Opening at Cork Opera House this week, a ground-breaking new show that, it is claimed, will redefine Irish dance for the next generation.
An original production by the theatre, choreographed and created by Alan Kenefick and directed and co-created by director Wayne Jordan, ProdiJIG: The Revolution breaks all of the rules of what you’re supposed to see, hear and feel.
Forget the innumerable spin-offs of Riverdance, this feels, sounds and looks very different. Modern, streetwise, sexy, the revolution has a harder edge and allows for much more expression among the individual dancers.
“What they wear is breaking with tradition too,” says costume designer Katie Crowley.
“Like the show, there’s a modern, individualist approach that takes elements from street culture and a society that’s standing up for itself. Expressive, free and edgy with something to fight for.”
Led by Cork born world champion Irish dancer Alan Kenefick, ProdiJIG rose to international fame when it won Sky’s Got To Dance in 2012.
Now ProdiJIG: The Revolution sees Alan combine his incredible individual talent with a team of the best modern Irish dancers in the world, and music to match. This will genuinely be nothing like you’ve ever seen before.
The big step of producing summer shows in what had always been a closedown season is also a break with tradition, but one that has worked out very well for Cork Opera House, with sell-out seasons since they first began.
“We have a mandate for summer opening. It was an in-house decision and one that is revisited by the board and executive team on an annual basis,” says Opera House executive director, Eibhlin Gleeson.
“Producing these shows allows us to programme for up to 4 weeks at a time that is traditionally quiet for theatre in Cork. We are a cultural institution in our own right, we build our own work and we take that very seriously.
In previous years we’ve gone with already-known shows (Sound of Music, Grease, Singin’ in the Rain), but when we find a good artist like Alan Kenefick, and the opportunity to build from the very beginning, then we seize the opportunity.” This is good for all of Cork, she points out, not just the theatre.
“People come to the city, they may stay overnight, they dine in restaurants, they go shopping, they use the car parking – the spin off is excellent and everybody benefits.”
Alan Kenefick, twitching with nervous energy, takes a reluctant break from driving his team hard. Even when he’s sitting down, he can’t relax and words flow as swiftly as his steps do onstage.
“It’s not another Irish dance show. I felt that that type of show is lacking. The absolutely original brief Riverdance sequence in Eurovision was incredible — it had that totally new feel about it that swept everyone away. And then came the full length show and all the spin-offs and somehow that original brilliant inspiration became lost in the huge juggernaut and all the polish and exactitude and set formats performed over and over again.
"Now we’re breaking away, this is a revolution, the idea that this is what Irish dance can be, can become. Get rid of all the preconceptions, the troupe following exactly the same rules, arms held stiffly by the sides, that sort of thing. You don’t see that in a playground, do you? Or not on the singing stage — Madonna can do what she likes, develops different approach, and everyone loves it. Irish dance should do the same thing and that’s where ProdiJIG: The Revolution is going.
"We’re artists and we show emotion, love, try to create an environment where everybody is completely honest. There are moments of pure joy, of absolute agony and grief, and hilarious moments too, when we take the mick out of traditional forms, but always in a positive way, showing what they can become.”
So to whom does he think the show will mainly appeal?
"Look, I have a granny here in Cork, a mother, dozens of friends who all know their Irish dancing. I keep every one of them in mind when creating the movements and I know they will all love it.”
Kenefick knows exactly what he’s talking about, having taken the lead in Riverdance for several years.
“It’s time to move forward and take the audience with us, just as the original Eurovision sequence did all those years ago.”
Eibhlin Gleeson is very excited about the way the show is developing and most of all because it is being created right there on Leeside.
“We now have a reputation for building our own big productions and I have a feeling that Prodijig will go on from here, take the Opera House and Cork and Ireland out into the wider world. It’s quite something to be part of that and wonder where it will go. Our two biggest events in the year now are the Christmas pantomime and the summer show, both with the same budget, and both doing very well for us on that.”
Filling the seats is of course, as always, a priority. In fact the Opera House, through good planning of its programme throughout the calendar, with a mix of concerts, comedy, theatre, opera, and pop, has managed to turn things around over the past few years and actually come into the black.
You won’t see that too often in today’s theatrical world.
Social media has played a big part too in the pre-planning of ProdiJIG right from the start last autumn, with cleverly-made videos going viral worldwide on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. “Yes, that was a conscious decision,” confirms Gleeson. “These are unbeatable for spreading the message out there and we took care to use the very best, award-winning videographers. They were expensive but gosh they were worth it.” Have a look at the video trailers here, in case you haven’t seen them already.
Between the fiery creative feet of choreographer/dancer Kenefick and the cool planning head of Eibhlin Gleeson comes the experienced directorial hand of Wayne Jordan. Are there many rehearsal explosions? “No, our ideas don’t clash – he explains what he wants to do in a particular sequence, and I can see that it would be really effective if staged in this way – that sort of thing.”
What Jordan really enjoys is the breaking with old tradition. “Normally there is an absolute gender divide where they only come together for specific routines.” Rather like those old-fashioned Irish dance halls in fact, where girls stood at one side and boys the other. You won’t find that in ProdiJIG. Nor is the music quite as traditional – not with a band like Moxie, composer Peter Power, and musical director John O’Brien, all known for their wildly creative ideas. It’s going to be a very different feast for the senses. Not so much of the formal dinnertable, more of a happy al fresco musical picnic!