Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish dance group INISH put on its spring show on the ’62 Center’s MainStage last Friday and Saturday nights. The show was titled Trasna – Irish for “across” – referring to the spread of the Irish dance tradition across the world. Holly Silva, INISH director and lecturer in dance, opened the performance by describing the event’s detailed program booklet as a kind of guidebook or “travel log” that outlined the scope of their dance style’s tradition. She remarked that INISH wished to “share the energy back and forth” between past and present, audience and performers. The showcase of this transference, where shifts of artistic expression drew an ebbing and flowing reaction from the audience, aroused and diffused interest in turns.
Irish dance layers its components for an experience that immerses the visual as well as aural senses. Supplementing the dancers (rinceoiri) are the musicians of the Ceol on instruments including the piano, a few harps and the hornpipes. Occasionally, singers (amhranai) and storytellers (seanchai) contribute their voices to enhance the performance. Trasna began with an example of slip jigs, as the rinceori slowly and deliberately spanned the stage to plaintive flute accompaniment from Emily Rockett ’10. Next, Sarah Lyon ’13 played “Star of the Country Down” on harp.
Following Lyon, Meghan Rose Donnelley ’11 sat on the stage to recount “The Twisting of the Rope,” a short story by William Butler Yeats. The dancers returned to enact her fable adaptation as a dance: sliding and spinning in their hard shoes, they dramatized the story of how Hanrahan, the principal character, was tricked into leaving a house in which he was not wanted. In what the guidebook referred to as the “relaxed‑looking old style” of Ireland, the dancers literally kicked off into a flurry of chorography.
The program’s focus then shifted to Irish dance influences in Canada when the Ceol moved on to “Quebecois Tunes.” Mandy O’Connor ’10 was joined by INISH band member Maggie Bye, Alicia Cook ’11 and Stephanie H. Kim ’10, who recited excerpts from Eleanor McGrath’s collection A Story to Be Told. Their characters exposited with interwoven vignettes about how “sirens and bombing” drove them from different places in Ireland like Kouric and Belfast. To demonstrate how they were all drawn to North America in one way or another, they moved to stand together in a ring of light on the stage. This narration seemed somewhat forced and stalled the flow of the performance a bit; however, Cook started moving the show along again by flaunting her effortless grace in a dancing solo.
All too soon, however, Bye and O’Conner dragged the momentum once more with their duet, “Song for the Mira.” In a similar vein, a later act deluged the audience with facts about Irish rebels escaping Australian prison, proving less entertaining than unwelcome. The pattern of alternating energetic kinetic footwork with somewhat awkward descriptions and extended stints of singing repeated throughout. During the whole evening, the unfortunate changes in pace jostled more often than they meshed.
At this point, the program shifted to the style of Galicia during which the united INISH ensemble exhibited its considerable versatility. Striding out to the Spanish‑tinged music, the dancers dazzled with heavily grounded movements and added to the rhythm with their footfalls. The audience clapped along in time. Soon, the same performers sashayed around the stage in tartan and slippers to represent Scotland. Their footwork evoked Broadway and George Gershwin’s I’ve Got Rhythm to highlight the Irish roots of American tap dance. Coming “full circle” with the sound of hornpipes, the hearts of the performers returned to their roots in Ireland. Coordinated movements flowed through the line of dancers, showcasing each one as individuals and all as a cohesive entity. The Ceol directed the rinceori’s speed before bowing out graciously to allow the dancers’ feet to speak during the extended a cappella finale.
INISH arranged a comprehensive, intricate tour around the world for the aspects of its tradition. Part history lesson and part artistic endeavor, Trasna covered a wide range of artistic ground despite the mixed successes of its performances.