A FORMER Riverdance principal dancer is bringing his new show, about internet dating, to the Firkin Crane next week.
Breandán de Gallaí, who was Michael Flatley’s understudy at one point, explains that his latest creation, Aon, will reveal what it’s like to be unattached in the digital age of internet dating and smart phones. It runs in the Cork venue from July 25 to August 8.
“Internet dating is a kind of tool that people will identify with,” says Breandán.
“My starting point is the posture, we have with our heads down, buried in laptops. There’s also the idea of selfies and never posting anything unless it’s you at your absolute best.
“The show is also about coming to terms with who you really are. The second half is all about shedding your front and your baggage.”
Breandán’s show premiered recently in Gweedore in Donegal, where he is from. The Dublin-based dancer says that growing up in a Gaeltacht area meant that culture and tradition were very important.
“Tradition was particularly important to my parents, who encouraged us to play music and to dance. They pulled out all the stops so that we’d be exposed to as much of that as possible.”
Aon, performed by Breandán’s company, Éiru, “is an Irish dance show that is really loyal to the tradition”. His company is not an offshoot of Riverdance.
“With all the offshoots, they tend to follow the same format,” he says. “The first offshoot was Lord Of The Dance, followed by copycat shows which are often driven by venture capitalists rather than artists. They follow a similar format because the public is familiar with it.”
The dance show, Prodijig, which returned to the Cork Opera House recently following its premiere last year, melds different genres of dance. Breandán says it isn’t “my sort of thing” and adds: “It’s driven by what’s cool rather than trying to say something. But the dancing was phenomenal.”
The 48-year-old adds: “I’m coming from a different age. The dancers in Prodijig are young so being cool and sexy is important for them. When I’m making work, it’s about what I’m trying to say. It’s meant to be significant.
“Aon is very much about how we are behaving as people. It asks if the whole social networking thing highlights something about human nature.
“I think it’s unfortunate that it’s another barrier, another mask to hide behind.
“I’m not blaming social media. There has always been the expectation that the community you’re from has expectations of how you should be and that you should live up to it. You play the role; you are who you’re expected to be.
“There are people you never get to know properly. I suppose it should be about trying to strike a balance and liberating your authentic self.”
Asked how these ideas are conveyed through dance, Breandán says: “I always have that discussion with younger dancers who ask, ‘What does it mean?’ I reply, ‘What does a horn pipe mean?’
“Basically, dance is something that makes you feel a certain way. That’s what’s so fantastic about dance. It’s another method of communication that’s non-linear. It’s about how the power of the body can really move people.
“Some people might wonder if there is a story. But there’s no story in Riverdance. Riverdance gives you a head rush of excitement, watching great skills.
“It doesn’t have to necessarily say anything huge. It’s not like going to see Phantom Of The Opera where there’s a very deliberate linear narrative. Dance gives you the opportunity to have your own interpretation. The body can be very emotive, especially when you have a group of dancers like I have.”
Breandán doesn’t have a permanent company but out of the 12 dancers he’s working with for Aon, at least six of them are current lead dancers from Riverdance.
“I was very fortunate to get them,” he says, “They’ll go back to Riverdance after my show. It’s just that they wanted to try something different.” Is Irish dancing as disciplined as ballet?
“I would say ‘yes.’ I’ve done a lot of ballet. They’re different disciplines but there are similar resonances between the two.
“We value virtuosity and technique and we’re committed to a look.
“Things are the way they are in dance because somebody did something exciting and different. I always think of tradition as something that’s changing whereas other people think of it as something static. I always think of us as being in a state of flux.” Dancers normally have a short shelf life but after a 13- year break, Breandán returned to the stage 18 months ago with a duet called Linger, which he and Nick O’Connell performed at the Firkin Crane and the Project Arts Centre in Dublin. It has been touring recently and had a residency at the Edinburgh Fringe.
“Dance is extremely unusual and hard to come back to at my age,” adds Breandán, “it was really tough but very rewarding. I was delighted I did it.
“I was dancing with a much younger man in the duet, which is about identity, sexuality and ageing. Although I was meant to be dancing as a older man, I very much felt that I could dance well.
“I go to the gym quite a bit and I still teach dancing. I work very hard. I gave myself a year to get ready for the Linger tour. I practised very gradually. If you go hell for leather, you just get injured.”
Clearly, Breandán is a dancer who knows how to pace himself in every sense of the word.