Irish Dancing Magazine: Darrah Does It Again

Irish Dancing Magazine
August, 2005

“Darrah Does It Again”
By Bridget English

Darrah Carr’s latest project, ModERIN, is taking New York by storm.  IDM staffer, Bridget English, spoke to her to find out how she made it in a highly competitive world by reinventing the traditions of Irish music and dance.

The world of Irish dancing is highly competitive to say the least and success at any level requires hours of practice and self-discipline.  After years of training and sacrificing, what kind of promise does the future have in store for these young athletes?  A World Champion medal at age 15 or 16 and then what?  How does that love of dance and music translate into the "real world?”  Dancer, teacher, choreographer, and writer Darrah Carr, has found a way to make a career of Irish dance.  Carr’s company, Darrah Carr Dance, successfully blends Irish with modern dance, incorporating elements of jazz, tap and ballet, and has received rave reviews, most notably from The New York Times.  Despite her success, Ms. Carr remains remarkably humble and down to earth, though her resume boasts credits most dancers would die for.  But, that’s not all.  Carr also holds an MFA in dance from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, proving that one need not give up college dreams in order to become a dancer.  Her story is an inspiration for those who would like to pursue careers in dance and gives the rest of us a chance to get to know one of the many artists who are shaping the future of professional Irish dancing.

It’s approximately 5:30pm on a Monday night in the heart of New York City’s famed Greenwich Village.  Inside the elegant townhouse that is NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House, all is quiet.  Dressed casually in her characteristically black ensemble, her long, auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail, Darrah Carr is shuffling through a pile of CDs.  Seemingly unable to find the exact song she is looking for, Darrah remains unfazed.  She turns to a group of 5 young ladies.  “Well, what steps would you like to work on tonight?” she smiles amiably.  With such a relaxed atmosphere, one would hardly be able to guess at Ms. Carr’s list of accomplishments or at the varied schedule that she does an amazing job of managing.  When she’s not choreographing a new dance, practicing with her troupe, writing articles, giving lectures on the history of Irish dance, or performing at one festival or another, Darrah can be found anywhere from NYU to Hofstra University, to MJ Armstrongs Irish pub, teaching classes to college students and kids from the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance. 

A Toledo, Ohio native, Darrah won her regional Irish dance championship at age eleven and placed as a finalist at the World Championships in Ireland every year through age sixteen.  She not only holds an MFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, but she also graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wesleyan University.  While hardly living a glamourous existence, Darrah has managed to carve out a niche for herself in the cutthroat New York performing arts scene, while maintaining her integrity, and, more importantly, her sense of humor. 

The life of a performing artist is never easy, requiring long hours and much hard work and sacrifice.  Yet, Darrah has found the time to make it work while maintaining an amazingly upbeat and calm demeanor.  She is a person who is clearly doing what she loves.  In between all the dancing and teaching, Darrah finds time to pursue her interest in writing and Irish history.  She is a frequent contributor to other dance publications and has conducted extensive research on the history of Irish dance, presenting her findings before the Congress on Research in Dance.  She and her dance partner, Niall O’Leary, were recently named two of the “Top 100 Irish Americans of the Year” by Irish America Magazine.

Still, you might talk to Darrah for hours and never get any idea of any of this.  She’s a person who clearly enjoys life and takes time out for the simple things, whether it’s sharing pizza with one of her dance classes, hosting an impromptu performance with her college age group at a local Irish pub, or sticking around for as long as half an hour after class to go over one step a final time.  Her classes are unstructured and laid-back, open to any creative changes that may take place.

In addition to all the above achievements, there is Darrah Carr Danceitself.  The New York Times raves, “Ms. Carr’s immensely likable and skillful dancers moved through all eight works with a space-gobbling buoyancy and openness.”  This description is intriguing, but still leaves a person wondering what to expect from the performance.  Will it be like Riverdance with lots of lights and glitter, oiled chests and flashy footwork?  How can something as traditional and regimented as Irish dance possibly mix with minimalist costumes and often strange modern dance choreographies?

Watching a performance will convert any skeptic who doubts the compatibility of modern with Irish.  The pieces performed by the company borrow from jazz, ballet and tap, resulting in a glorious melange of sound and movement that’s breathtaking.  With no rhinestone or glitter balls in sight, the simplicity of the costumes and effortlessness of the dancers awe and inspire.  Without the visual distractions, the audience is forced to focus on the dancers alone; their feet and movements.

As choreographer and Artistic Director, Darrah seamlessly blends the dance in ways that are both insightful and illuminating.  One gets a sense of the deep and multilayered history of Ireland, fused with the many influences the modern world has had upon it.  Behind the New York based, all-female troupe is Carr herself, who not only directs, but also dances in most of the troupe pieces.  This is where Darrah’s talent truly shines; her choreogaphies take Irish steps beyond the boundaries imposed by the more traditional forms, but never leave tradition so far behind that it’s lost completely.  To watch these performances is to see Irish dance in a whole new way, and in this way, Darrah explores the new without losing touch with the traditions that made her fall in love with dance in the first place.

Darrah Carr Dance will further explore the Irish/modern dance dynamic this fall, with the launch of ModERIN dance classes.  Frustrated by the strict boundaries of Irish dance, which forbid moment of the upper body, Darrah is particularly passionate about the ModERIN concept.  Carr believes the patterns of Irish dance give structure to the freedom of movement, which characterizes modern dance.  The ModERIN dancer has the flexibility to move both upper and lower body while borrowing the spatial patterns, footwork, and music that Irish dance is so famous for.  ModERIN is a combination of the best of both traditions, essentially creating a new language of movement from two distinct vocabularies of dance.  The use of Irish dance in combination with modern adds a historical component into the mix, one which Darrah hopes will give her the opportunity to introduce a bit of Irish history and mythology to students and audiences who may not be so familiar with the country’s rich past.

The ModERIN concept is certainly intriguing and with the dynamic Darrah Carr Dance troupe behind it, it’s sure to challenge and inspire.  The classes, which start in the fall of 2005 will be held at the company's new space at 445 Grand Street in Williamsburg.  Darrah plans on teaching as well as dancing with the company.  The new project should keep her busy, although she’s likely to continue writing, lecturing, and teaching a few steps on the side.  Darrah continues to challenge the public conception of dance in a tasteful and original way, that demonstrates just how far the love of Irish dance can take a person.

Darrah Carr