This Is an Irish Dance review: See the music, hear the dance

Jean Butler returns with choreography that displays an increasingly rich level of articulation and a broad palette of movement

Jean Butler and Neil Martin


Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre

According to George Balanchine if you put a man and a woman on stage there is already a story; a man and two women, and there's already a plot. In Jean Butler's this is an Irish dance, a man, woman and cello provide the plot, spiced further by lights, white cubes and a sweeping pile of white slates. Balanchine's premise is simple: merely placing people together onstage creates forces and tensions that are immediately perceived by the audience.

Butler, along with cellist and composer Neil Martin, have set out to investigate some of these latent stage elements, particularly the relationship between dance and music. Butler's movements are sometimes still and sculptural, at other times elegant and flowing, but always driven by a humming performance energy. She reveals the influence of step dancing on her movement vocabulary, but with less intensity than in her past works.


Her upright, jessant gait remains, but contains an increasingly rich level of articulation and broad palette of movement. Martin, seated on white cubes, propels the action at times with looping arpeggiated figures, or dampens it down with questioning pizzicatos.

The performers are always connected: most evidently through eye contact and proximity, but equally when their individual focus seems elsewhere and they spin away into different parts of the stage. At these moments, the dialogue between sound and movement intensifies and the audience is forced to seek out less obvious connections between the two. Is the music propelling the dance or vice versa? At times it seems that the two are completely unconnected and have meandered away from each other, only for Butler and Martin to perform a short phrase in razor-sharp unison.

The fluid collaboration is enhanced by Butler’s and Martin’s comfortable stage presence so they can act as both inspiration and touchstone for each other. This creates an overall effect reminiscent of another Balanchine quote: “See the music, hear the dance.”