Reel Swing puts a jazzy spin on traditional Irish dance
By: S.J. Velasquez | Published Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 12:00 PM | Updated Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 12:00 PM
While Irish dance is evolving with each passing day, one dancer-choreographer is bringing Irish dance back a handful of decades and exploring a pivotal period in Irish-American history.
Reel Swing, choreographed and directed by Dervla McGee, is a throwback to America in the 1950s, told through the lens of the Irish immigrants who brought with them to the states a love of lively music and rhythmic dance, and a willingness to embrace cultural fusion in a new country.
The choice to highlight the swing era was easy for McGee, whose grandfather was a diehard Rat Pack fan. She was intrigued by the "looseness" of swing music, paired with the rigid movement in Irish dance. But Reel Swing, she said, "celebrates and showcases both traditions in their own right as well as creating a unique fusion of both genres."
Having toured with Riverdance and Ragus, McGee said Reel Swing is a much smaller-scale production, and that's intentional. "The intimacy and energy of the show, together with the sincerity of the storyline, allows the audience to sympathize, engage and perhaps identify with the various characters as the show unfolds," she said. And unlike the established shows with which she's toured, McGee sought to introduce a fluid call-and-answer element to Reel Swing -- a style of performance she didn't know she was capable of dancing or choreographing until studying Irish dance and music at the University of Limerick.
Upon entering the university program, McGee said guest instructor Colin Dunne helped her try new movements and approach Irish dance in an out-of-the-box manner. "I had to loosen up, to shake the feis dancing out of me," she said. "He gave me the confidence to let my feet to what I thought I couldn't do." That sort of encouragement spurred a curiosity in McGee that led her to turn a class project into a bull-blown dance show.
McGee plans to continue developing and tweaking Reel Swing while performing for audiences in Dublin and Dundalk, her hometown in Ireland. If all goes as planned and all the financial pieces fall into place, she'd like to take the show on the road -- maybe even over the pond to New York, the epicenter of America's swingin' past.
Wan to learn more about Reel Swing? Visit the show's Facebook page and enjoy the promo video below.
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