Ashton – Jumpstart 2023 Award Recipient

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Donna Jumpstart Ashton

Following an Open Call in 2023, Ashton was selected as the recipient of the 2nd Jumpstart Award, a two-year national artist development initiative for aerial artists.

Ashton is a multidisciplinary performing artist, working in theatre, circus and street art.

As part of the award during the first year (2023), Ashton undertook three weeks residency at Cairde Sligo Arts Festival, Earagail Arts Festival and the Irish Aerial Dance Festival to develop initial ideas and work with mentors on a new piece of work.

My week in Donegal for the Earagail Arts Festival was very special – I’m developing an idea I’ve had in mind for a while, and it was brilliant to be able to get out into nature and start the R&D. 

I’m working on a site-specific piece, which will be a response to the beautiful natural environments of the west coast of Ireland, using vertical dance as a way to express the stories of these incredible places, and how I feel when I’m there. 

I was very fortunate to work with Lindsey Butcher from Gravity and Levity as my mentor, and Iain Miller from Unique Ascent as my rigger. 

They both brought an incredible depth of understanding and experience, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to develop this piece alongside them.  Iain brought us to my new favourite spot in Ireland! – The sea stacks near Gaoth Dobhair. 

Photos below courtesy of Lindsey Butcher

It’s a powerful place; it feel ancient, raw, and was sensory overload – the swirling sea, the howling winds, jellyfish passing underneath, birds screeching overhead; it is a rich location to be developing work.  I travelled around Donegal, racking up over 1000km in the week, and saw many beautiful places; I love the Great Pollet Sea Arch, although the rain was so heavy on the second day we went that I couldn’t stay upright! 

It was exciting to be in Letterkenny when the festival was on, and I loved having the opportunity to see other artists’ work – Yes and Yes by Liz Roche, Ara Devine’s exhibition; The Irish Question, and the Human Library were highlights for me, as well seeing the magnificent shows from Tumble Circus and Síolta over in Gweedore. 

I spent a night in Buncrana to join the LUXe show – and what an incredible experience that was! Powerful imagery and infectious energy, as always from this unique arts company.


I will be continuing to develop this work over the next year, aiming to show a work-in-progress performance as part of Earagail Festival next year.  Some of this will be completed at home, but I will also be coming back to Sligo and Donegal for further research.  My original ideas have developed in a new direction, and I’m exploring what the final piece will look like; at the moment I think it will be a combination of live work and film, but that may change again before 2024!

The Jumpstart Award is presented by Earagail Arts Festival in partnership with Cairde Sligo Arts Festival, Irish Aerial Dance Festival & Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network and is supported by The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon

Featured Image Credit: Donna El Assaad, Earagail Arts Festival

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