Professional Irish dancer Ciara Sexton is the lead choreographer on "Fáinne Óir," the new creation from Irish composer Kathy Fahey.
The history of the Irish famine is to be told like never before in a new show showcasing some of Irish culture's best female talent in composer Kathy Fahey and professional Irish dancer Ciara Sexton.
Tickets are now on sale for the premiere of “Fáinne Óir,” an original music and dance experience based on the Irish Great Hunger which is set to take over New York’s Peter Norton Symphony Space Theater on Broadway on Thursday, September 26, 2019.
A love story set in the time of the Irish famine, the new spectacle is the creation of Mayo composer Fahey, who was inspired by the resilience and community spirit of the Irish during the Great Hunger to tell the story of fictional family the O'Malleys, centered around a tale of young love in a time of great despair.
"She takes you on this emotional journey," explains Ciara Sexton, the professional Irish dancer who Fahey has taken on board to choreograph her music.
"First and foremost, for me, this is Irish dance like you've never seen it before. But also, this isn't your typical dance show. We are presenting everything in such a different way. I think that's worth the ticket price alone. It's going to be so different and so special and we're so excited."
The pair met through meetings for another show and the creative connection between them was immediate. Despite never having seen Sexton dance, Fahey asked her to take the lead on choreography for a new show she'd developed and the dancer was eager to strike up a new female composer-choreographer partnership.
"You know when you just meet someone and you share the energy?" Sexton says.
"In our line of work, meeting a female composer is different for me. And for female choreographers in Irish dance, there aren't too many in the industry.
"She started telling me about the story set in the famine times. It's quite dark, which is great for me because I'm used to commercial Irish dance, which is happy from the beginning. I'm always in family shows. So this is great to portray that other side of Irish dance.
"When she asked me to take the reins on this urban, contemporary, barefoot Irish dance I have been exploring for about ten years, I just thought, 'This is amazing.'
"And it's time for it. It's time for a female creative team."
With Riverdance star Sexton taking the lead on dance, she will be supported by some of New York’s best Irish and contemporary dancers, while the set and lighting design is inspired by the paintings of Achill-based Dublin artist Padraig McCaul, who is working on a set of original paintings depicting the “Fáinne Óir” story.
The show tells the story of the O’Malleys, an Irish family living in the townland of Glanageeha in West Mayo during the Famine, between the years of 1845 and 1848, documenting a tale of young love, between Saoirse, the oldest O’Malley daughter, and farmhand Diarmuid.
As the destructive potato blight hits Ireland, audiences are taken on a journey through music and dance as Diarmuid promises to protect his true love forever – even in the face of emigration to America and a new life in New York City.
"There are outrageous highs and devastating lows," Sexton says of the Fahey's score.
"I can only hope to complement them through the choreography.
"We do have minimal props to help us convey our messages but for the most part, we will have one costume. It's very Broadway; one costume, minimal scene change and it's all the emotion we'll leave out on stage."
Before reaching New York, Fáinne Óir will first premiere in Mayo and with casting now coming to a close and music, dance and story to begin to come together for the first time, it's being to hit home for Sexton the enormity of how this will be a story about the Irish famine like no other.
"It's dark, it's very dark, there are two funerals," she explains.
"It's why it's so special.
"It's dark and there's a 47-piece orchestra that will be in front of the stage. They will not be hidden so they are as much of this show as the dancers, as are the 13 singers.
"Even that dynamic, everything about the show is different for me as a dancer coming in and as a choreographer and a director so I actually can't wait to get everyone in the rehearsal room."
While Canadian musical “Summer of Sorrows” has already reached audiences there with the story of the Famine Irish on Grosse Isle quarantine station, and last year's movie "Black 47" also dealt with the subject of the Great Hunger, there are few other works to be found that have the Irish famine as their backdrop.
"It's so important to know your history and what happened and to pass that knowledge and information down through your family," Sexton believes.
"It's so important to talk about it. To really know what happened and how it was for those poor people.
"The story, it strikes home with so many people, and the more we talk to people, the more they come forward with their stories and that's what we're trying to incorporate, all these little side stories and backstories because they're real life."
*Originally published in July 2019.