Exotic Ireland takes the lead in culture showcase

New Yorkers feel like we've seen it all. Life in the city is a constant hunt for the new or the strange. And that's what Cultúr Éireann gave us at the Irish Arts Center's showcase two weekends ago.

With the world at our fingertips--and not to mention scores of facade-Irish mish mosh acts slogging away here already--when performers come out to entertain us, we're hoping for something exotic, something that you can only get from Ireland, something deep.

Same goes for tourists. The recent Lonely Planet review of Ireland describes "a land of motorways and multiculturalism" and laments the loss of "traditional culture" but what they mean is the loss of something uniquely Irish to make the trip to Ireland more interesting than one elsewhere. You can read about it here.

Cultúr Éireann did great in repping Ireland well, under the directorship of Eugene Downes. Arts Council Ireland - An Chom. Ealaíon put money into presenting to New York and beyond an exotic Ireland, one rooted in the arts tradition where high art and folk art are cuir trí chéile, highbrow, lowbrow, Irish nobrow, with that not quite conquerable otherness of the performers holding a deeper understanding of something maybe more precious than what we in the audience of New York don't have and long for. Give us something like Cindy Adams says "only in Ireland, folks, only in Ireland" but way deeper than Cindy Adams could ever be.

The knock-outs of the Sunday showcase I saw were many more than I can write about now, but I want to especially mention the effects that Iarla Ó Lionáird, John Spillane, Brendan Begley, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and the duet sung of the English songwriter Richard Thompson's Bee's Wings by Lisa Butler and Colm Ó Caoimh had on me.

Ó Lionáird was a riot. It was surreal how he took the black box Irish Arts Center theater and found just that touch that had us all in stitches as he apologized for singing to us the opera of our tradition--samplings from from the sean-nós song ceremony. Such singing by a master like Ó Lionáird is utterly cosmic to a New Yorker's mind where no such thing is to be found here normally.

Minimal and tasteful use of projected imagery and Irish words on the backdrop while Ó Lionáird sings might take away from the focused effect his singular voice has on us all in the pitch dark.



John Spillane is absolutely inspired and his performance took me away to another world completely. His performance was transporting--"in a carriage of music"--and he did it with words and with voice and guitar. Spillane is a treasure.

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