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'Barr Go Sail - Heel to Toe'

Let's put on a show!

by Lyndsey Winship

February 26, 2005 -- Purcell Room, London

“Riverdance” it ain’t. Michael Flatley’s Irish dance spectacle might have raised the profile of Irish dance around the world, but his razzle dazzle stage show is a far cry from this, an authentic celebration of traditional Irish music and dance.

The venue may be modest but the audience and the performers are spirited, led by compere Roisin Elsafty, a rising star of Connemara song. With performers representing three regions of Ireland – Donegal, Connemara and Kerry – the intrinsic connection between traditional music and dance is made clear for all to see.

The West Kerry Set Dancers join together in lively group dances, stamping out the rhythms of Richard Lucey’s accordion tunes. Hailing from Donegal, fiddlers Peter and Jimmy Campbell play highlands, waltzes and mazurkas as Ann Conaghan and Connie McKelvey demonstrate couples dances, sometimes called kitchen dances, because that’s exactly where they’d be performed in people’s homes.

Three sean-nos dancers from Connemara take the stage one by one to duet with melodeon player Johnny Connolly, picking out a percussive accompaniment, and making it all look exceedingly easy. This step dancing comes closest to the kind of Irish dance we’re probably most familiar with, but with none of the stilted high kicking you’d get from Jean Butler et al.

Red curls bouncing, Maire Aine Ni hlarnain reels off crisp footwork and tight tapping with a beaming smile and a casual shrug, while another young dancer, Seosamh O Neachtain – who has appeared on recordings with Connolly – takes things up a notch with a crescendo of complex beats, matching the music climax for climax. Paraic O Hoibicin, meanwhile, shows that he can give the youngsters a run for their money.

These rousing numbers alternate with haunting songs from Elsafty, who has a voice that keeps a hushed audience leaning forward in their seats. Her songs might be centuries-old but her a cappella performance is immediately bewitching.

While the roots of this music may be deep, what's to be celebrated is that it’s very much a living art form. This is probably the only time you’ll see ‘real’ people on stage; the performers reflect the mixed audience, all ages and sizes, in all styles of dress. It’s happily rough around the edges, but this is stuff for homes and halls and not the stages of Las Vegas. It’s less putting on a show, more a chance to share some music, stories and good times. You want to kick up your heels, let out a whoop and join in the fun – and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Edited by Staff.

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