Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received complimentary admission to write an open and honest review of Dancing the Coral Suite performed by Darrah Carr Dance with musical duo Dana Lyn & Kyle Sanna.

What do you get when you cross Irish dance with modern dance…? No, this isn’t a dance joke. Former Irish dance World Champion Darrah Carr has melded both traditional Irish dance with contemporary dance in a unique fusion; and her latest production Dancing the Coral Suite is an aquatic-themed dance collaboration with live music, by fiddler Dana Lyn and guitarist Kyle Sanna, at the Irish Arts Center in New York City.

male Darrah Carr dancer jumps
Darrah Carr Dance with Dana Lyn & Kyle Sanna
Photo credit: Whitney Browne

Darrah Carr Dance and ModERIN Technique

Darrah Carr Dance was founded in 1998 by Artistic Director Darrah Carr and has since been nominated for a Bessie Award. The company has performed on NBC’s “The Today Show” and at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and The Yard at Martha’s Vineyard. Darrah Carr Dance also holds an annual season at The Irish Arts Center in NYC, where they are based.

Carr has named her signature dance fusion ModERIN – a portmanteau that combines ‘modern’ [dance] with ‘erin,’ an Irish American reference to Ireland. Darrah Carr Dance’s company incorporates step dance footwork and spatial formations from traditional Irish dances in their repertory, which has a strong rhythmic foundation.

“I source from two genres – traditional Irish step and contemporary modern dance. I feel two pulls – one toward tradition and another toward innovation – and seek to create dance in the space between.”

– Darrah Carr, Artistic Statement

Akram Khan is another modern dance maker, who is famous for fusing dance styles. The choreographer of Until the Lions and Giselle (on the English National Ballet) draws from his background in classical Indian dance.

Darrah Carr Dance with Dana Lyn & Kyle Sanna
Photo credit: Whitney Browne

Dancing the Coral Suite Review

What comes first, the music or the dance? In this case, it’s the music of Dana Lyn & Kyle Sanna. Their concept album, The Coral Suite, was inspired by the fragile coral reef ecosystem. And according to Carr, the music itself features “innovative arrangements and nuanced interpretations of Irish music,” which is very much in tune with how Carr approaches Irish dance.

The resulting performance is an underwater exploration with a cast of adult dancers alongside young performer, sixth-grade student Cavan Byrne. She encapsulates the wonder of the aquatic world, weaving through the coral structures and pointing upward, referencing passing sea creatures and our own world above the watery horizon – that deeply impacts ocean life.

Carr’s ModERIN choreography isn’t just a modern deconstruction of Irish dance but a true fusion. There are segments that showcase modern dance, complete with turns and floorwork, and there are portions that feature the complex rhythmic footwork of Irish dance with ankle rocks and twist steps.

But in many places, the dance comes together. The arms that complement the modern dancing are sometimes jazzy or casual, like in tap dance. During one solo, there’s even a balletic approach and a hint of épaulement as the soloist gazes over her pointed foot. Or sometimes, the Irish dancing swirls around a modern dance ensemble in skip-two-threes. At one point a dancer even dives into an inversion, complete with an audible heel click.

Darrah Carr Dance with Dana Lyn & Kyle Sanna
Photo credit: Whitney Browne

Each vignette is carefully constructed to represent a specific group of aquatic life – such as sea snakes hunting smaller fish and seahorses populating the new coral growth. However, movement motifs unite the piece, so the show is cohesive even if you don’t follow each scene in the program.

Dancing the Coral Suite inspires wonder and intrigue, while carefully highlighting each dancer’s strengths. Although Darrah Carr Dance shows proficiency in modern dance technique, the piece really springs alive with exuberant bursts of Irish step dance.

Star Rating:

Have you seen a show featuring Irish dance – or an Irish dance competition? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.  

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