Dance: Rian is extroardinary


Dancers of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in Rian

How It’s New York: Rian is presented as part of the white light festival, an international festival that takes place from Oct. 18 through Nov. 18 at Lincoln Center. This year its focuse was on, according to their press materials, “music’s unmatched capacity to illuminate the many dimensions of our interior lives.”

How It’s Irish: Rian is a collaboration between the Irish company, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, and Irish master musician Liam Ó Maonlaí, who brought over a group of top musicians including Eithne Ní Chatáin, Cormac Ó Beaglaoich (that’s Brendan Begley’s son; Brendan was in Masters in Collaboration with Joanie Madden last year; hear a bit of it on this podcast;  and now tours with Oisín Mac Diarmada); Maitiú Ó Casaide, and Peter O Toole.

Ever hear an jig that makes you want to jig? or a reel that makes you so happy  you just want to MOVE? But you don’t know Irish step dance or set dance and you can’t really pony to it (well actually, you kind of could, since most Irish Ceili dance is a three-step not that different from the pony). So you kind of bounce on your toes.

@Stephanie Berger

RIAN presents the kind of dancing you wish you could do when nobody is watching. It captures the essence of the music and brings out its infectious joy. It brought the audience at Lincoln Center who saw it at the White Nights Festival last night (its final performance in NYC this time around is tonight at 7:30) to their feet.

And when choreographer Michael Keegan Dolan ran n for an encore, yes, an ENCORE during a dance performance, a first in my experience, he began teaching the audience, using facial expressions signaling “do this,” some of the signature moves such astaking both hands and pushing upwards over and over. And looking around everyone joined in. People jumped up and down.

Nobody left.

Rian was  extroardinary. Honestly, I think if Dolan had taught us more moves, we’d have done them. One of the most exhilerating things about the performance was the sensation that the people involved were having fun. The musicians tried to dance to. When Ó Maonlaí, in particular, joined the line, tossing his kind of hippie-ish shoulder length mane around, the audience chuckled. Its not that he was bad. It was just funny, somehow.

@Stephanie Berger

It was also a great, great relief to realize early on that, unlike the contemporary dances in, say, So You Think You Can Dance,  we weren’t going to be burdened with Meaning. No dance was going to be about how she left him, but can’t quit him, but he’s addicted to drugs, but has tried to get off, but can’t, and the other dancer represents the drug.

After all, what’s the explanation of a jig? Can anyone even tell me why a reel is called “The Bank of Ireland?” Many musicians have told me the tune comes first, the name later. Note to musician friends: I’m waiting. “Jirish Girl.”  Even “Christmas Eve” is apparently NOT really “Christmas Eve,” it just got that name because it was first played on Christmas Eve on the radio.

Before the show began, Dolan came out and after telling us where the emergency exits were, grinning at them as if to share the joke of how nobody ever pays attention to these. He told us how the company’s costumes had been detained in a ship in Philadelphia because of Frankenstorm (a term which sounds quaint to me now), so this was the first night they would have them back, and to please sit forward in the spirit of good will.

Peter O Toole, Ino Riga, Liam Ó Maonlaoí in front@Stephanie Berger
We did. The costumes by Doey Luthi (not in these pictures, because these are from Thursday night) were print dresses with thin belts for the women, suits, bowlers and vests for the men– in short, the dress of Irish men in the 40s through early 60s. Dolan told me afterwards it was a bit of an homage to the way his and Ó Maonlaí’s parents would have dressed.  But there was no great story arc to get. The setting, design by Sabine Dargent, was very simple: just a raised platform upstage, and alternating black and white upstage scrims, onto which we sometimes saw silhouettes of the dancers’ bodies. The lighting by Adam Silverman quietly modulated from campfire warmth to bright and hot.

The costumes were all the more striking when you saw at once that it was a cast of African dancers, mixed-race and white dancers. And too it’s important to note that while much of the music was traditional Irish, some of it was African, bluesy, and modern. Some of the dance moves were African in flavor, close to the floor, using gravity, using the earth.

Cormac Ó Beaglaoich and dancers @Stephanie Berger

The music included not just the harp, bodhrán, fiddle, uillean pipes, whistle etc, but also harpsichord, grand piano, bongo drums. Bongo drums sound so good with Irish music they should permanently just be included, along with the bouzouki and the fiddle. As Ó Casaide pointed out at the Céilí, really a concert in the gorgeous, glassed-in Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse on 65th Street, only the uilleann pipes and the harp are truly indigenous to Irish music. “Those guys are playing fake Irish instruments,” he said, looking pointedly at Ó Beaglaoich and Ó Toole.

In Rian, Liam would sing something unaccompanied, in beautiful ornamented sean-nós, then he might return to the piano. There would be two girls dancing, then three.

@Stephanie Berger

The movements were swingy, with twisting torsos, arms raised high.A favorite moment was a wild whirling polka involving not couples doing the dance but individuals spinning around and jumping. Again: much like what you imagine children would do if the children were very physically limber and fit.

This is not to say it seemed improvised. Or that it looked easy. It was beautiful. You might not think that sweeping arm gestures would capture the toccata, toccata of a jig, but they did. There was throughout a beautiful freedom to the movement, with the music, that was completely buoyant. 

Keir Patrick, Louise Tanoto, Cormac Ó Beaglaoich @Stephanie Berger

Another memorable moment was when, in a series of jigs was when dancer Louise Tanoto danced right in front of Cormac, who had been placed in a chair facing upstage, at the downstage left corner, occasionally reaching out a hand and touching his face. Cormac looked like he wanted to leap out of the chair and it was utterly charming. I couldn’t help thinking of tom cats waiting outside a female’s window. In that

Louise Mochia, Emmanuel Obaya @Stephanie Berger

same segment, a female  dancer, Louise Mochia, chased Emmanuel Obaya, literally running him down in a circle and catching him by grabbing the back of the shirt. Then they hugged.

Another highlight was the beautiful singing of Eithne Ní Chatáin,, who also sings her own contemporary work as Inni-K, and will play her first shows in NYC this week: Rockwood Music Hall on Tuesday, the 14th, and The Living Room on Wednesday, the 14th at 10.  


I’ve heard her new EP Gentle Star and really like it, particularly the title track which shows off her charming, almost birdlike in its ease way of putting a song across. She plays the ukelele, too. Although her voice is quite different, the sweetness and the sincerity remind me of Lisa Hannigan. There’s a pop catchiness in all of the four songs on the EP and I’m looking forward to hearing more from her. I hope this blend of trad/contemporary is the real wave of the future in Ireland, like what Nuala Kennedy did on her CD Noble StrangerN using a Casio on trad tracks (read our review here). Gentle Star does not include trad music, but it’s in the player and something about the way the emotion is just there, in a song like “D.N.A.” without milking it, connects to the other style. Have to say “Find Your Beat” is an instant earwhig, so listen at your own risk.

Eithne Ní Chataín, Louise Tanoto, Anna Kazsuba @Stephanie Berger

 In Rian, she sang “Lough Erne’s Shore,” coming downstage while she sang, full of ornaments and music.  She has a high, light, delicate and clear voice, bringing an ethereal quality to the sweet old song of love.Eithne also plays fiddle like a dream. We couldn’t applaud, though, because when the song ended she had circled back up to Liam at the piano, handing him a kind of metal disc which he then used for percussion, as the company leaped to the rhythm.

@Stephanie Berger

Much of the show was like that:  seamless segues, sometimes allowing you to applaud, sometimes not. Piper Maitiú Ó Cassaide had a lovely solo of Carolan’s Concerto, then went into Salamanca, then something else. At that point everyone was sitting in chairs in a row downstage and as he played first everyone moved their arms to the tune, then their legs, dancing in their chairs. It was both unexpected, funny, and beautiful. Then there was the part where Liam came down to dance, getting that chuckle, then stopped and sang the words to The Foxhunter’s slip jig. Did you know there were words? Me, neither. He sang in Irish, and the cast echoed it back, then he sang it as mouth music. 

Like the rest of the show it was a surprise and a delight.

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.

One Comment

  1. Avatar
    Anonymous / November 14, 2012 at 9:44 am

    absolutely fantastic writing…..well done. you understand the show. BRAVO,

Comments are closed.