Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Irish Step beyond 'Riverdance'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Irish Step beyond 'Riverdance'

Article excerpt

Ten years ago she performed to a television audience of 300 million as costar of the first "Riverdance" in Dublin's cavernous Point Theatre. This fall, Jean Butler will return to Dublin, dancing alone at the 350-seat Project Arts Centre. Her story isn't a heart- wrenching fall from grace, or even a vain return to her roots, like a film star drawn again to the stage.

Her performance is simply another step on an exploratory journey she and other traditional Irish dancers have begun through other dance forms. In applying the principles of these dances to their Irish dance steps, they are not only finding a way to express themselves, but also creating a new dance vocabulary.

"I'm deconstructing my physical self and putting it back together again," she says. This immersion into the world of contemporary dance has been not only a physical challenge but a cultural shift from the Irish dance world in which dancers simply copy steps that are shown to them.

"It's such a heady thing and so different from all that stuff I used to do, where I would live on adrenalin and get lost for hours," Ms. Butler says.

Both she and Colin Dunne, another "Riverdance" star, have undertaken Master's degrees in contemporary dance performance at the University of Limerick, where they were artists-in-residence. Whereas Butler's focus has gone into solo self-investigation, Mr. Dunne co-choreographed and performed "Reverse Psychology" and "The Yellow Room" with New York choreographer Yoshiko Chuma for Daghdha Dance Company. Last year, he received a grant from the Irish Arts Council to work with four dancers to develop the ideas born during his studies.

He is particularly influenced by something called the Release Technique, a soft and fluid style of contemporary dance. "Before, my style was very muscular ... and lifting out of the floor. Now it's more released into the floor," he says. "It's like thinking of the body hanging down as opposed to being held up. They are very subtle differences to look at, but huge shifts to find physically."

Both Dunne and Butler are adamant that the results of their explorations aren't fusion. "Fusion is like an excuse, an apology for one or other of the art-forms that you are joining up," says Butler. "[It] suggests insufficiency. I'm looking for something that's quite pure and unique."

Their current work is a far cry from the energetic stepping of "Riverdance," which electrified audiences around the world and eventually became something of a dance cliche due to overexposure. Still, "it did give Irish dance the confidence to get onto the theatrical stage," says ethnochoreologist Catherine Foley, "and made Irish dance transnational so that it's now as identifiable as, for example, flamenco. This, in turn, drew attention to Irish dance and Ireland, but when people came, they didn't see Riverdance danced in pubs. …

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