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Riverdance star Jean Butler revisits Irish dance

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Jean Butler may have put her ghillies to rest in 2010, but the Riverdance lead lady's mark on the Irish dance world won't be fading any time soon.


On Jan. 7, Butler allowed a small audience at Douglas Dunn studio in Manhattan a peek at her recent dance project, "Hurry the Jug," named for the Irish set dance she performed as a child. And while the traditional tune is the stem of her inspiration, the movements she displayed in her acappella performance of the work-in-progress were a far cry from the rigid motions synonymous with step dancing.

"I found myself revisiting the lexicon of my traditional form with newfound curiosity and inspiration," Butler said.

In 1994, Butler gracefully floated across the Riverdance stage, and in 2010 decided to put Irish dance aside to concentrate on contemporary dance. 2012, it seems, represents an intersection of dance forms.

Butler began her silent performance by stomping in a figure-eight pattern, repeatedly, across the bare studio floor. At moments, her arms would flail energetically -- yet fluidly -- beyond an Irish dancer's typical range of motion. Then, almost completely still, kneeling on the floor, her head ticked to one side robotically, as if her entire body was recharging between lively, robust segments of the dance.

Though the her motions were not overtly Irish dance-inspired, the rhythm of Butler's feet and the geometric floor patterns she created hinted at her entire lifetime of traditional step and ceili dancing. She explained that her hands sometimes took the place of her feet, "kicking" sharply as a traditional Irish dancer's leg might.

"It is directly related to Irish dance," she said.

"I specifically chose different [Irish dance] tunes," Butler said, admitting that she actually choreographed the dance to "Planxty Davis," another traditional Irish set tune. "This is all going on in my head."

Butler knows her influences -- she's studied them, evaluated everything about dance and expression to get to this point in her professional dance career -- but she doesn't want to put thoughts in the minds of viewers.

"I'm trying experience something [on stage]," she said. "I want it to spark the audience's imagination."

And, she said, the outside world will have a chance to interpret her latest choreographed creation when "Hurry the Jug," the full-length performance with original score, premieres in the spring.

Here's a look back at Butler's early dancing days when she performed alongside the Chieftans in 1991:

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