When given the idea of dance, one may imagine a group of beautiful, thin women in tutus and satin shoes, effortlessly leaping through the air and twirling across the stage of a Victorian-style theatre.
Perhaps you’re picturing Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey expressing an intense romance as they partner across an empty studio floor. You might even think about your last Friday night outing with friends, letting loose on the dance floor of a super hip nightclub. The possibilities of the art form are endless. However, as a dance and theatre guru who was convinced that she’d seen it all, the recent local production of Dublin-based dancers Ailish Claffey, Alicia Christofe-Walsh, Catherine Young, and Deirdre Griffin was—to say the least—unique, emotionally riveting, and culturally enriching.
The dancers were in town for a two-week residency hosted by The Candy Factory prior to the production of The Night of the Big Wind and Shift(h)er . The performance is a contemporary dance theatre production encapsulating the meaning of heartbreak, loss, and change. The performers utilize a breadth of African and Irish step dance technique, acting, storytelling with symbolic props, chanting of Irish proverbs, a variety of sound design, and an intimate interaction with the audience. The Night of the Big Wind is a story of Irish proverbs passed down through generations. It goes something like this: on January 6, 1839, an unexpected hurricane came through Ireland causing major losses to many of the country’s people. This became the folk memory of “The night of the big wind.” To shift in Irish formally means to change or replace. In Irish slang, it means to kiss.
This vividly folk performance started off with a solo performed by Alicia, portraying a young, heartbroken girl looking through framed photos of old memories of a former love. From an audience perspective, one could almost tangibly feel the emotions of pain and loss throughout the room. Further into Alicia’s solo, the music and dance slowly becomes upbeat as she dons star-shaped sunglasses and takes on a more prideful and strong demeanor. This symbolizes the post-break-up stage of coping through cutting-edge liberation. The music then becomes slow and sorrowful again as she turns back to face the plethora of memorabilia that is still haunting her. She hangs all of the framed photos of her former love (attached by strings around her neck), climbs to the top of a ladder and with a spray bottle, and begins to douse water on her face and hair. The sprays increase in speed until she removes the cap, lets her hair down, and pours the water on her head. This represents love, sex, and passion. She is willing to carry her memories with her, overcome them, and prosper. She is at terms with her loss and ready for what the future has in store for her to gain. In short, she is brave enough to love again.
The second half of the performance includes all three dancers, Alicia, Catherine, and Deirdre. This number portrays the storm through a collection of sound effects and drumbeats, courtesy of drummer Eric Weit. The African and Irish step-inspired, interpretive choreography includes the three dancers helping each other carry a large board above their heads as they dance. Not only does this represent the legacy of the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ storm that took place many years ago, it also represents a sense of community and helping one another overcome hardship.
This sense of community reminded me of what we have right here in Lancaster after talking with Anne Kirby, owner of The Candy Factory. The Candy Factory, located in the heart of Downtown Lancaster’s art scene, is a unique co-op space that is often used as a venue for a variety of events in the community, free of venue charge, and made possible through sponsors and countless volunteers who dedicate their time and services. It is a small space with no stage, which allowed for intimacy with the performance and the audience. “I learned a lot about dance and the practice and intensity of it. I never realized how much effort and time is needed for a production like this one. Now I can appreciate their art form even more first hand and not just from a performance end,” Anne commented. “I think that a performance like this one will build an awareness to the Lancaster community not just artistically, but culturally.”
“It’s not every place you go where everyone helps you so much"
I, too, was able to grasp a deeper understanding of the behind-the-scenes teamwork of the Candy Factory’s passionate volunteers after spending some time with Production Stage Manager Jennifer Dunn and stagehands Alexandria Bonner and Garrett Moore prior to the show. “The strange thing that happened in the beginning of this project was that right upon the dancers arrival to the Philadelphia Airport, a microburst storm happened which was ironic to the story line,” Jennifer explained. Conveniently, the dancers were able to record the storm and incorporate it with their sound idea for the show, which was layered together by sound designer Hassan Estakhria in just one night. Meanwhile, Jennifer, Alexandria, and Garrett meshed their creativity to find and create all of the show’s props and sets. “My favorite part about being a stage manager was the whole process of watching the production grow,” Jennifer recalls.
After the show I had the pleasure of speaking with the Dublin dancers about their experience here in Lancaster after traveling nationally and internationally spreading their work of art. According to choreographers Ailish and Alicia, along with their performances in Sweden and New Hampshire, their experience in Lancaster is among their most memorable favorites. “It’s not every place you go where everyone helps you so much,” Ailish offered.
The group will be performing The Night of the Big Wind and Shift(h)er at The Fringe Festival in Philadelphia in September. I highly and deeply recommend making the trip to see these dancers perform live. You will be left “shifted” in the best way possible.
Written by Dana Getz
Photography by Austin Erdman
Headline Art by James T. Arnold