More than just Irish eyes were smiling during the opening night of Siamsa Tire, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland, at Ford’s Theatre.
America’s fascination with Irish folk traditions began with Michael Flatly and his production Riverdance, which showcases Irish step-dancing. Siamsa Tire (pronounced she?m-sa t?-ar-uh) is twice the show Riverdance ever was. It incorporates elements of music, poetry and drama along with step-dancing.
The show opens with men dancing and beating on traditional Irish drums. We learn that this is the Day of the Wren, a holiday in Ireland. The uplifting music plays as men and women dance in a circle around Helena Brosnan, a 10-year-old girl dressed as a wren and step-dancing with the rest.
The most touching portrayal was called The Corncrake, which is a parable about two birds who live in a hayfield in Ireland. They dance and court among the stalks, and when the men with scythes come and cut the hay, the two love birds run away together. They return later when the hay, which is personified by six women in costume, is growing tall again.
A troupe of three little birds, their kids, is with the love birds the second time around. Again, they dance. When the hay needs to be harvested again, this time a harvesting machine (four males dance using flat drums as wheels) completes the task. The machine kills off the hay, the momma and poppa bird, and one of the kids. Only two children, a boy and a girl, escape. It is a powerful commentary on industrialization’s negative side.
As far as high intensity dance numbers, Siasmsa Tire has several. One is the Battle of Lug and Balor, a dance-dramatization of a classic story from Celtic mythology about the battle between good and evil. The scene is filled with excruciatingly quick dance steps that would make Michael Flatly jealous. In the end, the good triumphs over the evil. The way the performers carry themselves, always with smiles and cheering, you seem to believe that in Ireland good has triumphed over evil.
In between vignettes, the audience hears songs and poetry sung by Se?n Ahern, a veteran of Irish theater. While all the songs are in Gaelic, Ireland’s native tongue, the melodies still are beautiful and inspiring. The orchestra is right on, backing up the songs with fiddles, drums and tin whistles.
The show closes in a grand manner, with all the performers onstage performing the Bealtaine Celebration, a presentation of a Pagan festival that was outlawed in Ireland. Through a detailed setting and shouts from the performers, the audience members feel like townspeople.
Siamsa Tire is flat out amazing. It is an inspiring look at a beautiful culture and a colorful people. Eat your heart out Michael Flatly.
Siamsa Tire continues at Ford’s Theatre through Nov. 14. Ticket prices range from $27 to $43.,/I>