What he figured out was that there is nothing as infinitely expansive as inclusiveness, and Trinity Irish Dance Company is the story of how that turned out.
In the big, wide, mixed-up world of show business, entertainment and the arts, concert dance is pretty unusual. Most people don’t know anything about it, but those who do usually think there’s nothing else like it.
Are they right? And if they are, then what is it that’s so different about a dance concert? If you go see a dance concert — a real dance concert, by a real dance company like, say, Trinity Irish Dance Company — how is that different from other kinds of entertainment? How is it even different from other kinds of dance-driven entertainment, like a big lush Vegas production, or some huge touring show?
There’s more to a dance concert, that’s what’s different. Often there’s much more, because much more goes into an original, creative, independent dance concert. It’s not that more money goes into an independent dance concert, that’s for sure, and it’s not even fair to say that more precision or energy or passion goes into a dance concert. There’s plenty of all of that even in big money-driven corporate-branded shows. But more imagination goes into a dance concert, so there’s much more there to find and experience.
Trinity Irish Dance Company is a classic example of this. They’re rooted firmly in one of the world’s most dynamic dance traditions, traditional Irish dance. While they always respect that foundation, they view its depth and breadth as an opportunity to just build that much higher. How? By including more people, more of their creativity, more of their imagination — both individual and collaborative. They know that in doing so, they can bring that much more to an audience — more imagination, more creativity, more of what makes great art and great entertainment become the exact same thing.
Their concert at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre on February 29, 2020 is like a text book demonstration of exactly how that works. It includes a new work called American Traffic in which the already-legendary Michelle Dorrance and Los Angeles-based choreographer Melinda Sullivan explore a new percussive language, a hybrid of Irish Step and American Tap. There’s another new work by one of traditional Irish dance’s leading figures, Colin Dunne, called Listen, and of course, that’s not all. The performance also features a new collaboration between Mark Howard and Chelsea Hoy called Home, a percussively relentless pursuit of new rhythms by four TIDC musicians and two dancers, plus Bessie award-winning choreographer Sean Curran’s Goddess, a work that weaves Irish and Indian movement together.
That’s what’s so different about an independent dance concert — all of that imagination by all of those imaginative people. It’s not just the choreographers either — just imagine those dancers and musicians building all of that creativity into movement and music over months of rehearsals. And then putting it all together on one stage in one evening.
That’s why there’s just so much more to find and experience in an independent dance concert, especially by a company like Trinity Irish Dance Company. Surprising as it might seem, the very success of a huge international touring show exerts a kind of limitation on its creativity. The budgets, the publicity, the amazing precision of keeping those productions on the road, all of those practical realities flash like big red stoplights when it comes to doing anything different, anything new.
It’s something that Mark Howard somehow recognized years ago, when he founded Trinity Irish Dance Company. Ironically, some of the most successful touring shows in dance have been celebrations of the Irish traditions that Howard introduced to the wider world. But despite the immense talent and seemingly limitless potential that people saw, many decades ago, in the young Irish dancer appearing on The Tonight Show, Howard developed a different focus. Because he could imagine so much of what an ancient traditional form could still inspire, he could also see how much more could be found in the art, if only more people were empowered to find it. Visionary though he is, the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of Howard’s genius has always been his ability to recognize — and his determination to nurture — the visions of others side by side with his own. What he figured out was that there is nothing as infinitely expansive as inclusiveness, and Trinity Irish Dance Company is the story of how that turned out.
Chelsea Hoy began dancing with the Company in 2014, and her own story is emblematic of the expansiveness of the Trinity Irish Dance Company vision. Now, as the Company’s Associate Artistic Director, she’s a driving force in the always unfolding future of this completely unique dance company. So of course, we asked Chelsea to give us a deeper look inside Trinity Irish Dance Company. Here’s what she told us.
I think the curiosity of choreographers, especially those that are well-established and unafraid, is piqued by the uniqueness of what we do, and the passion and pure love of the form with which we do it.
Johnny Nevin: Trinity Irish Dance Company’s concert at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre includes works by several renowned, in-demand choreographers, not to mention the very respected musicians and composers who are part of the evening. What is it about Trinity Irish Dance Company that makes the Company able to attract such a remarkable group of collaborators? This is especially impressive considering how unique Trinity Irish Dance Company is in the world of concert dance — or do you think that’s actually part of the reason?
Chelsea Hoy: It’s the bedrock of this company built by Founding Artistic Director Mark Howard that appeals to serious artists. It’s Mark’s own pioneering body of work and his vision to allow traditional dance to breathe and evolve through a performing arts lens that attracts the right talent.
Mark has been charting the same path since the late 80’s/ early 90’s—an innovative path that has been shaped by a collaborative spirit. At TIDC, we create works that are rooted in Irish traditions but push the boundaries of the form in unexpected, integrity-filled ways.
While Mark has created most of our dances, he has often invited guest collaborators from different movement genres into the process to not just slam two forms together, but to take a deep investigative dive into their differences and similarities with the goal of successfully emerging with a new vocabulary that has never existed before. I think the curiosity of choreographers, especially those that are well-established and unafraid, is piqued by the uniqueness of what we do, and the passion and pure love of the form with which we do it.
Michelle and Mark have spent their careers breathing new life into their respective forms. It was such an inspired journey to bring those contemporized forms back together to create a new percussive language.
It can be overwhelming to think about the prowess of guest choreographers premiering new work at our upcoming Auditorium Theatre performance. From MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and NYC tap extraordinaire Michelle Dorrance to Irish national treasure Colin Dunne (who is often referred to as the “Baryshnikov of Irish dance”) to Bessie award-winning, contemporary choreographer Sean Curran, they have all provided massive impact in their respective disciplines. The company and I are grateful to have been afforded the unprecedented opportunity to dance alongside the greatest Irish step dancer in the world, have new work set on us by today’s most celebrated tap choreographer, and bring joyous dances to life choreographed by someone who was Bill T Jones’ principal dancer.
TIDC’s elevation of the form and the high water mark Mark demands is a beacon that will continue to draw renowned artists. They will find their way to TIDC. Or, as the world might have it, we will mutually find each other.
The company and I are grateful to have been afforded the unprecedented opportunity to dance alongside the greatest Irish step dancer in the world …
Johnny: Last years’ Auditorium concert by Trinity was a whirlwind of immersive entertainment and profound artistry, and there’s a drive within the Company that keeps pushing you further. So it won’t be too surprising if this year the performance is just as immersive and just as artistic or perhaps even more so, but maybe you can help us be as ready as we can be. Can you tell us about the works that we’ll be seeing at The Auditorium?
Chelsea: We’re quite ambitious this year – we’ll be presenting three world premiere works, a Chicago premiere, and a handful of essential classics. We also have a few other additions up our sleeves, including a special appearance by Chicago’s Grammy-nominee fiddler Liz Carroll, who is a longtime friend of Mark’s and has played on many of TIDC’s soundtracks.
Mark and I are presenting the world premiere of our second co-choreographed work, Home. Inspired by a myriad of places and rhythms—from the back of a honky tonk bar in Butte, Montana to New Orleans’ Congo Square to Mark’s frequent ask of Siri to “Take me home”—this work is centered around a table, bringing our four musicians and two dancers together to engage in a percussive tour-de-force conversation. It calls upon the ways “home” can be found in unexpected places, as well as all of the art that has graced the Auditorium Theatre’s stage (a newfound home for TIDC) over the years: music, dancing, comedy, and song. The original soundtrack features voices and clips that are close to home for the artists, including key moments our Killarney-born lead singer Brendan O’Shea remembers hearing on the Irish radio and field recordings of Mark’s Yorkshire Auntie Margaret’s voice, who passed away this fall.
We’ll also be world premiering American Traffic, choreographed by Michelle Dorrance and Melinda Sullivan. American Traffic is a hybrid of Irish step and American tap that celebrates the nuanced differences between the two forms. Irish step was one of the building blocks for American tap, and since then, Michelle and Mark have spent their careers breathing new life into their respective forms. It was such an inspired journey to bring those contemporized forms back together to create a new percussive language.
Our third world premiere, Listen, choreographed by Limerick-based Colin Dunne, a leading figure in the world of traditional Irish dance who has made the cross over into contemporary dance and theatre, is a deconstruction of Irish dance. Through rhythmic complexities and silences alike, Listen strips the form to its core, paying homage to the ancestors in order to move the medium forward. The original soundtrack by Mike Kirkpatrick (composer of multiple TIDC classics including Johnny), perfectly frames what Mark calls “a twisted David Lynch ceili”.
We are excited to celebrate the Chicago premiere of Sean Curran’s Goddess. Goddess is a hypnotic blend of Irish and Indian movement, with two-toned costumes enhancing the visual experience alongside the complex percussion set to a soundtrack by Sheila Chandra, an English pop singer of Indian descent who blends the East and the West. TIDC worked with dancers from Chicago’s Natya Dance Theatre to refine traditional Indian movements, and the premiere will be dedicated to Natya Founding Artistic Director Hema Rajagopalan’s father.
Trinity Irish Dance Company will appear at The Auditorium Theatre in Chicago (50 E Ida B Wells Dr, Chicago, IL 60605) in two performances: Saturday, February 29, 2020 at 2pm and Saturday, February 29, 2020 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available online from The Auditorium Theatre. For more information, you can reach The Auditorium Theatre at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 312.341.2310.