Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Continuing...

Kieran's DVD is full of tidbits you just won't find many other places unless you really know where to look--particularly in the way that it explores the close relationship of Irish dance and the evolution of American tap dance style. For example, some discussion centers around George Michael Cohan (July 3, 1878November 5, 1942) was a United States entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer, director, and producer of Irish descent. (Thank you Wikipedia). What Boston area Irish music fans will like is that this American pop legend was of Irish descent, and began his dancing career in his native Rhode Island. According to Jordan and her interviewee Kevin Doyle, Cohan learned Irish dance alongside American dance styles, and both speculate that Irish dance style would have had an enormous effect on his--and thus all of American--tap dance style. Doyle, who in his early years performed "impressions" of Cohan and other tap dance stylists, demonstrates the Cohan style in the DVD, and it is easy to see how the various modern tap styles have intersected with sean nós, or "old style" Irish step dance, an improvised and looser style of Irish dancing that predates the modern competition style and the "Riverdance" style that descended upon the world in the 1990s.

It is not an enormous stretch to see how the subject matter in the video reflects Jordan's own journey to authenticity as an Irish American dancer. Kieran began competitive step dancing at a young age, following the competition route that is the joy of many a young Irish dancer. But as a young dance enthusiast, she learned Irish alongside that holy dance trinity of tap-jazz-ballet. Jordan later also explored modern dance, spending a year doing her Master’s Degree in Contemporary Dance Performance at the University of Limerick and studying with modern dance masters Mark Taylor (Body-Mind Centering), and Mary Nunan, Yoshiko Chuma, Michael Klien, and Liz and Jenny Roche (choreography and contemporary dance technique).

While teachers will typically encourage a student to focus and refine a particular technique, a searching artist will dig for his or her roots--and often find apparent conflicts of style and approach. The well tutored student is taught to perfect authentic Irish dance steps and exemplify a purity of style, setting those other influences aside until the appropriate time. But what happens in the heat of performance when the artist takes over and the body's natural inclination is to shake that bootie just a little bit? (Kieran did grow up in the '70s, after all.) A purist will quell those butt-shaking tendencies; the stylistic renegade will look for ways to reconcile those apparent disparities and create something new. Michael Flatley did this most flamboyantly in Riverdance; as we see in this DVD, Kieran has been doing it in her own quiet and genuine way throughout her career.

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