Rhythm of the Dance: A celebration of Irish Music and Dance

By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

The National Dance Company of Ireland’s Rhythm of the Dance was the perfect prelude to the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday. Fast paced and high energy, the two-hour production was filled with song and dance from pre-Celtic to modern times. The performance was a one-night only event held at the Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall as part of West Chester University’s WCU Live! Series.  The show is in its 20th year and tours world-wide with a cast of both World and Irish champion dancers.

The curtain opened on a set and light design that was eye-catching and immediately attention grabbing. Celtic designs were featured on the sides of the stage and the backdrop consisted of a screen that projected mostly coastal pictures from Ireland. This set the mood of the show without being overly distracting.

The cast of fourteen dancers entered the stage and entertained from start to finish. The opening number built on different rhythmic patterns that culminated in a synchronized frenzy of beats. Later in the show, lead dancer Amy Prior displayed powerful and intricate footwork in “Bodhrán,” performed with musician Michael Gaffney. Prior was technically impressive in the lead role but lacked the command of the stage that her male counterpart (Dane McKiernan) had. McKiernan’s presence dominated the stage each time he was featured. Throughout the performance, the entire cast performed with a speed and precision that was hard not to get caught up in. I was surprised to realize an hour had gone by when the curtain closed for intermission.

Lead dancer McKiernan is also the show’s choreographer. He presented a nice diversity of pieces that incorporated both traditional and modern day styles. In “The Gathering,” we saw a combination of Jigs, Reels, and Polkas with seamless transitions between. In “The Irish in America,” McKiernan cleverly incorporated swing dance for a lively and spirited number. He also varied the mood and intensity by having the performers alternate between hard and soft shoes. Effectively designed lighting by Michal Wiktor was also a strong contribution to the production.

The performance also featured four musicians that performed both alone and together with the dancers. The skill and charisma of these talented artists cannot go without mention. A brilliant solo by Gaffney on the Irish Bodhrán (a hand-held framed drum) was a highpoint in the show. Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and Musical Director, Shane Moran, sang a feisty version of “Billy Taylor” with David Grant that had the audience enthusiastically clapping along. In the “Musicians Farewell,” we were treated to individual solos that showcased the banjo, flute, bodhrán, and accordion. Here we truly saw the proficiency and passion of these gifted musicians.

Rhythm of the Dance will continue it’s 2019 tour with stops throughout the USA, China and the UK. No doubt audiences worldwide will delight in the infectious combination of Irish music and dance.

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