On their toes: the Trinity Irish Dance Company.
By Mae G. Banner
Irish Dance Company
Theater, March 12
There’s a minimalist quality to Irish stepdancing: ramrod-straight
bodies, arms held stiffly at the sides, pointed feet working
a few basic steps.
But, much can arise from this traditional base, when the dancing
is full of spirit and the choreography is fired by imagination.
Trinity Irish Dance Company stepped it up last Friday at Proctor’s
with a consistently exciting array of old and new dances that
deployed unexpected groupings, new patterns and directions,
quirky entrances and exits, freer use of arms, and even a
bit of self-deprecating satire, all of which made for one
of the best dance concerts in this young year.
The company of 16 women and two men, plus a friendly trio
of musicians in the pit, exuded honesty and pride as they
gave a new look to an old form.
Trinity, founded in 1990 in Chicago by artistic director and
choreographer Mark Howard, is a far cry from the mechanized
clacking of Riverdance. Their program of a dozen varied
dances included soft-shoe works that approached the ethereal
quality of ballet, as well as hard-shoe jigs and reels. The
stage was miked, but the shoes were not. Every click was the
Always looking to keep the tradition fresh, Howard has peppered
the troupe’s repertory with dances by modern choreographers.
Two of the best were made by Sean Curran, a one-time stepdancer
himself, who went on to dance in Stomp and in the Bill
T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Curran’s had his own company
for a few years now, and some of his dances twit the Irish
in a kindly way.
For Trinity, he made Curran Event, (2000) which adds
swingy arm movements, body-slapping and partner hand-clapping
for a schoolyard-smart flavor. Even the costumes—short pleated
skirts and white knee socks, with a pick-your-own-mix of head
scarves and backward baseball caps—were a mild joke on Catholic
Curran’s Goddess (2004) fit Irish steps to classical
Indian vocal music by Sheila Chandra. The dancers, lovely
in red and cobalt sari silks over black bike pants, were fascinating
as they combined controlled Irish heels and toes with East
Indian fluid hands and twisting wrists. At still moments,
they stood with their torsos slightly curved and their palms
meeting in the namaste greeting. The fusion was completely
Another brand new dance, The Irish and How They Got That
Way (Part I), gave a delightful poke at Irish stereotypes,
such as the ruler-wielding nuns of parochial schools and bloody
old Irish ballads. Choreographer Harrison McEldowney made
the most of parodist Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag and Irish
Folk Song, in which the dancers mimed several gory murders
that were all in the family. The dancers had as much fun as
the audience with this spiky caper.
Among the more traditional dances, Howard’s Out of the
Woods (2002) was as light and speedy as the sprites of
A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The eight-count reel by
Different Drums of Ireland (on tape) was steady as she goes,
but the patterns, flying on slippered feet, were rare. The
dance flowed like shining water over a rocky streambed.
The two men, long-legged Patrick Barnett and solidly-built
Darren Smith, came forward for a lively turn. Smith’s cross-footed
weight-shifting was phenomenal. Barnett, amazingly, kicked
a leg straight up to his nose.
Ashley Roland’s Hibernia (2001) was out of place in
this program. Costumed in icy blue unitards that dripped with
white feathers, it had the dancers stretched out on their
bellies, squirming and doing Martha Graham contractions to
New Age music, all of which felt forced.
Three final dances by Howard, Treble Jig, (1995) The
Dawn, (1997) and Roisin Dubh, (2004), started high
and rose higher, building up excitement to a fervent curtain
call climax. Two ranks of dancers in traditional dresses adorned
with runic symbols moved in and out of the light, a living
organism of precise heels and toes. There were springy jumps
and neat landings, and flying steps in profile with a javelin-straight
leg thrusting out parallel to the ground, all set to a mix
of live and taped music on traditional instruments.
The musicians set a casual publike atmosphere in several interludes
between dances. Among them, they played guitar, tin whistle,
bodhran, Irish bagpipes, and fiddle. Nor were they above joking
a bit. Thumbing his nose at the Proctor’s program’s etiquette
list of Thou Shalt Nots, the fiddler said, “we take offense
if you don’t clap along.”
They needn’t have feared. We clapped a-plenty.