nytheatre.com review by Megin Jimenez
September 10, 2011
The international success of Riverdance has been a mixed blessing for the living art of Irish dance. While the show has nurtured welcoming audiences across the world, it also threatens to confine notions of the dance to the foggy realm of nostalgia for all things Irish. Noctú, a new "dance play" from the Ériu Dance Company, approaches this tension from the dancer's perspective. A spare storyline takes the point of view, on the one hand, of a female dancer feeling choked by the conformity exacted by tradition and, on the other, of a male dancer facing homophobic derision for pursuing dance. The focus, wisely, is on telling a story through movement rather than words. Ultimately, the intimate perspective is a means for the company to show the versatility of Irish dance, with choreography that tackles music ranging from Stravinsky to Leonard Cohen.
For all the experimentation, purists needn't doubt the company's credentials. The show was choreographed and directed by Riverdance principal dancer Breandán de Gallaí, and the company is made up of international Irish dance champions at the top of their game. There are a handful of more traditional numbers which mostly bring out the great power and military precision of the dance, with high kicks and percussive steps. The costuming also updates tradition, with kilts reduced to an austere black. Often, dancers are wearing simple spandex outfits, removing cultural context altogether and highlight the body instead.
In one unconventional number, tango music works surprisingly well in showcasing the potential for masculine force within the dance, as well as its ability, like tap dance, to tease infinite rhythms out of any beat. Most unique are the pieces danced barefoot. The electronic effervescence of Bjork's "Violently Happy" is made manifest when the loud shoes are replaced by a light-as-air bounce from the company. Solo numbers are also a nice break from tradition—Cake's 1996 cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" turns out to be a fitting expression of male longing.
The production is an odd hybrid, but it works. It reminds us that we live in a cosmopolitan world, with a "shuffle" option on music from all kinds of times and places. The dancers of Noctú give motion and a physical charge to this mix with the tools they have, and from this perspective, the show makes sense. The small-scale Irish Repertory Theatre is a great space to watch it from up close.
"Noctú" is the Irish word for the verb for "to bare or uncover," and at several points the dancer's bodies are indeed stripped nearly bare. Questions of tradition, modernity or post-modernity aside, at its most basic level, Noctú offers a chance to appreciate the beauty of the human figure in the rapture of a perfect movement.