Margaret McAuliffe makes competitive Irish dancing relatable in her play which has come to NYC for the first time
When I sat down in the Irish Arts Center’s theater on Wednesday evening for the New York City premiere of ‘The Humours of Bandon,’ I heard a couple behind me chatting.
“Do you know what this is about?” asked one.
The other replied, “Oh yes, Irish dance.”
Their exchange made me think back to my phone chat with the show’s creator and star Margaret ‘Mags’ McAuliffe the week prior where she told me that her show was a “coming of age story” and not necessarily just an “Irish dance” show.
The show is also, in her words, “info-tainment.” People not familiar with competitive Irish dancing will learn a thing or two while still being entertained.
In our chat, Mags told me that she was an Irish dancer who retired from the competitive scene about 13 years ago. Like many former Irish dancers, myself included, it’s hard to determine what to do with your passion and skill once you’ve aged out of the competition circuit.
You’ve spent your formative years honing your skills, perfecting your talent. Maybe you’ve claimed a few titles along the way.
But what happens when you’ve reached the top and your motivation tanks afterward? What do you do with it all - teach? Tour? Hang up the dance shoes and just walk away?
Mags decided to merge her lifetime of Irish dance experience with a love for the stage, which she discovered during her college years.
The product was ‘The Humours of Bandon,’ which chronicles the similar dilemmas faced by Irish dancer Annie, played by Mags, in the twilight of her competitive Irish dance career.
I was kindly provided with a free ticket to attend the Irish Arts Center’s opening night of ‘The Humours of Bandon,’ which is directed by Stefanie Preissner (also the director of RTE’s ‘Can’t Cope Won’t Cope’) and produced by the Fishamble theater company in Ireland.
As a former competitive Irish dancer (I danced with the Early-McLoughlin School based in New York and New Jersey from the age of 3 years old), I was cautiously excited to see this new Irish dance production. Save for the 2011 documentary ‘Jig,’ there are no productions that tell the real story of competitive Irish dancing - would 'The Humours of Bandon' feel real, or would it be watered down for the masses?
Mags walked out on stage dressed in green leggings, green t-shirt, green zip-up with IRELAND stitched across it, poodle socks, and reel shoes, and I was admittedly nervous that her play would fall trap to the cringe and corny.
I was, thankfully, wrong.
In her 55-minute one-woman play, scored with an enviable amount of stamina, McAuliffe plays Annie, a teenage Irish dancer in Dublin with her eyes on the All Ireland top prize.
But more so, ‘The Humours of Bandon,’ a delightful play on the name of a traditional 4-hand jig ceili, is an Irish dance show that takes the age-old coming-of-age theme and puts it in the context of the sometimes mysterious world of competitive Irish dancing.
Even better - it’s funny. Aside from being a talented Irish dancer, a feat in of itself, Mags is a great actress and writer with a knack for summing up the hilarious idiosyncracies of growing up Irish dancing.
The production, which has been selling out tickets internationally, has been well-received: it was the winner of Bewleys’ Little Gem Award at Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, winner of the Irish Writers’ Guild ZeBBie Award for Best Theatre Script 2017, and scored a nomination for Best Performer Award at Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016.
After it’s four-night run at the Irish Arts Center, the show heads to the New York Irish Center (Tuesday, April 16 at 2 pm), the Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens (Wednesday, April 17 at 7:30 pm), and then to the Irish Cultural & Sports Association of Southern Connecticut at Whitneyville Cultural Commons in Hamden, CT (Thursday, April 18 at 8 pm). Next month, it heads for Australia.
Mags said “it’s really nice to see other people understand” Irish dancing, which she deems a “little cult of a world” (a phrase I endorse.)
So, yes, ‘The Humours of Bandon’ is about Irish dance, but it’s also about a lot more. Self-discovery, self-confidence, and defining your own path - themes which aren't unique to just Irish dancing.
While everyone can find something relatable in the show, ‘The Humours of Bandon’ shines for me, a former Irish dancer, because it’s authentic.
Mags knows what she’s talking about: she’s walked the walk, danced the dance, and now she’s successfully, authentically brought it to the stage in ‘The Humours of Bandon.’
Get a peek at 'The Humours of Bandon' here: