There are probably some who might relish more familiar Christmas carols (Irish or English) as part of this presentation, but those can be found in other seasonal shows as this one chooses to plow a more universal path.
So as in the prior two years, Filipino artist Grace Nono gives us chants from an ancient indigenous region of the Philippines, and songstress Tamar Korn equally fetching in the jazz idiom or Yiddish. They both in multicultural fashion exhibit the fun of having variety in the vein of “party pieces” at an Irish Christmas gathering.
Recitations are also fondly remembered as party pieces, and MacDara Vallely gave a beautiful rendering of poet Patrick Kavanagh’s “A Childhood Christmas” in most dramatic fashion.
We were also treated to some new songs from the versatile Liz Hanley from Boston, who has collaborated with Moloney for a number of years through the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra and other shows.
“The Carol of the Birds” and a chilling song about Jack Frost that the Watersons recorded were new to these ears. And Hanley’s fiddle work in tandem with Athena Tergis all night gave added depth to the lively Irish dance tunes.
Tergis’ composition, “Lullaby for Haiti,” where she and her family have gone for a number of years to be among the disadvantaged people there, was tastefully matched with the Irish tune “Planxty Loftus Jones” made popular by the Irish Tradition, a trail-blazing band that Billy McComiskey formed in the Washington, D.C. area almost 40 years ago.
Of special note and a delight to the audience were the dance moves that Niall O’Leary and Wayne Daniels (from British Guyana) exhibited in the show. The added acreage on stage gave more room for O’Leary’s percussive Irish stepdancing and, in particular, his Brush dance routine.
Daniels was discovered as part of the exploration of Moloney and another academic dance historian and performer, Lennie Sloan, in their joint field work on the connections between the Irish and black communities in this country. He performed a dance routine to “Silent Night” and other choreography from his own fusion of influences in his own dance career. Their syncopated footwork and handwork of O’Leary and Daniels in tandem towards the end brought instant applause.
It was another masterful performance that elicited a standing ovation as the show drew to a close and left many who will likely return again next year adding this show to their own holiday traditions.
There are four more performances of An Irish Christmas at the Irish Arts Center this weekend (www.irishartscenter.org) from Thursday to Saturday but they are virtually sold out. Perhaps seats will emerge somehow so check their box office.
If you can’t make it to a live show there are two excellent opportunities to catch the spirit and magic of the show. The Sunday night Symphony Space performance was recorded for airing on WFUV (available on www.wfuv.org) this weekend on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon as part of A Thousand Welcomes hosted by Kathleen Biggins, and on Sunday afternoon from 2-4 p.m. for the last half of Ceol na nGael on 90.7 FM. Or you can order the live CD recorded from the show two years ago from the center.
The money raised at the Sunday night fundraiser will be added to the significant amount already amassed by the Irish Arts Center in its soon to be realized quest for a new home in the rapidly developing Clinton neighborhood in Manhattan.
They are two-thirds of the way towards the $50 million project which they hope will get underway this time next year according to Connolly, and finish in 2016.
Exercise in outreach and the inspiration garnered from partners like Symphony Space will be invaluable as they build their new center and seek to establish a more permanent and viable operation to foster the continuing celebration of the Irish Arts in the Big Apple.
Their first 40 years have had many remarkable achievements and contributions to Irish culture in New York City, but the best is yet to come.