Inspired! Dazzling! Brilliant! The Gaelforce Dance Company gave fans of Irish culture an exquisite opportunity this September to see some of the best Irish dancing in the world.
For those of you who cannot speak Gaelic, here's a short lesson: in the old Gaelic language, "gael" means a very strong wind, which gave English the word "gale" or gale-force wind" (more or less "halny" in Polish). After having seen the show there is no doubt about the origins of the company's name - their performance is so energetic, dynamic and compelling that it blows your mind. If it didn't sweep the audience to its feet, it was only because they were so transfixed and overwhelmed by the beauty, passion and skill of the show.
Different roots, one love
Gaelforce's producer Michael Durkan formed the group five years ago, and currently it has 30 members. Apart from the native Irish performers, there are dancers from Australia, Canada and the United States. There is also a Polish violinist, Ela Haluk, in the equally phenomenal Gaelforce Orchestra. In spite of their various nationalities their backgrounds have certain characteristics in common. Firstly, they all started dancing very young at the numerous Irish dance centres that exist all over the world. Secondly, they have Irish ancestors who came from "the Emerald Isle". But lastly and most of all they have been brought together by their strong and fierce passion for Irish culture, music and dancing. And this is what has made them the best tap dancing group in the world.
"I'm Canadian," says Clare Casey, the female lead, "but all my family comes from Ireland, and I spent every holiday there." She started Irish dancing when she was four, and later also studied ballet and modern dance. Now she is Irish dancing's North American Champion.
Precision and passion
Almost everybody has heard Irish music - but less is known about Irish dances. The Gaelforce choreography draws upon traditional Irish steps and movements. These are based on vibrant, fast tapping and hopping while at the same time forming very quickly changing choreographic figures: precise lines, triangles, circles, etc. The evenness and sharpness of each motion, enriched with balletic and acrobatic elements, are what make the show unique and unforgettable, especially combined with the story. This is a tale of two brothers, one love, passion, jealousy, tragedy and triumph - "Harmonium Mundi", as the extremely grand finale is called in the programme notes. Every dance is accompanied by music from the Gaelforce Orchestra, but the most important music is that made by the distinctive clicking of the special Irish tap shoes. Paul, from Derry in Northern Ireland, revealed to the World of English the secret behind the clicking: the special sound is obtained by adding fibreglass to the toe and heel of the shoe.
Irish tapping is far more difficult than its equivalent in stage and film musicals. "It's much harder and faster, and you twist your ankles in various directions many times a second," laughs Tim, who plays the lead male role. The world tapping master is James Devine, a former Gaelforce dancer, who established an unbelievable record of 38 taps a second - more like a hurricane than a gale. Fred Astaire himself would have been envious.
Wild Irish rovers
The hardship of rehearsals and performing, as well as the home sickness (the company does not return from their worldwide tour until February 2001), is nevertheless worth it. "Being on tour is really a lot of fun," says Paul. "It's lucky to have this life opportunity - doing what you love to do and seeing so many beautiful places."
The uniqueness and accessibility of Irish dance and music have made Gaelforce's success easier, with audiences totalling over one million during their global conquest. So what do they feel when the audiences in Taiwan, Poland or Australia go crazy after the show? "To see those people standing, clapping for you and shouting is the best feeling in the world!" agree the dancers. "This can't be compared with anything!" Watching Gaelforce, you just wish you could have a taste of that, and you wonder why you weren't sent dancing from the age of four.
So if you happened to miss this year's performance, don't worry. Thanks to the fact that Polish people feel the Irish vibe, Gaelforce have promised to come back here next year with even more energy to offer!