Reference Code: IE 2135 N39

Title: The Joan Davis Collection

Dates of Creation: 1970-2012

Level of Description: Fonds

Extent and Medium: 8 standard boxes, 6 photographic boxes, 3 boxes of audio-visual material, and 2 outsize boxes (509 files)


Name of Creator(s): Davis, Joan (b. 1945).

Administrative/ Biographical History: Joan Davis née Citron was born in Dublin in 1945.  She studied tap, folk, and ballroom dancing with Evelyn Burchill as a child, and rediscovered her love of dance at the age of 29, when she began taking classes with the American modern dance pioneer Terez Nelson.  Davis made her public debut as a contemporary dancer in 1975, when Nelson staged a small performance at St Mark’s Church in Dublin.  Davis and Nelson later taught together, but their partnership failed to last, and Davis sought further training at the London School of Contemporary Dance, commuting between Dublin and London on a fortnightly basis to participate in intensive training sessions.

In April 1977, Davis co-founded the Dublin Contemporary Dance Studio with Karen Callaghan.  The school was located at premises on Harold’s Cross, Dublin and opened its doors in September 1977.  It provided an opportunity for dancers to work with guest teachers from abroad, and it was here that many of Ireland’s prominent dance personalities received their first grounding in contemporary dance.  In March 1979, Davis and Callaghan established the Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre under the patronage of Marsha Paludan and Niall Montgomery.  The company toured professionally in Ireland and abroad and received financial support from the Arts Council.   Its core members were Joan Davis, Robert Connor, Loretta Yurick, and Mary Nunan, but other dancers such as Ruth Way, Judy Cole, Paul Johnson, and Tony Pinder also performed in the company at different times.  The dance company and school played a significant role in establishing and shaping contemporary dance in Ireland, and Davis is acknowledged as one of the pioneers in this field.

The Dublin Contemporary Dance Company folded suddenly in February 1989, when the Arts Council announced the withdrawal of its financial support.  This gave Davis an opportunity to pursue her interest in movement as a therapeutic tool and to seek training in various somatic forms such as Authentic Movement and Body-Mind Centering.  Throughout the 1990s, Davis worked as a movement therapist, advertising this work as The Moving Experience.  She also explored the links between therapeutic practices and the arts, terming it The Theatre of the Unconscious. As part of this exploration, she organised outdoor retreats or “tribals” during which participants lived outdoors and created art and movement in nature.  In 1999, Davis received funding from the Arts Council to explore therapeutic movement forms more fully in a shared dance context.  The project culminated in a performance, Through Fluid Eyes, on Greystones Beach in County Wicklow in August of that year.  From these explorations emerged the Maya Lila training method for professional dancers, which harnesses somatic training practices as a starting point for an exploration of the creative process and encourages coordination between body and mind.

Immediate Source of Acquisition: Donated by Joan Davis to the National Dance Archive of Ireland in two instalments on 8 November 2011 and 8 February 2012.




Scope and Content: The collection comprises photographs and ephemera relating to Davis’s association with Terez Nelson’s dance company; administrative records, press cuttings, promotional material, choreographic notes, photographs, and recordings relating to the activities of Dublin Contemporary Dance Studio and Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre; press cuttings and promotional material relating to Davis’s career as a movement therapist; and notes, funding applications, promotional material, publications, photographs, and recordings mapping out in considerable detail the evolution of Davis’s Maya Lila training method.  The collection is of outstanding importance, providing as it does a record of the establishment, activities, and demise of Ireland’s first professional contemporary dance company.

Appraisal, Destruction and Scheduling Information: All records have been retained except for duplicates, which have been destroyed.  A small number of items of personal nature unrelated to dance were returned to the donor.

Accruals: No accruals are expected.

System of Arrangement: No original order was discernible at the time of accrual.  The material has been organised into five series to reflect the different stages of Joan Davis’s professional career as a dancer and movement therapist.  Under each series, material has been organised according to its form (e.g. photographs) or the activities to which it relates (e.g. administrative records), and thereunder chronologically by date.




Conditions Governing Access: Unrestricted access to most items.  Some items contain personal information and are closed to protect individual privacy.  These items have been identified in the descriptive catalogue.  No access to magnetic tape.  No access to MiniDiscs, V8 tapes, or MiniDVs until contents have been digitized.

Conditions Governing Reproduction: Standard copyright regulations apply to all items.  For photocopying or reproducing material, please consult with the staff.

Language/ Scripts of Material: English.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements: Paper documents, photographs, and recordings mostly in good condition.  The collection comprises material in a number of different formats, including 6 mm audio reel (2/7/2/1-3), video tape (2/7/1/12/7/1/32/7/1/52/7/1/72/7/1/93/3/33/3/55/6/2/1-105/6/2/21), cassette tape (3/3/7-10), V8-tape (5/6/2/23), MiniDisc (5/6/1/2), Mini-DV (5/6/3/1-34), and CDs or DVDs containing video files (2/7/1/22/7/1/42/7/1/62/7/1/82/7/1/103/3/43/3/65/4/2/2 (3)5/6/2/11-205/6/2/225/6/3/1-8), audio files (2/7/2/4-55/4/2/2 (2)5/3/2/5 (19)-(20)5/6/1/1, 5/6/1/3-15), Word and PDF-files (5/1/85/2/1-25/4/1/1-8), JPEG and TIFF files (5/1/85/4/1/15/4/1/35/4/1/65/5/2/2/1-175/5/2/2/1-45/5/2/3/1-55/5/2/4/1-9), and QXD and PostScript files (5/4/1/35/4/1/6, and 5/5/2/2/1-2).  Facilities exist in the reading room for the viewing of these items except for 6 mm audio reels, V8-tapes, MiniDiscs, and Mini-DVs.  The video tapes and 6 mm audio reels are too fragile to be safely handled but their contents have been converted into accessible digital format.

Finding Aids: A hard copy of the descriptive catalogue is available at the Special Collections and Archives Department, Glucksman Library, University of Limerick.




Related Units of Description: For related material in the National Dance Archive of Ireland, see collections N37 (Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre), N38 (Dance Theatre of Ireland, established by Robert Connor and Loretta Yurick) and N1 (Daghdha Dance Company, established by Mary Nunan).  In other repositories, related material can be found in the Project Arts Centre Papers in the National Library of Ireland and in the Abbey Theatre Digital Archive maintained by NUI Galway (accessible in the Hardiman Research Building).




Archivist’s Note: Papers arranged and described by Anna-Maria Hajba.  Emma Meehan’s unpublished dissertation Some Practice in Performance: The Maya Lila Project of Joan Davis (Trinity College Dublin, 2011) was consulted in the preparation of the finding aid and identity statement.

Rules or Conventions: This description follows guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd edition, 2000; Irish Guidelines for Archival Description, 2009; National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997; and EAP Guidance on Data Protection for Archive Services, 2018.

Date of Description: December 2016.  Revised July 2020.


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