The renowned dance photographer Lois Greenfield took this picture, and the two below, of Trinity Irish Dance Company just before lockdown began.
By Jake James
Like so many performing arts groups, critically-acclaimed Chicago/Milwaukee-based Trinity Irish Dance Company’s 2019/2020 season was cut short in March – right in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day season. But the company has persevered, following a message from Founding Artistic Director Mark Howard: “Onward!” This year’s unprecedented challenges and new parameters are boosting creativity and bringing a new clarity of vision to the company artists.
Trinity Irish Dance Company is a contemporary Irish-American dance company founded in 1990 that re-imagines a traditional form in an integrity-filled way. (See this short film on Vimeo.) I became a proud band member of TIDC’s four-person band in March 2018, and subsequently joined them on their 7th summer tour of Japan. Since then, I’ve been extremely grateful to continue being part of their consistently groundbreaking work.
Our spring season brought us from New Orleans to North Carolina and New York, centering around two shows at Chicago’s historic Auditorium Theatre where we celebrated three world premieres: “Listen,” a deconstruction of Irish dance choreographed by Irish national treasure Colin Dunne; “Home”, the second collaboration between Howard and Associate Artistic Director Chelsea Hoy, featuring the band and two dancers engaging in a percussive conversation around a table, playing with everyday kitchen items; and “American Traffic”, a blend of Irish step and American tap choreographed by tap artists MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Michelle Dorrance and Melinda Sullivan.
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As the country started to restrict large gatherings, performances in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and a three-week tour of Japan were postponed. As the most toured foreign dance company in Japan, TIDC has secured strong connections to Japanese audiences over the past 14 years. At a time when sharing work on performing arts stages across the ocean has become impossible, dancers and musicians alike are keeping our spirits up through virtual conversations and rehearsals, keeping Howard’s uniquely creative vision alive through the screen.
The TIDC band has been zooming weekly to talk about future goals and figuring out ways to practice with each other online. East Village singer/songwriter Brendan O’Shea keeps us laughing, Portland-based percussionist Steven Rutledge shares his unwavering positivity, and Chicago guitarist Chris Devlin’s critical eye ensures us an even creative keel. Sending recordings to each other back and forth has become a weekly routine.
While the artists are finding innovative ways to connect, TIDC is continuing to engage our audiences on our social media channels. The company has been sharing photos captured by New York City-based world-renowned photographer Lois Greenfield just days before the city went on lockdown, as well as photos and videos from the archives. TIDC also appeared in Dance for Life 2020, an annual Chicago dance benefit performance that went online this year featuring Chicago’s most renowned dance companies. Hosted by Chicago Dancers United, the proceeds go to short-term financial assistance to Chicago dance professionals diagnosed with a critical health need.
Among all the virtual performances, videos, and photos that TIDC has been sharing, the most poignant post is from March 21. At a time when shows were just starting to be cancelled and isolation was being enforced, Mark Howard found three members of the band singing an acapella version of a TIDC band original song around a “ghost light,” a singular light bulb that is kept center stage when theaters go dark for the night. This light is historically thought to light the way for ghosts, and more recently used as a symbol for hope that despite their closed doors, theatres will one day return as a place of connection. With song lyrics such as “distance only changes where you are” and “I hope you’ll make it through,” this particular video was a chilling prophecy of things that were to come.
The video can be seen on Trinity Irish Dance Company’s facebook page (www.facebook.com/trinityirishdancecompany). For more information on the company’s history and future endeavors for 2020 and 2021, visit www.trinityirishdancecompany.com and keep up with us on Instagram @trinityirishdancecompany.