By CB Adams

In a culturally enriching evening that seamlessly melded tradition and innovation, Trinity Irish Dance Company delivered a performance of depth and resonance in St. Louis at the Touhill, presented by Dance St. Louis under the guidance of Michael Uthoff, its artistic director and unerring cultural curator.

Let’s dispense, from the get-go, the obvious association that, if you’re anything like me, you might make when you see the words “Irish dance.” You immediately think of That Other, perhaps more well-known, dance company. No need to drop that name.

Having attended both, I much prefer Trinity. That’s to throw no shade on that other group. Both draw inspiration from traditional Irish step dancing that has been performed for hundreds of years. Choosing one over the other would be to provide short shrift to the genre and would ignore the fact that some of the same dancers have performed in both.

It would be like choosing a favorite among your children, or comparing The Pogues with The Chieftains (or U2 with the Joanie Madden or the Boomtown Rats, for that matter) or “The Commitments” with “My Left Foot.” So choose your vibe.

Abi Graham-Luke, Ali Doughty, Anna Gorman, Kelsey Parry, Michael Fleck; Trinity Irish Dance Company, 2020

Given the option, I would choose Trinity, even though both present Irish dance at its most skilled – agile footwork, stiffened with formality from the waist up with synchronized precision while transitioning from lines to circles to  diamonds. And for the record, I own albums from all of the musicians listed above and love both of those movies.

Trinity distinguishes itself in several ways. The performance is modernized with theatrical lighting effects and features an onstage band that accompanies the dancers with wonderful musical selections and music-only interludes.

The band was composed of Brendan O’Shea, the composer on guitar and vocals, Jake James on fiddle and bodhran, Christopher Devlin on guitar and vocals and Steven Rutledge on percussion. One of the musical highlights was a folk-based “Listen,” by O’Shea is delightful. Another was the fiddle work of James, who performed an intriguing “duet” with a fairy-like dancer (not identified in the program).

Trinity’s contemporary approach results in dance pieces that are awe-inspiring. Helmed by founding artistic director and choreographer Mark Howard, collaborating with associate artistic director and co-choreographer, Chelsea Hoy, this pioneering company has been innovating for more than 30 years. The company celebrates individuals, especially the women in the mostly female company that are bringing dynamic works to life with incomparable style.

The program of 13 pieces included a diverse repertoire that showcased the evolution of Irish dance. The performance, choreographed by artistic director Mark Howard, artfully blended traditional elements with contemporary influences. The audience was keyed into Trinity’s unique approach at the beginning of the evening as a spectral voice-over expresses a desire to break free from the constraints of rules, conformity and over-produced formulas.

Trinity’s dancers demonstrated remarkable technical skill and emotional depth throughout the evening, from the rhythmic intensity of “Soles” to the poignant storytelling of “Thank You for Hearing Me,” and from the hopeful optimism of “A New Dawn” to the mysterious allure of “Black Rose.” Each piece offered a unique perspective on the beauty and complexity of Irish dance.

The dynamic energy of “Sparks” and the meditative grace of “Communion” were complemented by the introspective exploration of “Listen” and the nostalgic resonance of “Johnny.” The spirited vitality of “Push” and the modern reinterpretation of “American Traffic” added layers of depth and dimension to the evening’s program. The performance culminated with the triumphant finale of “An Sorcas,” aka “The Circus” – an effective bookend to the opening piece, “Tokyo.”

It’s hard to choose among the 13 pieces to highlight one that stood out among the others. One of my personal favorites was “Johnny,” a piece Howard created for “The Tonight Show” in 1991. I also marveled at “Communion,” a piece created by Howard with Sandy Silva in 2014.

The dancers perform barefoot, blending Irish dance with body percussion reminiscent of African American stepping. In “Push,” an exhilarating series of solos, they demonstrate their ability to push the boundaries of technique, multiplying heel clicks in the air to create a sound reminiscent of the break at the start of a pool game.

Dance St. Louis is one of the oldest and one of only four nonprofit dance presenters in the country and is focused on fostering a vibrant dance community. Reflecting on the organization’s mission, Uthoff has said, “At Dance St. Louis, we strive to bring diverse and innovative dance experiences to St. Louis, enriching our community with a range of perspectives and styles.”

Mission accomplished – again – with the presentation of Trinity Irish Dance Company. Through their artistry and innovation, they brought the richness and vibrancy of Irish dance to life in a way that resonated deeply with all who were fortunate enough to witness it. Next up is Ailey II on March 1-2, also at the Touhill.

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