It could very well be titled “Bringing it All Back Home” when Cara Butler and her mates in the percussive music and dance group called StepCrew visit the Irish American Center in Mineola, Long Island on Sunday, October 12.
But Philip King already got there first for his seminal video documentary series exploring how Irish music traveled around the world and back home to Ireland. The Mineola homecoming is specifically for one of the founding members of this contemporary ensemble, Cara Butler, who was trained in the popular Irish Center under the graceful tutelage of Donny Golden along with her older sister Jean Butler for a number of years before they made names for themselves on the stage.
Jean and Cara Butler are without doubt the most successful dance performers to come out of what I consider to be a two-track system informally devised by Golden, who won a National Heritage Award in 1995 as a teacher and a performer of Irish step dancing.
Golden dancers were integral cast members of the early Green Fields of America and Cherish the Ladies tours and eventually the Chieftains where Jean and Cara broke out of the pack. As we all know Jean went onto worldwide fame with the original Riverdance in 1994 and her own solo career, and Cara became the principal Irish step dancer with the Chieftains full time, a job she retains today.
Cara’s professional career in Irish dance developed outside the usual teaching realm as interest in performance dance intensified in the past two decades and she expanded her own roots in percussive dance.
Aiding that exploration was the serendipitous arrival of two brothers from the Ottawa Valley, Jon and Nathan Pilatzke, who joined the Chieftains ensemble about a decade after Cara at Paddy Moloney’s invitation. Moloney was mesmerized by their explosive percussive dance choreography honed in Canada’s Ottawa Valley where the music tradition is very similar to Irish traditional music.
As the years went by Cara Butler and the Pilaztkes were the regular support group for the venerable but aging trad music pioneers who gave them greater freedom to choreograph dance routines building up both stage experience and confidence. Since the Chieftains tour only periodically, they knew they wanted to branch out in more creative ways that expressed their own talents and backgrounds.
Jon Pilatzke and Cara also grew closer together personally as well as professionally and were married two years ago in Galway. Using some cache and exposure from the Chieftains, they formed a new music and dance ensemble called StepCrew based out of Jon and Cara’s home in Toronto which has gradually made great strides as a music and dance show on its own.
They had a very successful summer tour that hit a few of the top Irish festivals and even made its maiden voyage to New York City when the StepCrew performed admirably at a space-challenged but well-staged venue called Subculture in the East Village.
Like Golden before, StepCrew knows the importance of the dance fusing with the music without compromise or dilution. And so the musicians recruited by Jon Pilatzke, whose fiddling is also breaking new ground, exhibit a tight and rousing sound that not only complements the percussive nature of the tap, Ottawa Valley and Irish choreography in the show but can make it soar as well.
Based on the earlier StepCrew show I viewed at Subculture, the varied mixture of high flying dance routines and rocking music should bring the house down in Mineola where people appreciate great music and dance on a regular basis.
Tickets can purchased in advance at the Irish American Center in advance for $20 or $25 at the door (www.irishamericansoc.com or phone 516-746-9392.)