Thursday, September 15, 2011

NOĊTÚ: A breakthrough in Irish dance?

Be neither dismayed nor motivated nor distracted in any way by the glam lingerie-ad look of the publicity shot. Or by the title's invocation of the Irish word for "bare, strip, uncover."  Fun--if misplaced--marketing, that's all.

You'll quickly discover that NOĊTÚ--presented by Breandán de Gallaí's valiant Ériu Dance Company on the tiny stage of the Irish Repertory Theatre--has nothing more salacious about it than an impossibly vague, if happy-go-lucky, ménage à trois moment (including lovely, lissome Peta Anderson who always looks as if she's just waiting to be scooped up for a Broadway musical, preferably not Riverdance.) The stripping down--literal and metaphoric--is all about emotional and psychological transparency, as well as finding the freedom to be yourself and finally dance what's in your heart!!

And despite de Gallaí's attempt to slip the ties that once bound him to the massively successful Riverdance and its ilk, there's not a lot of uprising happening here. Take a traditional form of cultural dance--in this case, Irish step dancing--punk up the look of the dancers, interweave contemporary movement, hint at a few characters and some kind of narrative, and set it all to music by Björk, Cake, Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen and, very briefly, The Talking Heads? Nothing here is going to frighten the horses, at least no New York City horses. It's not going to send today's typical theater-going tourists screaming into the night.

I'm not immune to the pleasures of Irish step dancing, which can be as cool as tap or as fierce as flamenco. And I respect Ériu's performers; these champs--hailing from Ireland and several other nations--work their asses off and look terrific doing so, especially in those authoritative black clogs with their little silver buckles--very sharp, very sharp. I think we can celebrate these dancers while also questioning how well the show works its premise (to reveal what's really going on in the minds and souls of talented dance artists), its text and dramatic expression (obvious, awkward, superficial) and its overall episodic structure.

The fastest way for me to explain what's dispiriting about de Gallaí's structure is to ask you to imagine picking up a book of about twenty short stories. The book's cover photo is, of course, as mildly titillating as the publicity photo for NOĊTÚ.

You start reading the first story. Within the first few paragraphs, you've got the point of it. But the story has ten or fifteen more pages. Dutifully, you keep reading to the end, hoping for a turn or twist or deepening or revelation that never comes. You take up the second story. Same deal. Within minutes, you know everything you need to know about the characters and the narrative. Even so, you keep reading its remaining pages. Story #3... Need I say more?

NOĊTÚ lasts a little over an hour but feels as if it's that length only because most of the various cuts of music are used in their entirety, the choreography expanding to fill this time.

NOĊTÚ serves to teach us a few things. Uniformity: Bad. Individuality: Good. Negativity and Homophobia: Very bad. Dancing Like You'd Like to Rip The Floor to Shreds, Because, You Know, You Want the World to Stop Gay-Bashing You and Appreciate the Manliness of Step Dancing: A Possible Solution. Okay. I got it.

Now through October 2, Tuesday-Saturday, 8pm with 3pm matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Limited seating.

Tickets or call 212-727-2737

The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), Manhattan

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