Trinity Irish Dance Company leaps into action
March 9, 2018
Trinity Irish Dance Company is on a mission to show there is more to Irish dance than "Riverdance."
"Our tagline is 'everything you expect, but nothing you would imagine,'" said Associate Artistic Director Chelsea Hoy during a joint interview with Founding Artistic Director Mark Howard. "The Trinity Irish Dance Company focuses on the balance of both work that is traditional Irish step dancing and work that pushes its boundaries and goes into more contemporary dance fields."
Park City will get the opportunity to see this when the Park City Institute presents Trinity Irish Dance Company on Saturday, March 10, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
The Chicago-based dancers will perform 10 works that include the traditional-flavored show opener "Johnny," choreographed by Howard, as well as a contemporary work called "Curran Events," which was a collaboration by choreographer Sean Curran and the Trinity dancers.
"'Johnny' is something more aligned to something an audience would expect to see at an Irish dance concert," Hoy explained. "It features light soft-shoe and hard-shoe dancing in lines that is the [focus] on many commercial Irish dance shows such as 'Riverdance.'"
Howard named the piece after Johnny Carson.
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"I did this when I was on ["The Tonight Show"] even before I formed the Trinity Irish Dance Company and was coaching a group of competitive Irish dancers," he said.
The set will also feature works such as Sandy Silva and Howard's "Communion," "Listen" and "Soles," Hoy said.
"These works bring Irish dance to new heights through a contemporary lens, much like 'Curran Events,'" she said. "While everything we do is rooted in traditional Irish step dancing, we fuse that with modern movement to elevate the form in a way that explores what is possible."
It's challenging to find choreographers that can work with Trinity Irish Dance Company because of the dance style, Howard said.
"Irish step dancing is incredibly specific, and we always want to keep that through-line of integrity in everything we do," he explained. "We also have to find unique company members to pull off the dancing in these collaborations. But when we do, I think you see a Trinity stamp on the pieces."
Hoy is the featured dancer in many of these works, Howard said.
"First and foremost I try to pull education from other choreographers for dancers like Chelsea," he said. "She is the front and center of 'Communion' and was very involved in the choreography of that piece."
Working with Silva was enlightening for Hoy.
"When we work with guest choreographers a large part of the collaboration is to expand our [movement] vocabulary," Hoy said. "It's about transporting our mindset from people who have trained all of their lives as Irish dancers into a performing arts mindset and moving in a completely different way."
Eleven female dancers collaborated with Silva on the piece.
"We all worked with the footwork with Sandy, and we took the rhythm we all learned since we were six and learned how to use our arms, hands and feet at the same time and make something beautiful," Hoy said.
"Soles," which was created by Michael Donnellan, Michael Gardiner and Howard also expanded Trinity dancers' movement vocabulary.
"This is a tribal and timeless rhythmic study," Hoy said. "It's a combination of what we do with minimalism on stage, but also shows off our Irish dance chops."
Another work the company will present in Park City is Colin Dunne's "Listen," which, said Howard, is still in its preview stage.
"Colin is considered by many as the best Irish dancer who ever lived, and America knows him as the one who, along with Jean Butler, dance the lead in 'Riverdance,' and is seen on the PBS special, 'Riverdance: Live From New York City,'" Howard said.
Howard also said that commercial shows such as "Riverdance" and "Lord of the Dance" have been a blessing and a bane to Trinity Irish Dance Company.
"Much of what we do is lost in the noise of these commercial shows, but these shows are really reactions of what Trinity Irish Dance Company does," he said. "Chelsea, who is at the nucleus of a group of new dancers whose athleticism is off the charts, has re-energized this company."
Howard formed Trinity Irish Dance Company in 1990 after spending more than a decade as an Irish dance coach with his Trinity Academy of Irish Dance.
"I spent my 20s coaching dancers to win big trophies, and when we ran out of goals and dreams there, I backed in, sort of by accident, to the performing arts world in my 30s," he said. "We had done a lot of national television and film in reaction to us winning America's early World Team titles, and then I found myself choreographing more for performance than competition."
The new chapter led Howard to focus on traditional Irish dance as fine art.
"I wanted to work on elevating the artform through the arts," he said.
Since then, Trinity Irish Dance Company has performed in sold-out tours in Europe, Asia, and North America, and appeared at New York's The Joyce Theater, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., UCLA's Royce Hall, Princeton's McCarter Theater, Ottawa's National Arts Center of Canada, Tokyo's Orchard Hall, and Chicago's Auditorium Theatre.
"We are headed back to Japan for a three-week tour this summer thanks to our new management firm, Selby Artists Management," Howard said. "TV Tokyo is following us to Park City because they are making a mini documentary that will air nationally in Japan before we perform there.
"In fact, a presenter in Japan is paying the way for one of our guest dancers, Paige Purilli, who is from New York and has won more solo world titles for the United States than any other dancer," he said. "She will make a cameo appearance in Park City."
A few weeks ago, Hoy was appointed as Trinity Irish Dance Company's associate artistic director, Howard said.
"As artistic director my job is to chart a course for where the company should go artistically," he said. "Now that job is now shared between myself and Chelsea, but it's still a dangerous thing, because to make a misstep is so easy. You can easily fall into something that is silly, stupid and trite."
Hoy, who is celebrating her fifth year with the company, is honored to have her new job.
"One critical part of our mission is to empower females both on and off the dance floor, and we are a stand in putting females and males on equal footing," she said. "My opinion and talent as an artist have been celebrated since I started with the company, and my title as associate artistic director speaks volumes to how empowered I feel as a dancer and, now, as a leader."