“Céilí” is the word in Irish for a house party, and also for group dances with braiding spatial patterns drawn from Celtic knotwork. So “Céilí” is a fitting, if generic, title for a collaboration between two dance troupes with Irish roots: Seán Curran Company and Darrah Carr Dance.
Curran and Carr, the companies’ namesakes, have much in common. They’re both Irish Americans who grew up learning traditional step dance before turning to contemporary styles. They both formed companies in the late 1990s. They’ve even worked together before, creating “Dingle Diwali” for Carr’s group in 2012. The “Céilí” that they debuted at Irish Arts Center on Thursday is something of a reunion, and it’s more about coming together than breaking new ground.
The success of any céilí depends on the music, and this one is in sure hands, with the top-notch fiddle-and-guitar duo of Dana Lyn and Kyle Sanna playing live. They start the show invitingly and remain a pleasure throughout, supplying the requisite sweetness and drive, along with a few unusual touches — like a Baroque gigue.
Carr’s dancers enter first — Irish Arts Center is home turf for them — introducing intricate floor patterns and enlivening skill (especially in the sparky footwork of Trent Kowalik) but also a troubling soft focus and recital smiles. It actually feels like a surprise — and a welcome one — when Curran’s group shows up, like late-arriving guests.
After an initial merging, the two companies take turns. Curran’s cohort looks more professional, and his choreography is more sophisticated and original (though it borrows gestures from his time as a member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company). He offers a male duet for the excellent Jack Blackmon and Benjamin Freedman that suggests attraction through canonical repetition and other formal means.
Carr’s choreography is more playful, alternately reflecting the appealing and distressing sides of amateur energy, getting its punch from hard-shoe solos, like one by the pert and crisp Kendal Griffler. When the two groups join, the energy rises from the addition of bodies — the stage full of intertwining motion — but the merger creates no special hybrid, no discovery.
Instead, the excitement comes from props and entrances. The high point is the interpolation of “Box Tops,” a 1985 body percussion duet by Tigger Benford and Martha Partridge in which two dancers sitting on wooden boxes work up layers of complex rhythms and tones with claps and stomps. Freedman and Lauren Kravitz give the duet a flirtatious edge, bringing a sexual charge to the shared risk of musical timing. The numbers that directly follow, brandishing spoons and brooms, try with mixed success to keep the balloon in the air.
But the big event — spoiler alert — is when the hosts finally make an appearance, Curran and Carr taking to the stage like mom and dad out to prove that they still have it. They do, and it’s fun to see.
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