On the heels of Riverdance: Choreographic process in contemporary Irish step dance
This qualitative research study analyzes a groundswell of choreographic activity in contemporary Irish step dance in a post-Riverdance climate. Through case study methodology, I investigate the choreographic processes of Irish-born choreographer Breandán de Gallaí and first-generation Irish American choreographer Seán Curran. I also conduct practice-led research into my own choreographic process as an American choreographer of Irish descent. Data collection procedures include interviews with artists, participant observation during rehearsals and performances, and analysis of rehearsal journals and videos.
I examine three new works against the historical backdrop of the Gaelic revival’s insular nationalism and Riverdance’s high-octane multiculturalism—both were revolutionary moments for Irish step dance, but neither satisfy our choreographic concerns. In contrast, we bring Irish step dance choreography to the concert dance stage. Through choreographic processes that embrace improvisation, task-based movement generation, and inspiration from other dance forms, we expand both the aesthetic of Irish step dance and conventional notions of choreography. Our choreographic interventions can be distilled in three words: expression, hybridity, and fusion.
In advocating for practice-led research, this dissertation expands the current discourse on choreographic practice to include Irish step dance. This study contributes to the Irish dance community, to the larger field of Irish Studies, and to the much wider circle of dance scholarship. The issues raised—individual agency, cultural identity, and hybridization—are applicable across many disciplines. By introducing the dance company model to Irish step dance, we encourage practitioners of ballet, modern, and postmodern dance to reevaluate binary definitions of “world dance” and “Western dance.”
This dissertation asserts that choreographic process in contemporary Irish step dance is a practice of rewriting history through the body. This is not only a highly political act but also a deeply personal one. The data reveal that active participation in choreographic process moves beyond aesthetics and into identity politics. Having a generative role in rehearsal enables artists to examine what it means for them be an Irish, Irish American, or American Irish step dancer.
Areas for future research include a cross-cultural comparison of Irish and Indian dance and an investigation of Irish step dance pedagogy.