Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Siamsa tíre, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland

Siamsa tíre, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, presents its dazzling Sean agus Nua '99 (the best of the old and the new) program of North-Kerry step-dancing, choral melodies, and Celtic mythological tales at Ford's Theatre. This program, comprised of different scenes that alternate between powerful stories and dances and songs based on themes, combines the charm of the Irish culture with breathtaking step-dancing and beautifully sung and played music.

Officially founded in 1974, Siamsa tíre strives to preserve the rituals and traditions of the Irish cultural heritage. (The name of the company is translated as follows: siamsa means "merriment" and tíre means "the homeland.") The company consists of a core group of eight full-time performers and musicians and a community company of performers available on a volunteer basis. The program successfully integrates 14 scenes of various pace and featuring either song or dance or both - from sorrowful ballads to dramatic tales of battle to depictions of traditional celebrations.

The song "Roísín Dubh," in which the songwriter refers to his country as a woman because patriotic songs were forbidden in Ireland at that time, was particularly moving. Seán Ahern begins the piece in a pleasing a cappella solo and is joined by the beautiful, clear voices of the women in the company. The scene is simple, with stars twinkling in the background, but the simplicity of the staging makes it all the more touching because the attention is focused on the music and the longing it evokes.

"The Defeat of Balor," based on a Celtic tale of good versus evil, features dramatic music and dancing by the company. Tracy Foley, a lead vocalist with the company, is outstanding here with a voice as pure and clear as crystal. Jonathan Kelliher, one of the core group dancers, provides a thrilling solo which highlights his quick and precise footwork.

The final piece in the first act, "Seville Suite," was written by Irish composer Bill Whelan (of Riverdance fame), choreographed by Maria Pages, a flamenco dancer, and featured an Irish dancer and a flamenco dancer. The piece has been expanded to three dancers of each discipline. The contrast as well as the similarities between the two types of dance are showcased in this number and provide a dramatic end to the first act with the focus alternating from flamenco to Irish step-dancing and back in an ever-increasing tempo and complexity.

"The Children of Lir," a bittersweet tale of children who have been turned into swans by their stepmother and recognized by their father only before they must bid their father farewell, imparts a more reserved and deliberate style to further the story. The core dancers fill each gesture with expression, particularly Anne Herbert who appears to feel each emotion and uses her movements to pull the audience more deeply into the story.

The final scene was "Bealtaine Celebration (pictured right)," a celebration of the coming of springtime. The piece had a great energy and brought the show to an exciting conclusion with its synergy of music, vocals, and dance, with the dancers lining the stage, dancing in unison.

There will inevitably be comparisons to Riverdance, the example of Irish music and step-dancing with which American audiences are most familiar. In terms of size and spectacle and polish, Siamsa tíre does not compare. However, this is not a negative thing. Siamsa tíre presents a more authentic view of traditional Irish folk performance. The program with its intimate staging invites the audience to share in the Irish culture for a very enjoyable evening of stories told through music, song, and dance.

Ford's Theatre Society, Frankie Hewitt, Producing Artistic Director, and Brian J. Laczko, Managing Director, presents Siamsa tíre, John Sheehan, Artistic Director, and Martin Whelan, General Manager. Core Group: Anne Herbert, Honor Hurley, Oliver Hurley, Jonathan Kelliher, Justin Walsh. Community Company: Seán Ahern, Helena Brosnan, Tracy Foley, Jonathan Gornall, Lorraine Guerin, Adrienne Heaslip, David Heaslip, Pierce Heaslip, David Kearney, Sharon Lynch, Michael Murphy, Bláthnaid Nolan, Sinéad Nolan, Catherine O'Connor, Charlotte Tansley. Musicians: Michael Collins, Deirdre Dillane, Tom Hanafin, Tríona Hayes, Áine Murray, Sinéad Murrihy. Dance Master: Oliver Hurley. Music Director: Tom Hanafin. Lighting Designer: Jimmy McDonnell. Production Stage Manager: Desmond Hurley.

Through November 14 at Ford's Theatre. Call ProTix at (703) 218-6500 or (800) 955-5566 or visit

Photo Credit: Valerie O'Sullivan.

-- Michelle Butler

Also see the 1999-2000 Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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