Irish American News: Darrah Carr Seeks to Shake Up Irish Dance Conventions

Irish American News
August, 2005

“Darrah Carr Seeks to Shake Up Irish Dance Conventions”
By Colleen English

The rhythmic treble of tap shoes cuts through the silence of the dark stage.  Gradually two dancers’ shadows become distinguishable in the blackness.  As “Melange 445” continues, the dancers sit stiffly on large boxes in black evening gowns and move their arms and legs in a jerky, deliberate fashion that is reminiscent of marionettes, to the music of the French Canadian group La Bottine Souriante.  Little about this choreography recalls traditional Irish dance with its stiff upper body and intricate footwork.

But, there is an undercurrent of Irish step dance running through the piece that is visually suggested by the kelly-green carnations worn by the dancers and heard in the rhythmic beats of the music and the dancers’ feet.  With a repertory that includes music from such varied sources as Appalachia and Japan, there remains something distinctively Irish about Darrah Carr’s all-female troupe.  Carr seeks to change the way that Irish dancing is performed and taught with ModERIN, a school designed around Darrah Carr Dance’s unique combination of Irish and modern dance.

The impact the modern wold has had on the centuries-old tradition of Irish step dance is evident in Darrah Carr Dance.  The all-female troupe’s blend of Irish and modern dance has won praise from The New York TimesThe Village Voice and The Dance Insider, among others.  In the fall, Darrah Carr Dance will begin offering classes to students of all ages and at all levels of experience.  The program, called ModERIN will be based in Brooklyn.  The classes will feature the same type of fusion of modern and Irish dancing exhibited by Darrah Carr Dance in performance.  Dance steps will be taught in “blended combinations” of modern and Irish and will eventually lead into choreographed pieces.  Young students ranging in age from 8-14 who exhibit talent will be groomed for DCWee (Darrah Carr Wee), a junior dance company.  DCWee will perform with Darrah Carr Dance at festivals and educational events and will serve as a prelude to the professional company.

Behind this project, through which Carr hopes to bring together the fancy footwork of Irish dance and the creative freedom of modern dance, is company founder Darrah Carr.  Raised in Toledo, Ohio, the Irish-American Carr attended the Tim O’Hare School of Irish Dance from the age of six, earning high rankings both nationally and at the World Championships in Ireland.  Concurrently, Darrah was studying ballet and, in college, modern dance.  But, she never forgot her heritage and kept coming back to Irish step dance.  After receiving an MFA in Choreography from New York University’s highly regarded Tisch School of the Arts, she went on to form Darrah Carr Dance.  As well as being the Artistic Director and choreographer for the company, Carr has also been teaching Irish step dancing throughout New York City for the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance.  She was the assistant choreographer to Sean Curran for the Tony-award winning musical ”James Joyce's ‘The Dead.’”Carr and her partner, Niall O’Leary were recently listed among the “Top 100 Irish Americans of the Year” by Irish America Magazine.

Carr's experiences in the world of competitive Irish dance have had a significant impact on her artistic vision.  The competitive Irish dance scene is cutthroat, breeding dancers with high skill level and near perfect execution of the steps.  Unfortunately, this intensely competitive environment leaves little room for improvisation or freedom of expression.  Carr says she feels the rigid atmosphere can “stifle creativity, spontaneity and a dancer’s ability to improvise a step or to conceive of an alternative relationship to the music.”

Mixing in the element of modern dance, Carr feels adds a dimension of flexibility that is able to unbind the constriction of Irish dance.  Adding modern dance sensibilities to Irish dance opens up the upper body, which in traditional Irish dance must remain rigid.  This new structural freedom allows the dancers to slide underneath and spin around each other.  The result is a style full of the explosive footwork that characterizes Irish dance but with the fluidity and emotion that can be conveyed by modern dance.

It is also worth noting that Carr’s take on dance manages to preserve some Irish American traditions.  In the piece “Rince Na Spuineogai,” her dance partner, Niall O’Leary, plays the Irish spoons.  Another piece,”Passage,” features traditional Irish mouth music.  Both spoon-playing and mouth music were popularized by Irish immigrants to America who couldn’t afford instruments on which to play their music and so improvised with the materials at hand.

This fusion between modern and Irish dance is the blending together of two disciplines, resulting in an entirely new dance style.  Carr emphasizes that the term ModERIN is “a choreographic principle” and not just a clever play on words.  The name of the dance school also suggests that the classes will not only share this enchanting style of dance with New Yorkers, but that a little bit of Irish culture will be preserved in the process.

For more information about ModERIN or Darrah Carr Dance, log onto:

Darrah Carr