While widely admired around the world due to the phenomenal success of the long-running Riverdance extravaganza and its offspring, Irish step dancing is also often lampooned for its rigid rules. The dance style’s dazzlingly disciplined economy of movement and high-speed percussive precision lie at the heart of its wow-appeal, but they also leave some viewers longing to see a dancer bust out of the mold now and again and do something entirely unexpected.
An Irish dance student with the nerve to do that would never get to compete in another feis, of course, not even in America: The rules are ancient and unwavering, and the fact that the final bout in such a dance-off is categorized as “modern” refers only to the fact that the dancer or his/her teacher gets to do the choreography to the music designated by the judges. The permissible moves don’t vary – only the combinations.
But Irish dance popularizer Michael Flatley’s Riverdance follow-up show, Lord of the Dance, rebelled somewhat against the rules, incorporating non-traditional costuming and choreography that allows the dancers to use balletic and modern dance movements. And here and there, schools and companies are springing up that embrace this hybrid approach. The discipline is still there, of course, but the means of artistic expression has broadened.
One of the early pioneers in this “movement movement” thrives in our own region: Red Hook’s Solas An Lae American Irish Dance Company, which evolved out of a school founded in 1998 by Deirdre Lowry. The school’s avowed mission is to produce creative, individualistic and versatile dancers within the context of traditional Irish dance, and its students study ballet positions, contemporary dance movement and physiology along with the usual soft-shoe and hard-shoe techniques. The performing company shares the results of this innovative training approach in its concerts of what Lowry calls “American Irish dance,” set to her abstract choreography and scores by co-director Patrick Brown that fuse traditional Celtic tunes and instrumentation with classical and modern compositions.
Solas An Lae will appear at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck this weekend to premiere Lowry’s latest exciting theater dance piece, titled Illume, and it’s bound to be a treat. Performances begin at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 27 and 28, with a matinée at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 29. All tickets cost $20 and can be ordered by calling (845) 876-3080 or online at www.centerforperformingarts.org. For more about the dance company and its school, visit www.solasanlae.com.
Solas An Lae premieres Illume, Friday/Saturday, March 27/28, 8 p.m., Sunday, March 29 3 p.m., $20, Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, 661 Route 308, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-3080, www.centerforperformingarts.org.