By George Basler
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, an energetic blend of Irish singing, dance and music is coming to Binghamton University’s Anderson Center. Wings: A Celtic Dance Celebration, features vocalist Evangeline O’Neill, seven Irish and world champion dancers, and a small group of musicians playing multiple instruments.
The show on Saturday (March 11) has “an intimate feeling” said Moira Ragen, the production’s main dancer. “It’s almost as if you’re sitting in a pub watching a back and forth between music, dance and singing.”
The tour is being presented by Dublin Irish Dance and produced by Cami Music. The Binghamton University performance is one of 23 stops the troupe is making in the East and Midwest.
Irish dance has a long and colorful history with roots stretching back to when the ancient Celts and Druids roamed the island before the onset of Christianity. Until relatively recently, it was primarily a recreational pastime seen mainly in Irish and Irish-American communities. That changed in 1994 with a riveting performance by Riverdance at the Eurovision Song Contest. The performance was an instant smash after being broadcast around the world.
“When it comes to popularity, a lot of growth came after Riverdance. There was a big growth in Irish dancing with people taking lessons, and some going into it professionally,” Ragen said.
She is part of that group of enthusiasts. She remembered “being hooked” after seeing Riverdance in a PBS special when she was 5 and growing up in an Irish Catholic family near Washington, D.C.
“I loved the music. It was so energetic and fun,” Ragen said. By 16, she was competing internationally. Now, at 28, she has performed with such Irish dance troupes as Irish Dance Theatre, Dublin Irish Dance and Celtic Illusion. Her other credits include modern dance with Dance Art Theatre in Washington, D.C., and teaching dance to elementary through high school students in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.
Ragen said Wings: A Celtic Dance Celebration mixes authentic Irish dance with some “show business” elements. For example, while traditional Irish dancers keep their arms at their sides, the dancers in Wings interact with each other and use expressive hand movements, on occasion.
Choreographers for the show are Joe Duffey and Elyse Transon. Duffey is a former cast member of Riverdance and Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance. Transon is a professional Irish dancer, who has appeared in many shows and is director of the Milwaukee Irish Dance Company.
The four instrumentalists play solo and group numbers in traditional Irish styles, using flute, keyboard, accordion, fiddle, guitar and banjo.
Ragen hopes Wings will make those with Irish roots proud of their Irish heritage. At the same time, “for those not familiar with Irish culture, I hope they are moved by the music and impacted by both the music and dancing,” she said.
IF YOU GO: Wings: A Celtic Dance Celebration will be performed at 7:30 p.m Saturday (March 11) in the Osterhout Concert Theater 0f the Anderson Center at Binghamton University. Tickets at $10 to $50 are available on the Anderson Center’s website, www.binghamton.edu/anderson-center (go to “upcoming events”). Tickets also are at the Anderson Center box office; box office hours are noon to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Or call 607- 777-ARTS.