For anyone interested in brushing up on a bit of Irish feminist history, a piece of advice: throw aside your textbook and go to the ’62 Center to see the ladies and gentlemen of INISH do their thing. This past weekend’s performance, titled Eire na Mna (Ireland of the Women) showcased the work done thus far by the group in preparation for their March show and celebrated famous heroines of Ireland in a lively and colorful manner. The mÃƒÂ©lange of song, poetry and dance was a hit with the audience and a promise of many good things to come in the spring.
The first number of the show, “The Naming of Ireland,” started with a traditional reel performed by the ceol or musicians. As it progressed, the rinceoir (dancers) emerged against a dramatic blue background, dressed in simple black tank-style tops and loose black pants. Three dancers were draped in different colored sashes – Brenna Baccaro ’09 in green, Stephanie Kim ’10 in white, and Skye Johnson of the Office of Public Affairs in green. Each represented one of the three queens of the Tuatha DÃƒÂ© Dannan, the mythological inhabitants of Ireland before the Celtic Gaels. According to legend, each of the queens gave her name to the island through song and poetry. Eiru, the queen of the high king MacGreine, received the honor of having the island named after her.
Now in its fifth year at Williams, INISH was founded by Holly Silva, assistant director of the dance program, shortly after her training in Irish dance and music at the University of Limerick, which inspired her to combine her extensive modern dance background with more traditional Irish elements.
Silva’s choreography really shone through in the masterful execution of the dances. The dancers’ feet were sharp and controlled; I found it difficult to restrain myself from tapping my own as I watched the heavy shoes fly through the air with effortless grace. Their faces for the most part showed no sign of the strain of dancing, alive and suffused with the joyous glow that only true love of the art (and, of course, proper stage lighting) can give.
The next dance was a slip jig, or soft-shoe dance, which told the story of Sionna of the Tuatha DÃƒÂ© Dannan. A sort of Irish permutation of Eve, she longed to catch and eat the Salmon of Knowledge that swam in the pool of Conla, despite the fact that women were forbidden to do so. Ever contrary in nature, Sionna defied the ban and attempted to catch the salmon, only to lose her footing and fall into the pool, which swept her to the sea and has ever since carried her name – the River Shannon. Brenna Baccaro ’09 played out a lovely characterization of Sionna, leaping in her sprightly, long-legged manner among the leaping fish and gleaming river. The use of the dancers’ bodies moving sinuously underneath a long, silvery-blue cloth to imitate the waves of the river also produced a very cool effect.
At several points, the audience clapped along to the catchy riffs at an invitation from the musicians or of its own volition. Musical interludes both instrumental and vocal played between the dances also explored the theme of Irish womanhood. A simple yet poignant vocal rendition of Rhoda Johnson Young’s “Mother Machree” by Ronadh Cox, associate professor of geosciences, emphasized the important role of the mother in Irish-American culture. Many working-class Irish immigrant fathers died early and left their widows behind to support the family, thus establishing the mother as a linchpin in Irish social and artistic representations.
The song of Molly Malone, sung by Maggie Bye and acted out by Alicia Cook ’11, provided an opportunity for audience participation during the chorus. Cook, whose leg injury precluded her from dancing in this fall’s show, nevertheless provided a humorous and engaging stage presence along with Alena Allegretti ’11 in their recitation of “The Giveaway,” Phyllis McGinley’s famous poem about the selflessness of Saint Brigid, a patron – or, rather, matron – saint of Ireland.
Mixed in with well-known characters such as Molly Malone and St. Brigid were lesser-known ones beyond the Irish sphere, such as Biddy Early and Fionnula of Lir. The former, as explained in a poem recited by Stephanie Kim ’10, was a healer and figure of mystical power among the Irish.
One puzzling thing that caught my attention was that the four dancers’ somber expressions in “The Children of Lir,” a dance about the sad tale of a wicked stepmother turning her stepchildren into swans, did not quite match the lively tune put forth by the musicians. It would have been nice to have more unity between the visual and auditory in either one of the two emotional directions.
Overall, however, the combined energies and talents of both the ceol and the rinceoir made for a very enjoyable performance. The night ended with hearty audience participation in the traditional singing of “The Parting Glass,” spreading a warm feeling throughout the room and leaving me with ample excitement for the full show in March.