The second annual Big Apple Feis hosted over 1,000 Irish dancers, musicians, teachers, adjudicators, family and friends at The Hilton New York this past weekend. The March 13 Gala Ball honored Paul F. Thiele, Mark Howard and George C. Heslin in the hotel's Mercury Ballroom. The Gala was chaired by Unateresa Gormley, T.C.R.G., the Founder of The Big Apple Feis Performing Arts Presenters; Gerard Carson, T.C.R.G.; and Loretta Thiele, whose husband Paul F. Thiele was a big supporter of Irish cultural organizations and events throughout his lifetime. Several scholarships were awarded to winners in the Irish dance competitions in his memory.
Despite Friday's rainy weather and difficulty with transportation, crowds gathered for a fun and highly entertaining evening to cheer on entrants in the first Big Apple Irish Idol Competition and the first Big Apple Irish Bachelor & Bachelorette of the Year Competition. Judged by Actor Sean Maguire (Meet the Spartans), Loretta Thiele and Erin Kennedy, T.C.R.G., it was a unanimous winner for the Big Apple Irish Idol: Norah Tyburczy. Norah went on to give an encore performance at the Saturday night Gala. The brother and sister duo, Michael Josephson and Sheila Josephson were crowned Big Apple Irish Bachelor and Bachelorette, respectively. Competing against over a dozen bachelors from the tri-state area and even Georgia, Canada and Sweden, Michael captured the attention of both the judges and the audience with his personality and charm.
Saturday night's Big Apple Feis Gala opened with an excerpt from a play from the Origin Theatre Company's Artistic Director George C. Heslin entitled Great White American Teeth, performed by Fiona Walsh, who had the crowd laughing from beginning to end. Ann Design graciously and comically served as the evening's impromptu emcee. The play was followed by performances by dancers Kelly Dalton and Daniel Ferhenbach of The Trinity Academy of Irish Dance; Grainne Murphy on the fiddle, and Anna Colliton on the bodhran. Music during the dinner dance was provided by the all-female Irish traditional band Girsa (pictured). The six multi-talented members of the band were a huge hit with the crowd and even got some of the adjudicators onto the floor for a few ceili dances.
The Gala honored two artists who have made significant contributions in their respective disciplines and have furthered Irish culture in the U.S. and abroad: Mark Howard; the Founding Artistic Director of the critically acclaimed Trinity Irish Dance Company and the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance; and George C. Heslin; the Founding Artistic Director of the Origin Theatre Company and 1st Irish, the first Irish theatre festival in New York.
Scholarships in the amount of $500 were awarded to the top winners in the Girls Open Championship Competitions to Codie Shiels (Doherty School of Irish Dance, Belfast); Kelly McCourt (McDade-Cara School, PA); and Fiona Bradley (Gray-Gillan-Owens School, CT). Conor Regan (Inishfree School, NY) was awarded a $500 scholarship in the Open Boys Championship Competition. The Inishfree School of Irish Dance was the recipient of a $1000 scholarship for being the school with the most entries in the feis. Alesandra "Ali" Doughty (McDade-Cara School, PA) was crowned the overall Champion of the Sunday Dance-Off Competition.
Other events during the feis weekend included a Breton Dance workshop given by BZH New York; a reading by popular children's author Brenna Briggs of The Liffey Rivers Irish Dancer Mysteries; and a Fashion Show. Morgan Murray, Kristin Grant, Angelina Glick and Kian Paliani were the recipients of $50 scholarships for their notable Irish dancing costumes.
About The Big Apple Feis
The Big Apple Feis was founded by Chairpersons Unateresa Gormley, T.C.R.G., and Gerard Carson, T.C.R.G., of Belfast, Northern Ireland; a Five-Time All-Ireland and Five-Time World Champion Irish dancer. The first Big Apple Feis, held in 2009, attracted over 1500 dancers and world class adjudicators. It was the first feis to take place in Manhattan in 25 years.
About Paul F. Thiele
In the 1940s, Paul Thiele founded The Thiele Kaolin Company in Sandersville, Georgia. The company holds one of the world's largest reserves of kaolin, a clay used in ceramics and as a filler or coating for paper and textiles. Mr. Thiele served as Chairman of the Board and C.E.O. of the company from 1980 until his death in 2007. His award will be accepted posthumously by his wife Loretta, who is the Chair of the event. It was Mr. Thiele's love of Irish arts and culture and his lifetime contributions to Irish charities and organizations that we will honor at the Gala.
About Mark Howard
Born in Yorkshire, England and raised in Chicago, Mark Howard began his dancing career at the age of nine at Chicago's Dennehy School of Irish Dance. Becoming a North American champion Irish dancer himself, he launched the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance (www.trinity-dancers.com) at age 17. Experiencing great success, the school won an unprecedented 22 World Championship titles for the United States - the first when Howard was only 25. Twenty-one years since its inception, the Trinity Academy has grown from a dozen students practicing in a church basement, to the largest Irish dance program in the world. Intent on preserving the legacy of Irish dance and providing a creative outlet and professional livelihood for dancers, Howard formed the Trinity Irish Dance Company and later Trinity II and has twice been honored as one of the Top 100 Irish Americans of the Year by Irish America magazine for his innovative work in Irish dance.
About George C. Heslin
George C. Heslin is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Origin Theatre Company, (www.origintheatre.org); a not-for-profit cross-cultural group that is dedicated to the cultivation, development, and interpretation of new and emerging European playwrights and does so by offering New York audiences American premieres of their work. He is also the Founder of 1st Irish, an annual festival of Irish theatre taking place across New York.
Girsa (www.girsamusic.com) is an all-female traditional Irish band that hails from Pearl River, NY. Their name means "young girls" in Irish. The girls grew up in the Irish tradition, dancing and playing music for as long as they can remember.
For more information, please visit www.bigapplefeis.com. Photographs are available at www.hoppart.com.
Big Apple Feis
Unateresa Gormley, T.C.R.G.