandered through Trinity College–visiting the Book of Kells exhibit* and the aptly named Long Room in the library–the two-story room was like a cathedral of books–tall rows with narrow wooden ladders, dimly lit by dingy windows and smelling wonderfully of much-turned pages and centuries-old wood, the aisles each guarded by solemn-faced marble busts (Shakespeare, Bacon, Aristotle, Plato–the pantheon of men presiding over pre-20th century Western philosophy & literature); the library was built in the early 18th century, and the second level had to be added in the late 19th century when all the existing shelves were full–the library was tasked with holding a copy of each book published in Ireland, a goal continued by the nearby National Library of Ireland.  

We also visited the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland to view the Viking Exhibit; Viking raids in the 8th century led to the establishment of the settlement where Dublin is located today.  The museum boasted an excellent collection of Viking-era artifacts, from swords and shields to fine-toothed combs and beautifully decorated brooches.  So fascinating to connect my explorations of Iceland in the last two months to my arrival here in Ireland through Viking history–these two cultures also encountered each other in Iceland, where it is widely believed that Irish monks’ settlements pre-dated those of the Vikings.


*While we stood in the long line to get in to view the Book of Kells, I saw a sign for a small exhibit on Erwin Schrödinger’s scholarly connections to Trinity College–I asked the guy at the ticket counter if the exhibit was ongoing, to which he appropriately replied, “I don’t know–can you know for sure without looking inside, and if you look inside, will you destroy the chances of it being there?”  (Indeed, the exhibit was measurably there.)

October 22:

There is something indescribably wonderful about train stations.  All those tracks stretching out in lines to new and exciting places, the streamlined-shiny-sloping noses of trains pulling in and out of the station, the tall marquee boards with arrival and departure times and track numbers scrolling and changing as the minutes pass, the coffee and newstands and sandwich sellers, and the people striding purposefully everywhere—clicking shoes and rolling luggage and businesspeople in suits.  I stood in line and got a mocha at Butler’s Chocolate Café, and was delighted when the barista told me to pick out a truffle (all drink orders apparently come with a free chocolate—no wonder the line was so long)—of course, I got the double chocolate one–delicious.


The train took a bit over two hours to travel from Dublin to Galway, swaying along the track through beautiful green countryside—emerald fields dotted with sleek, handsome cows in mottled black & white and shades of golden-red, and sheep with closely-cropped coats, so different-looking from their Icelandic cousins!  Just like the cars, the train traveled on the left of course (so hard to get used to looking left first before stepping into the street)!

After dropping off my bags, I headed out for the university, meeting an American who had been living in Galway the last two years, who offered to walk me there; the conversation somehow turned to European Christmas markets while we strolled along, and I was thrilled to learn that Galway’s market will open November 16th, in time for me to see it!  It also appears that Halloween is widely celebrated here—shops and restaurants are adorned with ghosts and pumpkins and witches, and this coming Sunday evening there is an enormous parade featuring large-scale fantastical puppets and floats, organized by Macnas, a physical theatre company based in Galway and Dublin—after speaking with Marianne in the drama department, she invited me to contact them and join the tech crew for the production, describing it as a magical and super-cool event…so this Sunday I will be serving as one of the lighting operators along the route for the production!

October 23:

​Galway is a lovely city by the sea, sectioned by little canals and stone bridges, and architecture that is an intersection of modern and old—lichen-adorned rock walls, with tall glass-and-metal buildings rising up behind, wooden signs with brightly colored paint peeling away and traffic zooming through the narrow streets (on the left).  Between the jumbled one-way streets, crowded with cars, quiet pedestrian streets line the waterways, and the sun shines on wide grassy fields and parks populated by trees undressing for the shift in season—shedding their leaves slowly in anticipation of winter. Scarlet vines creep up the elegant university buildings, and the spires and towers of cathedrals and old churches rise between residential neighborhoods.  

This afternoon, between meetings at the university, I had a long break and walked into the bustling downtown area, vibrant with street buskers and window-shopping tourists. I wandered in and out of shops, looking at the Irish sweaters (I’ll have to get some woolen yarn here too) and trinket-y souvenirs, and eventually was lured into The Pie Maker pub by a delicious sounding (and tasting) goat cheese, leek & kale pie with vegetable soup; the restaurant was dimly lit and decorated in traditional shades of brick red and forest green, with lots of mahogany and brass…and one shelf upon which lay a vintage Millenium Falcon in fading grey plastic, in stark contrast to the rest of the restaurant!  I asked the waitress, and she replied “Oh yes, that—Mark, the owner, he loves Star Wars.  He just really loves Star Wars!”  What better response could there be?

After her afternoon lab class, I met up with Jessamyn in her office (with a lovely view over the river); it was wonderful to see her and to discuss plans for our project—I am excited to be here, and looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with her!

October 24

This morning, after venturing out to a thrift store to buy a black wool coat (since my orange  North Face expedition jacket is excellent for Svalbard, Iceland and the Swiss Alps, but a bit out of place in a trendy Irish city), I walked along the shore to the Galway Atlantaquaria, Ireland’s National Aquarium, which specializes in local coastal species; I figured that would be a great way to explore Irish sealife!  All their brochures and webpages boasted of Valentine, the world’s only captive white skate, but after searching all the tanks I finally asked a staff member, and was told that sadly, Valentine had passed away some time ago. Still, as a marine biology nerd, I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the small aquarium’s dimly lit tanks, which featured several treasures!  I was captivated by the Lumpsuckers—a fish I had never seen before, and which rather resembles a cross between mint gel toothpaste, an awkwardly buoyant balloon and a waterlogged prickly pear cactus, with bulldog-attitude and a goblin-like grimace!  Eager to learn more, I looked them up online when I returned home; the definition included the phrase “possibly the least graceful fish in British Waters”, which I found to be both adorable and insulting! Their distribution is across the North Atlantic, including the UK, Iceland and Arctic waters, which is why I haven’t encountered them in aquariums in the States.  The Atlantaquaria also had a large, shadowy tank of smooth grey European Conger Eels, which can get up to 8 – 10 feet in length; only heads and tails of various eels were visible, since they were all shyly tucked into crevices and containers, but I certainly think that this must be the species that inspired The Princess Bride’s Shrieking Eels (incidentally, the film’s famed Cliffs of Insanity are not far from here, and I hope to visit them soon…not sure about the origins of the though)!  Finally, the solemn-faced red Gurnards, with “walking” pelvic fins, were very interesting—pulling themselves slowly along the bottom, and using these three-on-a-side noodley-appendages like kickstands to balance on the substrate.


This afternoon I will host an Info Session at the university about the project Jessamyn and I are doing (I am looking forward to working with students from NUIG!), and then tonight she is taking me to a comedy show (this week in Galway is an enormous comedy festival, with all sorts of shows and big-name comics at various venues–we are seeing Dylan Moran).  Jessamyn is quite established in the comedy circuit here; in addition to being a super-cool nanophysicist, she also helps run Bright Club, a Dublin and Galway-based comedy circuit for academics to talk with humor about their work!

October 25

I hosted a second Info Session about the dance-physics project today, and met several more wonderful students!  Jessamyn and I also had a lengthy meeting to discuss exciting things like electron scanning microscope images, nanoparticle spectrometry and particle confinement.  I am considering expanding this project and creating a small-cast physical theatre piece here, and a large-cast contemporary dance production back in California, since I have additional themes I would like to explore related to Jessamyn’s work!

After meeting at the university, Jessamyn and I walked into downtown to have a lunch meeting at the City Museum Cafe–throughout the city, signs for various presidential candidates paper telephone poles and stone columns; Ireland elects a president for a seven-year term, and campaign advertising is only allowed in the month leading up to the election (how nice).  The current president, Michael D Higgins, is quite popular, and is largely favored to win again–I have heard many people speaking fondly of him throughout the week.  Jessamyn explained that the Prime Minister wields most of the political power, and is not elected by the people (it is similar to England, where the party in control elects the PM).  She says that the president is more of a figurehead and a statesman, representing the country at home and abroad at many formal ceremonies and events.  We’ll find out tomorrow what the election outcome is…

I have also learned that this coming Monday is a “bank holiday”–when I asked students why, they told me it was because of Halloween weekend (and that primary and secondary schools get a whole week off for Halloween)–the shops and windows of homes are filled with witches and ghosts, and pumpkins grin from porches and doorsteps; this coming Sunday is the Macnas parade, Galway’s largest annual event, so it is clearly an important and beloved holiday!  As I am an exuberant fan of Halloween myself, I am very much looking forward to seeing the spectacles and events in the next few days!

October 26

Today I saw the Cliffs of Moher, famous for their appearances in films like The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Standing on top, looking down (from a safe distance) at the wild ocean far below, I felt awestruck by the massive cliff faces and the brilliant blue sea, heaving with whitecaps and dashing waves; with the bright sunlight and strong winds, the Aran Islands were clearly visible offshore as well.  The wind was fierce–at some points, I would stagger backwards under its pull (which is also why there are signs everywhere urging people to stay away from the cliff edge–don’t worry–I stayed on the public paths behind the barricade).  This is Ireland’s most visited destination in nature (apparently only the Guiness factory in Dublin ranks higher in number of tourists per year); near the cliff trails, contented cows with thick coats munched on grass, untroubled by either the wind or the tourists traipsing by–I imagine that these most be the most photographed cows in Ireland, due to their proximity to the cliffs–veritable bovine stars!  (Of course, I also obliged by taking almost as many photos of them as of the cliffs, haha).  We also traveled through The Burren, a vast expanse of land that is defined by its limestone make-up, and protected as a National Park–so fascinating to see great rolling fields of grass…and crumbled grey rock!  The porous nature of these rocks coupled with the wear of weather over time, has led to beautiful organic shapes, like petrified puddled puzzle pieces with rounded edges and strange holes.  70% of Ireland’s floral diversity lives among these rocks; now, so late in the season, the wildflowers have withered into winter sleep–I saw only a few brave daisies still with petals spread, and of course, lots of green mosses and clovers shyly peeking out of crevices.  

October 27

Today we traveled down the Wild Atlantic Way to Tralee and the Dingle Peninsula, the road curving through gorgeous farmland and sprawling views of scenic hillsides and waterways, including the famed River Shannon!  The few photos I collected pale in comparison to the beauty of the landscape that we witnessed along the journey, since we were inside a rental car (and it was rather stressful driving on the left.  I was merely the front seat passenger–my duties included navigation and shouting things like Pedestrian!  Stone wall!  Argh–look out!  Parked Car!  Tractor!  Yikes!  on occasion, but overall, it went really well–whew!), and there are really no turn-outs or shoulders to allow one to pull off to take pictures (just like Iceland)–prior to each little village and hamlet, there were large signs announcing “Traffic Calming”, meaning that ahead the speed was reduced…I quite liked the expression!  So in lieu of copious photos, I just tried to take everything in–so many shades of green, and so many lovely cows!  Our B&B just outside of Tralee is beautiful–we are staying at the Brookmanor Lodge, run by a sweet woman named Sandra (and she said breakfast in the morning includes fabulous things like omelets and pancakes–which made me so excited that I realized that it has clearly been too long since I had a proper brunchy-breakfast)!  Beautiful silky black ravens sat on the roofs as the sun sank lower, and the sky opened up with a dark grey downpour that just as quickly evaporated into golden sunshine, leaving the air smelling so fresh and incredible!  The Bay of Tralee stretches long and flat down to the sea, with the russet-red and apple-green hills rising beyond (and the highest peak has a cap of snow), and beside the road we could see the pedestrian trail (Dingle Way)–I can see the appeal of walking through landscapes like this, and taking time to truly see the surroundings, but I also appreciated the wonder of all that one can see in a single day with access to a car!

The road ended at Fenit Beach–covered with round stones and sea shells, and woven over with seaweed; beside the walking path was a beautiful grass pasture with grazing steer (and a cheeky sign that I took a photo of)–these cattle have one of the best views in Ireland, looking over to the Dingle Peninsula as they leisurely munch!

October 28

Tonight was sheer magic.  Creatures with great wide wings flying over the city; Baba Yaga cackling and casting spells; merry bands of forest fairies adorned with wreaths of berries and encircled with vines; tall stiltwalkers wrapped in clouds following music makers on moving platforms, and all dressed with glitter and iridescent bubbles and confetti of autumn leaves, parading past throngs of smiling children and adults, pressed close together along the city streets, everyone’s breath like smoke in the frosty night air, the wonder of it all tangible.  Tonight was Macnas‘ Halloween spectacle, attended by over 50,000 people, on a perfectly clear and beautifully cold harvest evening, and I was so thrilled to be part of it!  In my first meeting with the Theatre department last week, Marianne had told me about this event, saying they were still in need of volunteers with theatre backgrounds, and explaining that this was the largest annual event in Galway; I of course agreed at once to be part of it, emailed Macnas’ coordinator, and was assigned the mystical-sounding title of Sun Gun Lighting Operator (one of 23)–Macnas is renown for their immense and fantastical puppets and surreal creations, and each large moving piece needed at least one mobile lighting operator to move about with it and keep it lit in the dark city streets.  Another local dancer and I were assigned to the opening entity, the Winged Prophet, mounted upon a gorgeously winged rig that took the performer up and down as he literally flew over the city, spreading and folding his great wings as he went, and sailing low over the crowd to touch the outstretched hands of ecstatic children.  Aileen and I, armed with large handheld lights with motorcycle batteries securely duct-taped on, moved with him to keep him lit–a two hour dance of sorts, as we moved together forward and back, up and down (all while walking backwards too) with him as he swooped low and sailed high over the city, the crane-like rig lifting him up, up, up.  It was a beautiful view, shining the light up at him as he flew, seeing the thousands of onlookers close on either side as we walked through Galway, from the university, through the cobbled streets of downtown, meandering through old town and ending by the Claddagh Quay.  Everything was blanketed in sound–the exciting samba rhythms of the drummers who marched in front of us, the eerie electronic soundscape that followed us, the cheers and roar of the crowds, the calls and chants of the performers–so much to see and hear and experience!  As we traveled through the downtown, the shadows of his wings covered the old stone buildings, looking wild and fantastical.  Hundreds of performers were part of the spectacle–each large puppet float was accompanied by troupes of beautifully dressed dancers and drummers–I could take no photos while part of it, merely drink in the beauty of the magical night (but I included some of the staging photos, as we gathered on the campus in the afternoon to set everything up and be trained on our tasks), but Aileen and I kept the Winged Prophet in the brilliant glow of our lights, allowing him to be photographed by thousands of other people as we journeyed through the streets (-:  The route ended literally at the docks, where the puppets and rigs were loaded onto a barge bound for Dublin, where tomorrow evening, they will be part of the Bram Stoker Festival.  As I walked back, every street was packed with people, everyone out for the evening after the spectacle, everyone clustered together with friends, laughing and chatting–such a wonderful feeling to be part of Galway tonight…

I also moved into The Forge B&B, which will be my home for the next three weeks–I met two gentlemen who had been at the start of the parade route, and they emailed me a photo of the Winged Prophet, and on the right side, the bright yellow light that you see is my light! 

October 29

Irish wool sweaters are widely known for their warmth and their history, the entwining cable knit still associated with fleecy sheep, fishermen and the cold, salty sea.  Aran sweaters originated very close to Galway, in the islands just offshore of Galway Bay, where for centuries they were handmade (and hand dyed, using lichens and other local flora) from island sheep wool to keep the farmers and fishermen warm.  Legends abound about the unique and highly coveted patterns that families created, and it is said that in the past, drowned men who washed ashore could be identified by the intricate pattern of their sweater.  Designs were also based on daily life and the surrounding landscapes, and meant to bring good tidings to the wearer.  For example, the classic cable knit is based on ropes and the working lines of a ship at sea, and symbolizes good fortune and a bountiful harvest of fish.  The diamond pattern emulated both the shape of the fishing net’s weave, and the shape of the four Aran islands, and is associated with wealth through full nets of silvery fish.  The Irish moss stitch, usually within the diamonds, is said to be based on the textures of the lichens that blanket the rocky shores of the Aran Islands, and played an important role in feeding and fertilizing the farms (and sometimes coloring the wool too); it represents a good harvest and close ties to Nature.  While these are among the more common patterns found in Aran sweaters today, there are a host of other knit designs, each carrying meaning.  Like Icelandic wool sweaters, they are extremely warm, and still very popular today in winter!  

Today the streets were bustling with people, and evidence of yesternight’s Macnas parade still papered the streets–yellow, red, orange and green confetti leaves dotted the walkways, and as I strolled through downtown, I could still see the parade path clearly–like a trail of breadcrumbs!  Lots of businesses and all the schools were closed for the bank holiday–about half of the shops and restaurants stayed open, so I wandered about, searching for wool yarn and a copy of An Prionsa Beag–The Little Prince in Irish, to add to my collection, and enjoying people-watching–so fun to see everyone wrapped in warm coats and scarves and hats!

October 30-31

The last two days have been full of rehearsals and meetings!  I officially started rehearsals with students last night (continued this evening) for the nano science project; I am creating movement pieces based on the concept of quantum confinement, energy levels, and the duality of light as a wavelength and a particle–I opened rehearsals up to everyone, and have a wonderfully diverse cast of performers, from Drama, Film, Physics, and the community!  Everyone here in Galway has been so kind and enthusiastic, and I am really enjoying the opportunity to be here (and when I walked to the post office yesterday, I was delighted to see that the city is starting to put up Christmas decorations throughout downtown, so I can’t wait to see everything lit up–I adore the season of joy, and am thrilled that it starts earlier here)!  I am so thankful to the Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUIG for graciously giving me rehearsal space.  I also have been meeting with Jessamyn to move forward with everything, and today, also had the chance to tour her two lab spaces at the university.  

I also attended rehearsal yesterday for Bright Club, which is a monthly comedy event featuring academics talking about their work with humor…the November Bright Club is this Thursday night, and I agreed to be one of the speakers (I’m pretty nervous about it–hope I’m funny), so on Tuesday, I had an afternoon rehearsal with two other academics from NUIG (a biochemical engineer and a neuroscientist/stem cell researcher), where we had to practice giving our 8-minute sets and getting feedback. 

November 1

Tonight I participated in Bright Club at the Black Gate Cultural Center, an intimate stage venue beneath a cozy little wine bar, packed with chairs and lit with candles–the event was sold out–every chair and stool and leaning wall space occupied by young people wrapped in fashionable scarves sipping wine and chatting, winter coats draped on every surface.  I volunteered to go first (after the M.C.’s set of course) to get it over with, figuring that I would just be a bundle of jittery nerves the whole night otherwise, and after finishing my set, I could then truly relax and enjoy all the other comics.  I sat with Amir, the biomedical engineer (who was doing his set after me), both of us nervous and encouraging each other.  Jessamyn smiled and waved from her post by the door, and suddenly it was time–I was introduced, the crowd clapped politely, and all eyes and ears were on me as I took the mic…I was so nervous at first!  But the audience was very friendly, and I was thrilled that they laughed at my jokes (whew!).  I was tasked with talking about dance in academia, so my set flitted from stereotypes of what “professional dancer” means, to the perils of court dance with Louis XIV, the tragic end of Isadora Duncan and the hazards of fashion accessories, to what strange items dancers carry in their bags (butt glue*, lambs’ wool and menthol muscle rubs), ending with my childhood ambition of being a waitress, and how nicely that segwayed with a career in the arts…and done!  It was a confidence-building and fun experience, and then I could sit back, laugh and applaud for everyone who followed;  in addition to Amir and I, there was a father and son team and three professional female comics–everyone was hilarious and fascinating!


And of course, in true dancer fashion, I had to run to the event tonight straight from rehearsal–one week of rehearsal finished, one more week to go before tech/performance week–such a tight timeline!  All of the performers are wonderful, and I am truly enjoying the opportunity to get to know them, and to be in the studios on campus.  This weekend Jessamyn is giving a radio interview in Dublin, and then a workshop in Belfast, so I am going to travel with her–very excited to return to Dublin, and to have the chance to explore Belfast for a day!


*Yes, butt glue is a real thing.  How else do you think dancers get their leotards to stay in place during performances?  It is a super sticky spray adhesive that has replaced the use of toupee tape to keep dancers’ bits covered and in place while dressed in tutus or hot pants or camisole leotards (and it is also no doubt employed by celebrities at red carpet events to keep plunging necklines and low backed gowns in place properly for the cameras)!

November 2

When I walked home this evening, the streets were shiny black with the recent rain and all the lights reflected brilliantly on the wet pavement.  I walked across town, over the Salmon Weir bridge and past Galway Cathedral, stopping to gaze at the stained glass windows, all lit up from the evening service within, the colors rich against the shadowy stones and the deepening gloam.  I thought about my mother, and how much she would have loved to see these windows; I have thought of her often here, with the churches and graveyards full of Celtic crosses, reminding me of the one marking her resting place now.  Here in Ireland as well, the story behind my name is known by all–Deirdre of the Sorrows.  I have noticed in every single email conversation I have had, each person has “fixed” the spelling of my name in their replies to me, and of course, everyone is exceedingly confused by the pronunciation of my name (“ah, but don’t you mean Deirdre, don’t you dear?”).  But also here, where Celtic folklore and traditions run through blood and land, I can also explain why my mother wanted my name pronounced differently.  Deirdre of the Sorrows is a tragic tale, filled with anguish and heartbreak and sacrifice, and when I was little my mom explained to me that she had chosen to have my name pronounced “Day”, with the hope that the story of my life would be brighter, and filled with more sunshine and light.  I have certainly felt lucky to be here, traveling this semester and working with such fascinating artists and scientists.  The geology of Iceland and Ireland have also been so interesting; this morning I visited the James Mitchell Geology Museum, on the campus of NUIG, located in a corner of the top floor of a beautiful castle-like building–this museum is called the “Hidden Museum of Galway”, because it is so difficult to find!  But my search (pretty straightforward actually, thanks to the internet and google maps) was rewarded with an hour spent peering into glass cases and cabinets–so many fossils, rocks and minerals!  Unlike Petra’s Museum in Iceland, which sprawled across a massive outdoor garden, with walls and walkways filled with rocks, but completely unlabeled, here every specimen is laboriously marked, leading me to discover the identity of some of the gorgeous rocks I had photographed at Petra’s.  Drawers of fossils–beautiful corals, trilobites and ammonites; cases of rocks–igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic…beautiful quartz structures, sturdy-looking basalts, dazzling gemstones; two proud cases carrying the skeletal heads of an Iguanadon and a Meglodon–rusty red and full of sharp teeth; and the long center cases were covered with piles of student midterms from a Paleontology  course, so throughout my visit, groups of students quietly and nervously slunk in to retrieve their exams, spending a few minutes comparing grades, and then disappearing back out the door.  It was a good day to explore things indoors–the temperature hovered a bit above freezing, and alternated between drizzle and downpour, with a mischievous wind that tugged at everyone’s umbrellas!


November 3

Today Jessamyn and I took the bus across to Dublin; she and Dr Shane Bergin were guests on Newstalk’s podcast Futureproof; I got to sit in the studio front room and listen in while they did the show live, and then the three of us went to lunch.  Shane was delightful to meet–he teaches in the Physics Dept at University College Dublin, where he is involved with science teacher education, and some fascinating programs merging music and science in programs with primary students (Quavers to Quadratics)–so cool!

After saying goodbye to Shane, Jessamyn and I met up with her improv partner Jessica, and the three of us caught a bus to Belfast, walking past larger than life historic murals (for which the city is famous) in the twilight while we searched for our airbnb–a long day of travel, filled with beautiful scenery, splendid conversation, and lots of laughter and interesting facts!  Tomorrow, Jessamyn and Jessica are teaching an improv workshop during the day, and I will wander and explore Belfast, and then join them in the evening to watch their show!

November 4

It poured all night, the rain beating on the walls and roofs, but by morning, the storm had exhausted itself, leaving a bright cloudless blue sky in its wake–perfect for walking about!  Our Airbnb was near the Queen’s Quarter, meaning near to the architecturally stunning and history-steeped Queen’s University; I strolled through the Botanical Gardens, admiring all the autumn colors, and explored the greenhouses–the Victorian Palm House is famous as one of the earliest surviving examples of a curvilinear iron and glass 19th century structure, designed by the architect Charles Lanyon–the air inside was moist and overly warm compared to outside–I quickly shed my wool hat, scarf and coat as I walked among the orchids and palms!  I followed the gardens up with a visit to the Ulster Museum, keen to learn more about the history of Northern Ireland and the Troubles, and then in the afternoon, walked through the city streets, marveling at the merging of old and new–historic brick and stone buildings next door to glass and metal modern structures.

In the evenings, Jessamyn and Jessica were performing at a Sunday night improv show at the Accidental Theatre, a cool new black box space with a book bar upstairs, where patrons can browse, buy a book, and get a “free drink” in exchange for their purchase.  I found a biography of Richard Feynman, which seemed an appropriate choice (-:


And, here in Northern Ireland, I finally tried sticky toffee pudding, which Margot had raved about after her trip to Scotland! 

November 5

 Steady grey drizzle accompanied our long bus trip back, first to Dublin, where we had a thirty minute stop to grab a bite to eat–we ended up at Starbucks–the first one I’d been to in months, since it was near the bus station, had lots of seating and a bathroom, plus free wifi (of course we had to take a photo to send to Bentley).  The food was different, lots of delicious vegetarian options too!  I had a Waterford Blaa with egg, tomato and cheese (and learned, after asking Jessamyn, that Blaa is a type of regional Irish bread).  Our second bus trip back to Galway arrived a mere fifteen minutes before a dance theatre workshop I was participating in at the university, so I dashed across downtown, barely making it in time!  It was a fantastic opportunity to take a master class with many of the local dancers here in Galway; Junk Ensemble, a Dublin-based dance theatre company directed by a set of identical twins, presented the two hour class, as a prelude to their local performance tomorrow evening.

I had my own rehearsals afterwards, and was quite hungry by 8 PM when we finished!  Jessamyn, Caitlyn and I  went into downtown (where I was pleased to see the holiday lights already on) and met up with their respective partners to grab pizza at Dough Bros–a great day, concluding with delicious food and conversation!

November 6 & 7

Quantum confinement, particle-wavelength duality, frequencies and memristors, energy levels and measurement–I’ve been busy in rehearsal shaping these concepts into movement sections, and have been enjoying the dancers who are part of this project!  Yesterday in the afternoon between rainstorms, I walked across town to Woodie’s, which is the Irish equivalent of Home Depot, and purchased pop lights to use to illustrate the phenomenon of “particle in a box” and demonstrate wave patterns.  I’ve also asked Jessamyn for some of the images from their electron scanning microscope, specifically of nanoparticles and neurons*; I would like to project these onto the cyc behind the dancers, and I’ll need to start time coding all the images and music soon so that Mike, the technical director, can input everything into QLab next week.  Hard to believe that the performances, and my journey back home, are quickly approaching–I have met so many amazing people in both Iceland and Ireland, and have had so many inspiring experiences!


Today in the afternoon I attended one of the NUIG Arts in Action performances in the O’Donoghue Centre, celebrating the influence of the An Taibhdhearc, the national Irish language theatre founded in 1928.  Diarmuid de Faoite, a well-known local actor, and Deirbhile Ni Bhrolchain, a talented Irish singer, alternated telling stories and sharing beautiful a cappella melodies…naturally, the entire event was in Irish, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the words and songs anyways!  Towards the end, several of the songs were well-known to the audience, and it was beautiful to hear many stumbling and shy voices joining in from the darkened seats, rising up towards Deirbhile’s gorgeous wavering tones onstage.


*If you are interested in learning more about nanotechnology, here is a link to a free ebook that Jessamyn wrote!

November 8

I spent the morning working on press materials and emails for next week’s performance, taking a break to stroll into downtown for a lovely lunch at The Lighthouse, a vegetarian cafe that had been recommended to me by several people–and rightly so!  It was delicious, and I had a little table near the big bay windows in the front, perfect for people-watching along the cobbled street–all the colorful hats and coats, the packages swinging merrily from arms, the coffee cups clutched in mittened hands, people talking on phones, talking to one another, walking quickly with purpose and ambling aimlessly…up above the buildings I could see a bit of blue sky and tumbled clouds, and the weak sunlight slanted lazily down across the pavement.  The windows of The Lighthouse were decorated with hanging driftwood and air plants–fitted into sea urchin tests and suspended upside so that they looked like surreal jellyfish, dangling in the air–such a cool decorating idea!

This evening in rehearsal we finished the section based on frequency sensitivity in memristors, patterning diagonals and pathways based on movement speed–our next rehearsal on Monday will be in the theatre (hooray!) and I will choreograph all the ensemble sections with the handheld lights–I am looking forward to being in the O’Donoghue Theatre!

After rehearsal, Caitlyn and I met up with Denman and one of her other friends in the upstairs lounge above the The Crane Bar for Celtic Storytelling with Rab Fulton, a Scottish storyteller who delighted a cozy audience of about 50 people with tales of killer sheep and railroad workers on the moors, and a Scottish literary critic whose reviews seemingly held the power to vanish authors; Rab kept the audience spellbound with his theatrical performance, his beautifully rolled Rs,  and his suspenseful tales–he had also written a book on folk tales from the Galway region, which I purchased, and he autographed, asking if my name was based on Deirdre of the Sorrows.  I told him my mother’s plan to set my life on a sunnier path with the “day” pronunciation, which he found very interesting!  Afterwards, four local musicians took the stage, playing and singing beautiful Irish songs until well after midnight–they had an empty chair next to them, and throughout the night, a few audience members shyly got up and joined them, some singing a cappella, and some singing traditional tunes–it was lovely to be there listening!

Tomorrow afternoon, Jessamyn and I are taking the bus to Dublin and attending the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra; her friend’s husband is one of the violinists, and they are performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, joined by The Choristers of St. Patrick’s Cathedral–can’t wait!

November 9

Lashing wind and rain that ran in great rivulets down the bus windows accompanied us to Dublin as we traveled into the twilit storm; we threaded through the crowded city streets, sidewalks flowed and littered with great sodden autumn leaves and abandoned umbrellas, like birds with badly broken wings–soaked nylon and spindly wires sticking out at odd angles in the gutters, victims to the wild wind today.  We met up with Jessamyn’s friend Dara, a botanist at UCD, and attended the sold-out single performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at the National Concert Hall–two full orchestras and three choirs were combined to undertake this immense and eloquent work–the requiem was devastatingly beautiful–incredible to hear it performed live, on this weekend marking the centenary of the Armistice of WWI, and to hear Wilfred Owen’s poetry mingled with the traditional Latin mass; the ethereal voices of the children’s choir were particularly haunting and heart-wrenching–the sounds of such innocence making the travesty and tragedy of war that much clearer.  In Owen’s home country of England, as in the rest of the UK, the red poppy has been adopted as the traditional symbol for remembrance and is commonly worn to mark Armistice events; the flower was famously linked to the war in Canadian John McCrae’s stirring poem, In Flander’s Field.  Dara told us that there had been much discussion and debating as to whether or not each musician should wear a poppy, since of course, the Republic of Ireland is not part of the UK, but also because the money raised from sales of the poppy pins goes in part to war memorial funds in Northern Ireland (which is a contentious issue since Northern Ireland soldiers injured and killed many Irish during the 1916 rebellion).  Ultimately, the symphonies and choirs elected not to wear poppies (although the three solo vocalists did).  

As we waited for the performance to begin, Dara pointed out her husband Karl, one of the first violinists with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, who waved cheerily at us with his bow.  I admired the grand and ornately decorated pipe organ above the stage, and Dara pointed out the leprechaun, peeking out from the top of the second pipe!  The newly re-elected Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, was also in attendance, which was quite exciting; he was announced prior to the start of the performance, and we all stood ceremoniously–he was seated in the loge right above us, so we got an excellent view of him smiling and waving down!

After the concert, we went out with a few of the musicians to a lovely elegant bar called The Sitting Room–a delightfully twenties-ish-speakeasy-feeling place upstairs through a non-descript door, filled with crystal chandeliers and warm candles and elegant chairs and music.  As the night wound down, we caught a bus back to Dara and Karl’s house–the city busses are all double-decker, and Jessamyn and I climbed upstairs to sit in the top, looking down at the city streets: I felt like I was riding the Knight Bus in Harry Potter–what fun!

November 10

After a leisurely morning chatting with Dara and Karl, Jessamyn and I headed into downtown Dublin (on a double decker bus); she was speaking on the podcast Futureproof on Newstalk again, and also plugged our upcoming NanoDance performances, as part of National Science Week!  We spent a delightful day wandering through shops, visiting the Little Museum of Dublin, encountering the Irish National Rugby team boarding their bus in front of a posh hotel (swarmed with fans and police of course), and later  met up with Dara to share a lovely dinner at The Port House–sangria and vegetarian tapas-style plates and wonderful conversation!  The streets were hung with glowing white Christmas lights, reflecting off the rain-soaked sidewalks.  As we walked back to the bus stop, we passed by Christ Church and St Patrick’s Cathedral, lit up in the darkness.

November 11

Today I forded a river in my underwear, hiked in a beautiful Irish forest, fed apples to two charming shaggy donkeys named Theodore and Barney, and attended a very formal dinner party in honor of the centenary of Armistice Day.
Dara made a delicious brunch for me and Jessamyn, and then we piled into her car to drive into Wicklow County, where Dara grew up, for a fabulous hike along the peat bogs and the brilliantly-colored forest.  The leaves were unbelievable shades of russet and goldenrod and pumpkin, with veins of wine red and plum purple, contrasting to startling sage-green lichens and vivd emerald green mosses.  The path meandered along peat bogs and grassy fields filled with deer, traveling up to Lough Dan, a sapphire blue lake (where apparently episodes of The Vikings are filmed–Dara said that blood-curdling screams and fur-clad men were common occurrences, but today it was quiet and peaceful).  Dara knew a point where the lake fed into the rushing streams where it was shallow and we could wade across, but the recent rainstorms had swollen the river, and it was mid-thigh deep; undaunted, we stripped down to our underwear to cross, holding hands and feeling our way with our feet through the just-barely-above-freezing water, stained rusty red with the peat.  Dara had the foresight to bring a towel, and we shivered and dried our legs and feet, feeling exhilarated and refreshed, and rewarded with the treat of the return hike through a forest worthy of any fairy kingdom.  Our footfalls were absorbed by the thick carpet of leaves, and the canopy arched above us, some branches already bare for winter, silhouetted against the sky, some stands of trees still quivering in the breeze with brightly colored leaves, which shivered to a crescendo as a surprise rainstorm swept across, turning the sky a flat grey and dampening us in the final stretch of our hike.  

The downpour intensified as we reached the car and clambered gratefully inside; the sunshine of the morning now replaced with dramatic grey–we were thrilled with the timing of our hike!  We wound down the serpentining roads back towards Dublin, stopping at a historic structure which Dara said had been used as a “peace talks” center during the Troubles.  She dropped us at a bus station, where we dashed through the rain to slip aboard our bus just in time, departing for Kildare Village to visit Jessica.

I had already heard a great deal about Martinstown House from both Jessamyn and Jessica; a historic manor home that is now a picturesque wedding destination location, which Jessica and Andrew run along with his family.  Nevertheless, I was spellbound by the beauty of the enormous dwelling and the surrounding estate when we arrived–the rain had stopped and the late afternoon sun glittered over the green fields of sheep and cows, the tall autumnal trees, the cheery yellow house.  We took apples to Theodore and Barney, the handsome grey donkeys, and watched all the chickens, ducks and geese scrabble for feed, feathers ruffling as they strutted about the yard.  The grounds even housed a literal Secret Garden and a fairytale-like canopied stage, perfect for magical, memorable events!  Jessamyn and I changed for dinner–I had a sweater dress and red fleecy tights, and she put on one of the adorable dresses she bought in Dublin; Andrew’s family and some friends were gathering for a dinner for the centenary of Armistice Day in the formal dining room.  Andrew is a chef, and as we peeked in the grandiose kitchen, he was busy stirring and slicing and setting out all sorts of savory things!  Jessica took us on a further tour of the house, talking about Andrew’s family’s castles (they are Guinesses) ,and dramas of estates sold or lost in stories of madness and heartbreak.  When we sat for dinner, I was initially a bit nervous–I don’t think I’ve ever sat at such a formal dinner–so many utensils with specific purposes bordered either side of my place setting!  But everyone was charming and a fabulous conversationalist and the evening was filled with laughter and incredible food (Andrew had made vegetarian dishes for me and Jessamyn as well as a gorgeous cheese platter as an appetizer–grapes and honey and chutneys and all sorts of amazing cheeses and biscuits).  

Jessica had given Jessamyn and I each a beautiful room in the guest section of the house–so fancy!  I slept very well, and woke up to sunshine and a sublime view over the countryside.

November 12

This week Jessamyn is tweeting from @Ireland, since she is an important science communicator in this country and received the honor of taking over the national twitter account for the week to help spread the word about National Science Week!  I am honored that she is also tweeting about our NanoDance event–so cool!

We had our first tech rehearsal in the theatre tonight, and I finished staging the wavelength section with the handheld lights, using the 16 lights to create wave patterns of increasing complexity–the dancers did a great job piecing the whole work together (22 minutes, in only 2 weeks!), and I am looking forward to meeting with Mike tomorrow afternoon to program all the lighting cues and upload the images–Jessamyn gave me some stunning images of neurons on nanowires, stained vivid greens and reds, as well as electron scanned images of memristors which we will use as projections during two of the sections.

November 13

This morning, as part of the Galway Science and Technology Festival and National Science Week, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough spoke at NUI Galway; he flew aboard the space shuttle on mission STS-126 and was on the ISS for missions 49 and 50.  He was a fascinating and engaging speaker, and also spent about 30 minutes answering audience questions, from both kids and adults at the end–every single person asked great questions!  He talked about the beauty of seeing the aurora from space, the hazards of returning to earth and accidentally breaking lots of plates and glasses  (since they don’t stay floating in place like they do in space), the adjustment of sleeping in zero G (where pillows are unnecessary, unless you attach it to your head, which some astronauts apparently do), the terrible back pain the first few weeks back on earth (as the spine compresses about 4 cm all at once),  and the rigorous medical testing during training (and continuing through and post missions).  There were lots of primary and secondary students in the audience, and I’m sure he left them very inspired (many of them asked excellent questions).  Prior to his talk, one of the past winning video submissions for Reel Life Science, a local science-themed film competition for students which is part of National Science Week, was played–I’ve included it below as well, since it was adorable!

November 14

Great brown-grey Skuas and bright white Herring Gulls with long, black-tipped wings wheel in the air.  The wind skates over the sea and frothy whitecaps advance like armies across the surface. The wind is cold, chilled from the north, but its bite is lessened by the sunlight boldly slanting across the fjord.  I spend an hour sitting on the rocky shore, watching the waves.  Suddenly, I feel water drops on my face, and look down to notice that my navy blue rainjacket shimmers with tiny iridescent droplets, though there are no menacing grey clouds overhead.  Nika says that in Russia, this is called mushroom rain (gribnoy dojd)—the fungi flourishing in the rainfall, but people still going out in the sun to collect them.  She describes a thick break baked with potatoes and mushrooms that her great grandmother made, the recipe passed down through generations.

As the day wears on, the wind increases—the East Fjords yellow-alerted with a severe gale warning that will bring snow and sleet across the mountains.  Indeed, the high peaks at the end of the fjord have been swirled in diffuse white clouds all morning, and as they blow over, they leave fresh powder in their wake.  The combination of gusty wind, rainclouds and peek-a-boo sunlight seeds rainbows by late morning—they crop up over the town and against the mountains, appearing and disappearing throughout the day.

(When I arrived at the studio, all three dogs ran to the door, and Jenni took a photo.)

November 15

This morning Jessamyn and I did a short radio interview on Connemara FM; the host was wonderfully engaging and asked great questions about our NanoDance project!  We also were featured in an article in the Irish Tech News today, which is very exciting, and I had a blog entry published on the Ireland Bright Club website.  The website siliconrepublic also included our performances in their list of ten National Science Week events to look out for–hooray!  Today is a bustle of printing programs, changing batteries in all the lights, as we get ready for opening night…


The premiere went really well–Jessamyn’s talk was fascinating, the performers all danced beautifully, and Marianne Ní Chinnéide, from the Discipline of Drama and Theatre Studies at NUI Galway, facilitated a talkback session afterwards, which almost the entire audience stayed for (and asked great questions)!  Some of the dancers had to rush off, but Jérémie, Muireann, Caitlyn and Jessamyn stayed to chat with Marianne and take questions (-:  I’ve included a few performance photos, as well as an impromptu photo during the talkback that an audience member snapped (thanks Claire)!  

November 16

Our second performance went really well–I will miss all of the performers; everyone was so wonderful to work with!  It has truly been an extraordinary experience to create this project here at NUI Galway, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the university and in this beautiful town.  Derek Donlon filmed our opening night performance (thank you!)–I’ve included the Vimeo link below!


After the performance, a group of us headed into downtown for the opening of the Christmas market–the town glittered with lights, sparkling on storefronts, projected onto stone walls, twinkling on the stands set up in Eyre Square.  It seemed like the entire population was present, nestled into the square–everyone was packed in close like sardines, and people moved in one great crush of bodies, flowing through the paths between stalls selling mulled wine, crepes, sugar-dusted pastries, and wooden Christmas ornaments, with the circles of the carousel and the giant Ferris wheel looming nearby.  Strains of holiday songs filtered from one stall to the next, and restaurants and shops were adorned with pine boughs and cheery Christmas trees.  The sky was clear and not too cold (maybe in the low 40s), certainly perfect weather for the opening, and so fun to see everyone in festive hats and colorful warm coats!

NanoDance: Exploring the Science of the Very Small through Dance Theatre

November 17

Caitlyn Rooke taught an oil panting workshop today at the City Museum, which Jessamyn and I attended; the museum had provided historic photographs to choose from, as subjects for our paintings–I selected an old black & white image of fisherwomen down by the Claddaugh, carrying in freshly caught fish, and Jessamyn selected a portrait of Constance Markievicz, famous for her role in the Easter Uprising of 1916.  

In the evening, Caitlyn and Denman invited a group of us to their house for wassail (and Katie baked an amazing apple pie as well); we sat around their fireplace, burning turf logs from Denman’s friend in Donegal, laughing and chatting cozily late into the night–I shall miss all the wonderful friends that I have made here!


November 18

The grey of cobblestone and Spanish Arches, the downy grey of young swans against the black of the River Corrib at night, the damp grey of skies heavy with rainfall.

The green grass of The Prom on a sunlight morning, the rows of green Christmas trees along Shop Street, the greens of the trees along the campus riverwalk, the vibrant green of growing things nourished by the frequent rains, the green clovers that symbolize Ireland, and the mosses and lichens that cling to trees and rocks.

And blue–so many blues, from the sapphire of Galway Bay, choppy with waves that roll out from the river, their surfaces tumbling golden brown to deeper blue as they reach the sea; the blue of new beginnings in a sky just swept clean by a storm and blown out by the wind; the blue of twilight against the warm glow of city lights; the blues-deepening-to-black of the canals that crisscross the city, narrow bridges and tumbling waterfalls and quiet nooks full of waterbirds.

This city is full of color for me, full of heart and laughter and friendship, full of creativity and culture–the acrid yet cozy smell of peat fires in the misty evening air, pubs merry with music, people walking everywhere wrapped up in heavy coats and cheery hats, holiday lights draping the buildings and the melodies of buskers on all the downtown street corners.  The university and the historic cathedrals and churches solemn, yet sparkling with history and stories.  So much pride in this city, so much generosity and joy–I am so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be here over this past month, and to mount a collaborative project with Jessamyn and the other performers, each wonderful to work with!  I am grateful for all the conversations and encounters with colleagues and friends and Irish scientists–so many inspiring talks and ideas!  From Macnas’ magical Halloween spectacle to the shining lights of the Christmas market, it has been an incredible experience to be here during autumn, as the days shorten and the nights grow cold and dark.  And now, I am finishing packing up and preparing for the journey home…