4 out of 4 stars
Trinity Irish Dance Company makes its first full-length Chicago appearance in over ten years in a one night only performances that enchanted audience members by showcasing TIDC’s longstanding traditions, immense creativity and outstanding caliber of dance. Artistic Director Mark Howard founded the Trinity Irish Dance Company in 1990 and brought Irish dance into the global spotlight highlighting its heart-pounding rhythms and music. TIDC has seen major success with appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, inspiring the formation of “Riverdance” and continues to wow audiences around the world with global tours.
The consulate general of the Irish Consulate, Brian O’Brien gave a brief introduction to the evening’s program welcoming the audience. He also mentioned dedicating the performance to St. Bridget, the second patron Saint of Ireland, as her feast day was only two days prior and moreover as reminder of the powerful women in TIDC’s company.
Immediately as the evening starts with SOLES (2018) choreographed by Trinity’s Founder Mark Howard, the rhythm sweeps you away and entices you with mesmerizing footwork that seems unreal. Smoke billows through the spotlights creating a druid like aura, as if something mystical and old was happening. Al Crawford’s focused lighting design with banded druid like costuming by Courtney D’Angelo further pushes this ancient feeling. Included in the playbill is a beautiful quote by Howard’s father, Michael Howard. “When the soles of our shoes have worn off, you’re back on your feet again.” A perfect dedicated piece inspired by insightful words. A feature film screenplay entitled SOLES is in the works, which will focus on Howard and Trinity.
The live music accompaniment was simply incredible! A powerful piece to begin the evening. The synced coordination between dancer and musician elevated the entire night into one electric wave. Jake James performed on fiddle at immense speeds mimicking the dancer’s pace in footwork. James is a two-time All-Ireland fiddle champion, bodhrán player, and dancer from Queens, NY. With a spring in his step, James performed several solo interludes throughout the night and one in particular struck me. The curtains close and downstage James plays directly in front creating a very close intimacy with the audience. The up-light placed in front of him casts his shadow with fiddle in hand high above behind him. A larger than life version of the player we see. It created this surreal moment harkening back to the early days of theater, vaudeville or even someone performing by candle light. This close connection and cozy feeling you experience with that shadow present reminds me that this intimacy between musician and audience has been long standing in Irish culture. Music being the backbone to many cultures across the world through its traditions and melodies carried down generations. It is deeply rooted in the makeup of the Irish culture, as well as dance. The two are intertwined and always will be.
One movement highlighted the pageantry and ferocity in the sport of Irish dancing with World Champions Paige Turilli and Ali Doughty commanding the stage. Their glittered costumes had little girls in the audience swooning, but don’t let the sparkle fool you. Between the two of them they hold six world titles. They were flawless and glided effortlessly across the stage with tips and taps. I will say I was thankful that there were no wigs involved in the main performances (speaking as a naturally curly haired woman). Just out of interest I quickly found out that wigs didn’t come into being in Irish dance until about the 1980’s, but the desire of curled hair formed in 1960. With pony tails flying, the dancer’s hair throughout the night added to the piece’s movement. It became a part of the performance.
Some other highlights I was quite taken with were the staging of one particular movement with a blood moon dramatically projected and smoke floats across the stage with a blue hued light cascading through it. In soft shoes, the dancers gracefully perform high leaps and circular motions that is so appealing contrasted against the heart pounding hard shoe we are so used to experiencing with Irish dance. The audience is even treated to a few very young performers decked in their competition gear glitz and all. A blend between the past and the present. A raw form of dance with a nod to the continuance in Irish dance through the lessons and programs TIDC offers, including those for a very young age.
Brendan O’Shea’s dedicated song to Michael Howard, Founding Artistic Director’s father, was emotional and lovely. O’Shea is a singer-songwriter originally from Killarney, Ireland and a brilliant performer. O’Shea is a songbird guitarist with a vibrato to die for. With a successful career spanning a variety of different projects, it was wonderful to be treated to a mini concert through this evening by the interjections of reels and original songs – with a surprise from the Shannon Rovers!
The night ended in the World Premiere of An Sorcas, which is described as “an examination of the battle between substance and spectacle”. A really enjoyable performance that ends with an upbeat technicolor party encouraging for “Everybody Dance Now”.
As I mentioned before Trinity Irish Dance Company did a wonderful job exemplifying the Irish culture. The night was full of live music and dance all that centered on the ideas of dreams, despair, emotions, togetherness and hope. That these motifs carry across time and place to be embedded in the Irish culture and its descendants. It was a beautiful journey and celebration with new and old beats.
For more information on Trinity Irish Dance Company and upcoming performances, please visit TrinityIrishDanceCompany.com.
For more information about Brendan O’Shea and his music, please visit BrendanOShea.com
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!