Rachel Straus - Dance Writer

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February 2003

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Juilliard Dance

Published: February 25, 2003
Category: review

Still stepping in the right direction Trinity Irish company is no 'Riverdance' - and that's a good thing

By Rachel Straus

“Remember you’re not at the opera or the ballet. You’re at an Irish event. So scream and shout, and throw lots of money at the band!” advised musician Tony Davoren of Trinity Irish Dance Company. Although there was no bill tossing, by the end of the Friday’s 2-hour concert, the 1,372-member audience at Purchase College’s Performing Art Center was clapping in unison and rooted to their seats like football fans in the final quarter of a close game.

Irish-inspired blockbuster shows like “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” no longer headline in metropolitan areas. However, Trinity Irish Dance Company continues to return to New York. Now in its 13th year, the Chicago-based company offers proof that Irish step dancing isn’t just a fad.

Smoke machines, short-skirted sequined costumes and New-Age Irish music, however, doesn’t make Trinity unique. What spellbinds Trinity audiences, and keeps Irish step dancing in the public eye, remains the heart-palpitating integration of percussive-footed dance and lyrically flowing music. What mesmerizes the brain is the eerie divide between the dancers’ rigid torsos and their lower limbs, which scissor and beat with the ease of hummingbirds.

Artistic director Mark Howard transforms Trinity into an improvisational-styled, multi-arts jam session, which included live musical interludes, lightly-handled historical commentary, rock-style intermissions featuring the music of U2 and competition-styled dance numbers where the unison footwork resembled assembly line piston firings.

Howard not only de-starches concert dance with his showman’s informality, he brings Irish step dancing, to greater and lesser success, into the modern age. While his attempts at fusing modern and Irish dance, as in “The Mist,” are sometimes embarrassing – think bobbing nubile dance goddesses in purple Lycra unitards – his work that looks like it was created for dance competitions, “Johnny,” “Treble Jig” and “Celt Thunder” are remarkable for their directness and rhythmic complexity.

Howard accomplishes his desire to expand the boundaries of traditional Irish dance with “Curran Event” and “Jump, Jive and Jig,” two commissioned dances created by post-modern choreographer Sean Curran.

In “Curran Event,” the company’s lightening-quick female dancers salute world percussion styles with a feminist ho-down. When the tallest woman, who embodies a true alpha girl’s strength, throws tradition to the wind by enticing her sisterhood into snapping, clapping and slapping to their percussive footwork, Curran’s “Event” becomes sheer cacophonic joy.

There is only one male Trinity dancer. And throughout the evening, Darren Smith, the 1997 World Irish Dance Champion, weaved like an endangered species through throngs of females.

Trinity Irish Dance Company, whose stamina and drive are worth hollering for, made an invincible impression.

The Journal News

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