Mark Howard’s chicago-based Trinity Irish Dance Company, recently at the New Victory, springs from a school – a school that, as the program notes announce proudly, has won step-dancing competitions even in Dublin. (The notes also claim that Riverdance and its spin-offs owe much to Howard, which is an issue to ponder.) The company, while slickly professional, retains something of the show-offy, challenging air of competition dancing, which can’t afford to indulge in subtle allurements, and some of the gaucheness of amateur work. The lack of sophistication is most apparent in the look and demeanor of the young women who dominate the roster. (There are only two guys.) All muscular fleshiness, harsh makeup, and lusty cheerleader attitude, they’re paradigms of the American Mall Girl. A phalanx of these corn-fed Amazons advancing on you again and again, stabbing the floor with heel and toe and flashing their bright fixed smiles, inspires – well, a certain fear.
The comparatively short program the troupe presented at the New Victory consisted of unrelated “numbers,” each with its own little gimmick – the effect being that of a variety show. Within this kaleidoscopic array, there are attempts at comedy, at wit, and (most successfully) at lusty, intricate teamwork – but, tellingly, never at romance. And as in a variety show, the material is designed for the hard sell. Given their generally overstimulated existence, the many children in the New Victory audience may have been unfazed by the loud, garish bombardment and the unrelenting insistence upon surface effects; I felt assaulted.
In the name of “progressive Irish dance,” Howard takes many liberties with the original form, some of which are reasonable, some ill-advised. The winding and weaving elaborations on simple geometric stage patterning provide variety without traducing the form. Semaphoring arm movements, however, distract ruinously from step dancing’s dazzling knee-to-toe action. The most creative departure from tradition was achieved by Seán Curran (a postmodern dancer and choreographer with a background in step dancing). His Curran Event co-opts related rhythmic forms like body percussion to create patterns intricate enough to keep the eye alert and the pulse throbbing in response.
A four-man combo offered live music. These days, extra points are awarded for that.