Dance: Dancing All Day at The New York City Irish Dance Festival

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Darrah Carr Dance company members perform Cuimhne Fado. (@Brian Rossi)
How It’s New York: This fun day of dance took place outside at Riverside Park, with, as Darrah Carr tells us, “the sparkling Hudson River in front of us.”  It was presented by New York’s own Irish Arts Center.
How It’s Irish: It is an Irish Dance Festival, showcasing the variety of Irish dance– mixed with the many cultures of Manhattan!
Darrah Carr of Darrah Carr Dance, reports back on the RiversideDance from May 6:
“…the New York City Irish Dance Festival provides a rare and important opportunity for dancers to gather in a non-competitive environment where they can learn from and appreciate each other’s skills”
Happily, Sunday, May 6th turned out to be a bright, breezy afternoon.  The sunshine was not only a welcome respite from our rather gloomy spring, but it was also a big relief to those of us involved with the Irish Art Center’s New York City Irish Dance Festival (we had been nervously checking the weather forecast in the days leading up to the annual, outdoor event)!  That morning, throngs of Irish dancers gathered at Riverside Park South, with the sparkling Hudson River in front of us and the gleaming towers of Trump Place behind us.
The Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance performs. (@Brian Rossi)

The day was quite literally kicked off with a delightful performance by the Niall O’Leary School of Irish DanceO’Leary, the festival’s Artistic Director, showcased the impressive talents of his students as they crisscrossed the stage in vibrant burgundy and gold school costumes, as well as a colorful array of solo costumes.  Keeping in line with the festival’s theme of performance AND participation, O’Leary led a “Fun Dance” workshop following his students’ performance.  The workshop was aptly named, as one of the festival’s main goals is to provide an enjoyable atmosphere for learning.  As an astonishingly virtuosic art/sport, Irish dance ordinarily revolves around an intense competition circuit.  In my opinion, the New York City Irish Dance Festival provides a rare and important opportunity for dancers to gather in a non-competitive environment where they can learn from and appreciate each other’s skills.

Children enjoy a “Fun Dance” workshop. Credit: Brian Ross

The next performance featured the Keltic Dreams, a multi-ethnic troupe from PS 59 in the Bronx.  Led by their dedicated music teacher Caroline Duggan, the dancers gave a rousing, highly energetic demonstration complete with colorful streamers. 

 Renowned dancer and teacher Donny Golden presented his well-polished, highly skilled troupe the Donny Golden Dancers and also led a “Fun Dance” workshop himself.  Meanwhile, the Hagen School of Irish Dance, directed by Jean Hagen Duffy, showcased the incredible virtuosity of today’s competitive Irish dancers. 

Darrah Carr Dance company members perform RhythMOTION. (@Brian Rossi)

I was proud to present my own company, Darrah Carr Dance, featuring performers: Louise Corrigan, Brigid Gillis, Caitlin McNeill, Laura Neese, Niall O’Leary, Melissa Padham, and Mary Kate Sheehan.  I was especially pleased to have the opportunity to introduce the audience to ModERIN: our unique blend of traditional Irish step and contemporary modern dance. 

We opened our performance with a display of traditional Irish dance, which gave the audience a reference point for the depth and richness of the vocabulary that we draw from.  Then, we performed Cuimhne Fado, a slow, lyrical quartet that combines spatial patterns from Irish figure dances with modern dance floor work and partnering.


 
The Irish Arts Center encourages choreographers to use live music and we were fortunate to have guest artist Liz Hanley sing a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Ag Criost An Siol” during our performance. Well-known Irish traditional musicians Steve Holloway, Conor McGuirk, and Martin O’Connell accompanied Hanley, while Niall O’Leary gave a lively display of mouth music and spoon playing. We closed our set with one of our repertory favorites entitled RhythMOTION, which features body percussion juxtaposed with lightning-fast hard shoe steps (click here to see an excerpt).

After a brief break, I returned to join the day’s final performance featuring the Niall O’Leary Irish Dance Troupe.  It was an absolute pleasure to perform alongside my talented colleagues and close friends: Rosemary Cooper, Trish McManus, Caitlin McNeill, and Niall O’Leary.  The closing event of the festival was an evening ceili where dancers and spectators of all ages were encouraged to mix and mingle on the dance floor.
Overall, the festival was a very personal day for the Irish dance community – a chance to reconnect with colleagues and enjoy each other’s company.  At the same time, the festival had a wide reach to the general public with an estimated 7,500 people in attendance.  In addition to the performances and workshops described above, festival attendees enjoyed a song circle, face painting, Irish vendors, and a yummy café.
Hats off to Artistic Director Niall O’Leary and to the entire staff of the Irish Arts Center for presenting a remarkable day of dance – now in its eleventh year and counting!
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