Now 48, last year de Gallaí danced his putative swansong in Linger, a duet that took on the rare challenge of exploring gay male identity within Irish dance.“But there was something else coming out of that work that I needed to resolve,” he says, “and it was a sense of constructed identity, or wearing an identity to suit other people, rather than who you actually are.” The resulting show, Aon, is a fusion of Irish dance with contemporary dance, combining many of the breath-taking elements of Irish dance with a deeper and at times more challenging approach.
“I was very proud of my time there, and I enjoyed it, even though I wish it had moved with the times a little bit more,” de Gallaí says.
“I was very fortunate to be a part of it, but as I left and moved on, I wanted to not do that.” An MA in ethnochoreology and a performance-based Ph D followed de Gallaí’s time with Riverdance; critically acclaimed pieces such as his Irish dance version of Stravinsky’s ballet Rites of Spring, and 2011’s Noctú followed, and he founded his own dance company, Eiriú.
When I was traveling last summer on a steamboat on the river, going from New York to Albany, I was shown the place where the Americans dance the war-dance, (West Point), where the old warriors recount to their young men what they have done to stimulate them to go and do likewise.
This surprised me, as I did not think the whites understood our way of making braves.
The large square in the village is swept and prepared for the purpose.
The chiefs and old warriors take seats on mats, which have been spread on the upper end of the square, next come the drummers and singers, the braves and women form the sides, leaving a large space in the middle. A warrior enters the square keeping time with the music.
Sequences sensitively split between dancing in hard shoes, soft shoes and in bare feet, the variance in sound, rather than an incessant hard shoe tapping, drives home more deeply how much of Irish dance is actually percussion of the body.
The bare foot sequences are the most beautiful of all, accentuating the duality between the vulnerability on the one hand, and incredible strength and speed on the other, of the dancers.
We are in awe of the sheer size of the steel cranes moving deftly in the midst of water illusion and play of light.
When this is over, we feast again and have our national dance.
When our national dance is over, our cornfields hoed, every weed dug up and our corn about knee high, all our young men start in a direction toward sundown, to hunt deer and buffalo and to kill Sioux if any are found on our hunting grounds.