TURNING POINTS

Celtic Crossroads brings traditional, contemporary Irish music to town


Celtic Crossroads will perform traditional and contemporary Irish music and dance on Sunday at University Auditorium.

COURTESY OF CELTIC CROSSROADS
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 1:21 p.m.

Direct from Ireland, Celtic Crossroads brings foot-stomping Irish music to University Auditorium on Sunday at 2 p.m.

And where there’s music, there’s dance, at least when the Irish are concerned.

With its own PBS TV special and CD release, Celtic Crossroads is a youthful, energetic group that performs both traditional and contemporary Irish music. And it wouldn’t be complete without two dancers, who not only provide visual spectacle but add to the percussion as well.

The female dancer is Charlene Morrison, a professional who also is completing a master’s degree in traditional dance at the University of Limerick in Ireland.

Morrison, 25, began training as a child in her native County Mayo.

“It’s lovely to dance for an audience,” she says. “The music can be soothing, it can be energizing — it’s really inspirational to move to. Dancing is a natural, almost primitive way to de-stress. And that audiences love what we do, and are interested in the origins of it, is really satisfying.”

Morrison joined Celtic Crossroads last August, but she’s no stranger to the stage.

“I danced professionally with two troupes based in Ireland, Celtic Rhythm and another called Mystic Force,” she says. “This is I think my 10th trip to the U.S., but it will definitely be the longest amount of time I’ve spent here.”

Morrison says the first time he arrived in the U.S. was for the North American Irish Dance Championships in 2003. A former competitive dancer, she now enjoys the shift to show-style performances.

“It’s a very different style of dancing than the straightforward competition style,” she explains. (Competitive Irish dancing is considered less artistically expressive.) “So I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to get into this type of dance.”

Morrison, like countless children in Ireland, first learned Irish dancing at primary (elementary) school, where the national art is deemed an essential part of public education.

“Often in more rural parts of Ireland, the primary schools will have a visiting dance teacher come in once a week,” she explains. “So I started that way, around age 4.

“Later, when I was about 9, I started classes after school and gradually invested a lot of time and energy. By secondary school, it had become a huge part of my life.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree, Morrison qualified as a primary school teacher, then returned to her passion for dance.

Dance is featured in eight “Crossroads” numbers, all executed by Morrison and her male counterpart Marcus Donnelly.

“We’re in the opening number, which is a lively set of reels,” she says. “Next I have a solo in the slip jig, a very graceful dance traditionally done by the lady.

“Then Marcus performs a brush dance, a more masculine display of skills using a brush (broom) as a prop. It’s a dynamic contrast to the slip jig.”

The next dance recreates the impromptu percussive footwork that would traditionally accompany a session, or informal social gathering of musicians.

“It shows the dancers jumping up and joining in to add to the music with their feet,” says Morrison.

The second act incorporates dance-as-music even more directly, with Donnelly engaging in what Morrison calls a “rhythm match” with the drummer. Add to that another reel and a slide, and then the grand finale.

“By the end, we’re really driving it home, as we say in Ireland,” says the girl from Ireland.

The number of musical instruments played in the show emphasizes that the performance is, at its core, all about Irish music, adds Producer Kevin Crosby. “We have 20-something instruments onstage,” he says. And the performers themselves are all 20-something as well.

“While the show is completely family friendly, it is also very much enjoyed by college students,” Crosby says. “We perform at universities all the time, with students coming up afterwards to tell us this is the best show they’ve ever seen.

“It’s old, roots music, but presented by kind of a rock ’n’ roll generation. It’s all live, all very authentic, but all very new. There’s a great sense of community, and it’s a different show every night.”

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