The Dance Insider: “Passage” Through Irish Step and Modern Traversing the Darkness and the Light with Darrah Carr Dance

The Dance Insider
Flash Review 3-14-02

“Passage” Through Irish Step and Modern Traversing the Darkness and the Light with Darrah Carr Dance
By Vanessa Manko

New York--When one thinks of a blend of traditional Irish step and modern dance, thoughts of Riverdance might come to mind.  But, far from this rather gaudy appropriation of an Irish tradition, polished up for consumption on the Broadway stage, is something quite the opposite on the smaller stages of the New York dance scene.  And that something is being realized in the work of Darrah Carr Dance, whose latest creation, “Passage,” had its premiere at Brooklyn's Williamsburg Art NeXus last weekend.

“Passage” is dance synchronism at its best, merging two wholly different styles: modern dance and traditional Irish step dance.  Carr has taken her background in both and seamlessly woven the two genres together for what amounts to a refreshing new work.  Equal parts gravity and joy, “Passage” stems from the traditional Irish song cycle of goltrai (sad songs), geantrai (happy songs), and suantrai (sleep songs).  Carr ably translates-in dance form-the melancholia inherent in goltrai with deep, repeating grand plies and arms that wrap tightly around the neck, while the more whimsical spirit of geantrai is conveyed through buoyant jumps and the fancy footwork of step dance.  But, this work also focuses on the passing on of traditions, particularly the Irish tradition of keening to mourn the dead and mouth music, as the program notes explain.  Indeed, there is a great sense of “passage” in this work, whether it is the passing on of tradition, or the moving sense of passage, of struggling toward an end, or embarking on a journey.  And while this piece also moves one through extremes of emotion, it does so subtly, with dancers gently switching moods-a feat aided, no doubt, by Eduardo Castillo’s nicely structured musical melange of keens, mouth music, and even one cameo from Irish rockers U2.

The work opens quietly.  Two dancers emerge from the wings with arms held tightly round their necks--a recurring movement motif through the dance.  One performer descends into a slow, deep grand plie as, one by one, others appear and make a slow ascent on the diagonal upstage.  Some extend into lunges while others roll on the floor, until  mass of bodies serenely forges onward. There is ritualistic aspect to the piece-particularly in the opening segment in which, having traveled upstage, the women align themselves in an ascending arc.  Some squat, some kneel, a few stand and one dancer arches her torso back and up.  It’s a peaceful moment in the work.  Another signature in “Passage” is a repeated flourish of the arms.  Dancers fiercely throw their arms above their heads only to allow them to float softly back down as if speaking in gestures and politely taking back what they had intended to say.

For every more contemplative, pensive sequence in “Passage,” there were swift-moving, jubilant, almost rejoining dancing segments complete with grand sweeping movements, perfectly timed canons (there’s always something innately pleasurable about watching cannons), and, of course, the intricate and quixotic footwork of step dance.  Particularly interesting is that the step dancing does not seem out of place here.  Rather, it is an extension of the rest of the choreography.  For instance, as the women prance and point their feet in one long line, breaking off into groups of four, then two, then one, suddenly the step dancing has morphed into more generalized dancing.  They skitter off into flirtatious little  jumps as arms curve delicately above their heads.  The dance ends on a more somber, but powerful note.  With backs turned to the audience, the women form a staggered group and sway back and forth, slowly breaking off into a diagonal formation like the one that began the evening.

Carr’s dancers, Allyson Arena, Amanda Tate Calllahan, Victoria Gochenour, Kristina Kirkenaer, Jennifer McDaniel, Kerri Stilwell, TaraMarie Perri, Cara Surico, Jocelyn Tobias, and Isadora Wolfe, moved with grace and aplomb throughout.  In addition, the soloists, particularly in the step dancing segments, displayed dexterity and nimbleness.  Cindy Capraro’s costumes, leotards, and skirts of deep blues and purples, added to the dreamy serene tone of the work.

“Passage” was not the only work on the bill that night.  And, had it not been for a migraine, I would have gladly stayed to see what else Carr had to offer.  If the works were anything like “Passage,” I would surely not have been disappointed.

Darrah Carr