Breandán de Gallaí's new dance piece has brought him to centre stage

A NEW dance piece from choreographer/performer extraordinaire Breandán de Gallaí will premiere at Cork’s Firkin Crane on Friday and Dance Limerick on February 4.
Breandán de Gallaí's new dance piece has brought him to centre stage

De Gallaí, for almost 10 years principal at Riverdance, has been building a new and award-winning reputation more recently with provocative and challenging creations like No?ctú, a blood, sweat, tears exposé of what it’s really like to be an Irish dancer (they loved that one in Manhattan), and an amazing interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Now comes Linger, a work for two male dancers, which examines identity, sexuality, masculinity and ageing. Performed by De Gallaí and Nick O’Connell, Linger juxtaposes the mercurial movements of youth with the more considered gestures of the older dancer, to a rich background of photography, film and music.

Fluent Irish speaker De Gallaí (a regular on TV shows like An Jig Gig and Ros na Rún) went to Chicago at the age of 18 to study all forms of dance. Returning to Ireland, he took a physics degree at DCU and did some teaching. It was that original Riverdance interval act in 1994, though, that shaped his future.

“I never thought there could be a career in Irish dancing, but that night changed so much for so many people.” As one of the original 24, he went on to be principal for Riverdance for almost a decade, his final gig being at the opening of the Special Olympics at Croke Park in 2003. Now it was time to begin creating dance forms for himself.

Although Irish dance is a choreographic starting point for Linger, what unfolds on stage is a completely new style that is both contemporary and provocative, with music varying from baroque to jazz to traditional.

The theme, too, reflects that new approach: two dancers exploring both what it means to be gay in modern Ireland, and what it means to grow older and see younger people doing the things you once could do.

De Gallaí, now 46, says he is reaching the end of a dancing career in which O’Connell (30) is at the peak. The two perform the same material in unison for most of the piece and so appear to be one person at different stages of their life. De Gallaí pays tribute to O’Connell’s incredible ballon — that ability to seemingly float in mid-air during a jump — but to see them together on stage, there’s not a jot to choose between them. Age and experience versus youth and energy — it makes for a compelling experience.

Although not partners offstage, he and Nick O’Connell have worked together before, and have much in common. “Both of us came out at just the same age — 27 — and you wonder what you would have become, what you would have achieved, if you hadn’t grown up having to repress that side of your personality.”

In the accepted forms of Irish dancing, he points out, society creates the image to which you must conform. What he is now doing is breaking that mould and letting the real, individual character appear.

“A lot of my work is about marginalisation.” It isn’t just about being gay, though, he stresses. “That, and Ireland’s gay coming out, was a stimulus for the piece of course, but there is also so much more. It’s about encountering yourself. From our performances in Dublin (at the Project Arts Centre last week) I have found that everyone finds their own interpretation.”

Linger is at Firkin Crane, Cork, tomorrow; and Dance Limerick, Thursday, February 4, 8pm

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