Trinity Irish Dance

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The Trinity Dancers’ years of rigorous training are evident in every perfectly paced spin, leap and click, making them a lethal powerhouse of speed and sound that has electrified audiences around the world, with sold-out tours in Europe and Asia and appearances in such distinguished U.S. venues as Washington’s Kennedy Center, New York’s Joyce and New Victory Theatres, and Los Angeles’s Royce Hall. The company has appeared in feature films by Disney, Dream Works, Touchstone and Universal including “Backdraft” and “The Road to Perdition” and on countless National television programs including “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” and “Good Morning America.” Trinity won two Emmy Awards for their appearance on the PBS Television Specials “One Step Beyond” and “World Stage”, and were featured in the ABC special “Dignity of Children,” hosted by Oprah Winfrey.

In 1979, at the young age of 17, Mark Howard started Trinity Academy of Irish Dance. Since that time, the Chicago/Milwaukee-based school has garnered a staggering 22 world titles for the United States at the World Championships of Irish Dance, and has grown from a dozen students practicing in a church basement to the largest Irish dance program in the world. In 1991, following the success of the academy and lamenting the fact that “competitive dance is dominated by traditionalists who believe that an art form shouldn’t move forward,” Mark Howard, in the role of Artistic Director, founded the Trinity Irish Dance Company. Before its creation, there were no Irish step dancers performing collectively outside of the competition circuit. The Company’s creation served as both an outlet for Howard’s pioneering choreography and as a post-competition performance opportunity, and marks the beginning of Irish dance’s reform from what was essentially a competitive sport into serious concert dance.

Howard’s progressive take on Irish dance is an amalgam of traditional Irish movement, modern dance, ballet, tap, flamenco, performance art, African and other World Beat rhythms, and is accompanied by a mix of Irish, rock, and multicultural music, and narrative choreography. Of this unique blend, Howard says, “This new art form could never have happened in Ireland. It’s a child of North America.” Mark Howard has taken the group outside of the framework of ethnicity, and constantly strives to expand the company’s range and repertoire into imaginative new directions. For this reason, Chicago’s Trinity Irish Dance Company is considered the birthplace of progressive Irish dance in America, and has led directly to such commercial successes as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance.

While some of his pieces retain the classic elements of Irish dance, less traditional choreography goes far beyond the expressionless faces and uniform dress code embedded in tradition. In Celtic Thunder (1988), the dancers perform dynamic, rhythmic routines while moving in intricate patterns whose complexity has been equated with the precision of a Marine drill team. Howard credits this dance as the piece that “changed the look and direction of Irish dance forever.” In another innovative turn, Turf (1993) features Irish dancers joined by African American tap dancers. Many of the exciting elements of both Riverdance and Lord of the Dance take root in these early pieces first performed by the Trinity Irish Dance Company.

Howard’s updated take on Irish dancing is not without its critics, and his work is often at odds with traditionalists; his aesthetic, while earning his troupe of dancers numerous world titles and critical acclaim, has also resulted in his teams having been disqualified more than any other. The rigid rules of competition and traditional dance do not allow for the innovations Howard is known for. Where tradition calls for Fiberglas hard shoes or soft shoe leather slippers, ramrod straight posture, immobile arms, and customary dress, his less traditional works are performed in unitards and bare feet, in dresses with bare arms, have arm movements choreographed with footwork, or mix hard and soft shoe, all considered competition no-nos.

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The Company is made up of around 30 dancers between the ages of 18 and 28, many of whom have progressed through the ranks of the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance and will be performing at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts for one performance only on Friday, February 22.

TRINITY IRISH DANCE
Friday, February 22 – One Night Only
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