The First Half
The commencement of the show is heralded by the enchanting harmonic drones of the piano to compliment the haunting introduction of an old Irish Classic, ‘Siúil a Rún’.
Thought to have originated in the 1800’s, the traditional Irish Song belongs to a group of Coaineadh Songs - a genre typified by lyrics which stress sorrow and pain. The melody depicts a woman lamenting her lover on his decision to leave and embark on a military career. The tale is bittersweet as she supports his choice to leave while grieving the loss of her one true love. The title translates to ‘Go My Love’ with Siúil meaning walk in Irish and Rún, a term of endearment.
As the stirring notes of the lament slow to signal the end of the song, the music is transformed into a series of fast and lively Irish reels with the introduction of the Celtic Steps Dance Troop, four males and six females, whom between them hold 15 world champion dance titles.
This scene highlights the intricacy and fluidity of the art of traditional Irish Dancing in a succession of jigs accompanied by the musicality of the accordion, the fiddle, the bódhran, the guitar and the piano. Performed in the hard shoe, which produces the sound of beautiful rhymical percussions, the set accelerates before transcending into a crescendo of clattering trebles.
Even at this early stage in the performance, it is not uncommon to see members of the audience dancing in the isles as they get swept up in the infectious energy of traditional Irish music and dance.
Dance competitions or Feiseannas, as they are called in Ireland, have for centuries formed a popular part in Irish culture. Dating back to rural times, Irish communities placed great importance on the Feis where people would come together to perform in Irish song, dance, theatre or sport.
When competing in the Feiseanna, dancers wear ornate dance costumes decided upon by their dance school and are judged on their rapid leg and foot movements, rigid body formation and precise footwork.
This scene captures the essence of these competitions and dancers perform a succession of slow dance movements to highlight the complexities of Irish dancing. This is performed to a slow hornpipe, a dance typically only mastered by those more experienced Irish Dancers.
All the male dancers gather on stage for a vigorous and amusing dance-off of sorts which has grown to become a Celtic Steps audience favourite.
Between 1801 and 1921, at least 8 million, Irish men, women and children emigrated in search of a better life. With harvests failing and employment prospects dismal, it was perhaps Ireland’s greatest time of hardship and thus has been widely documented by many writers, playwrights, singers and storytellers the world over.
The song Castle Garden, so called after America’s very first Immigration Centre in Manhattan, depicts the plight of Irish emigration and for many Irish, the deep sorrow at having to leave a country they would never see again. A beautiful song with stirring sentiments.
The piano, although not typically associated with traditional Irish music, has been commonly used as an accompaniment for the genre since the 20th century. This scene plays centre stage to the instrument in an original Celtic Steps instrumental. The piece called ‘Radiance’ is inspired by the beauty and surrounds of the Killarney National Park. Its contrast of style shows the influence the instrument has had on traditional Irish Music.
A Sean Nós Dancer is one who revives the old Irish style of dance and is often associated with the traditional Irish brush dance. This dance pays homage to a simpler time when the brush was passed around from house to house in search of the King or Queen of the Brush Dance.
Different to step dancing, the art of Sean Nós Dancing is characterised by low to the ground foot movement at a very fast pace, free movement of the arms and the gradual acceleration of footwork over and back with the brush. A sensational spectacle of old style Irish dancing at its very best.
Another spellbinding Celtic Steps original, ‘One Starry Night’ is beautifully sung by Roisín Ryan who hails from Dromid in Waterville. The song is inspired by her humble adobe which is an international dark sky reserve and where on a clear night, one can witness the beauty of many astronomical sights including the Milky Way, the Audromeda Galaxy and Star Clusters.
This scene gives provenance to the four-string tenor banjo, an instrument popularly played as a melody in Traditional Irish Music. Originally brought to Ireland by returned emigrants from the United States, its music again displays the colourful history of our nation and the influence our travels have had on both Irish culture and music.
Sean Murphy, the Musical Director displays the musicality of the instrument with a series of lively frisky numbers, synonymous with the banjo.
SCENE 9 PART 1
Although Irish Dancing is popularly known for its hard shoe dancing style, dancing with soft shoes or pumps is a sensational sight to behold. This style of dancing is quite athletic in its formation and is the first style of dancing taught to children when learning the technique of Irish Dancing . Our female Irish Dancers glide with grace and elegance across the stage in a light shoe jig to show the contrast between the two styles.
SCENE 9 PART 2
The set then moves to an Irish Dance A capella performed by one of World Champion Male Dancers. One of the spellbinding moments of the entire show, viewers can experience first-hand the raw artistry and technicality of Irish dancing in an explosive exploration of modern freestyle dancing.
The finale sees our female and male dancers return to the stage for a fast-paced and powerful number that displays the sheer exhilarant and forcible nature of the artform – a thrilling end to the first half of the show.