Jean Butler has moved away from the jigs and reels and she’s now focused on breaking down dance to its core. In her new show, accompanied by cellist Neil Martin, she does just that. Dancer and instrument become one at times as she moves effortlessly across the stage. There are periods of silence; a glance, a challenge or flirtation perhaps and as Martin plays, Butler immerses herself into the music.
There are no sequins, Butler isn’t covered in piles of make-up, the stage is not a production akin to Riverdance. This is simple, to the point and truly refreshing. Butler wears a loose white top and leggings, her hair in a bun. She is bare foot as she moves across the stage. Neil Martin wears a button up shirt and trousers. Their clothes would not be out of place off stage. Butler would only need to don shoes and she’d be set for a casual outing. The stage is bare except for boxes that both Butler and Martin sit on at times. In the background there are broken pieces of plaster strewn about. A literal example of breaking down dance and putting it back together.
Butler’s fluidity as a dancer is evident. She does not need dance shoes to make an impact. Tall, lean and elegant, she alternates between using her whole body, her upper body or her lower body as she moves with the cello’s sound. Musician and dancer are in perfect synchronicity. Martin plucks the strings, offering a challenge and Butler immediately reacts, following the music with ease. Her movements are both fast and slow, light and heavy. When she’s not dancing, she simply walks across the stage in silence or walks across on the tips of her toes. She isn’t restricted by her professional training as an Irish dancer, she is able to use her whole body as she interprets the sounds of the deep, velvety smooth cello. Who leads and who follows is interchangeable. It is a joy to behold as a concept and is performed admirably.
Martin is flawless, the piece he played toward the end without Butler dancing was beautifully uplifting. It was a nice touch to have Martin the centre of attention at that point to show the audience more of his musical talent. Butler sat in a corner in a contemplative state as he did this. A short time later, darkness falls on both. The audience is on their feet while Butler and Martin bow and smile.
Butler’s work since her time with Riverdance and Dancing on Dangerous Ground is vast. Solo work has included, ‘Does she take sugar?’, ‘Day’ and ‘hurry’. She has also been busy in the world of academia – External Examiner of the Traditional Music and Dance BA at Limerick University and Associate Professor of Irish Studies at Glucksman Ireland House, NYU. In 2018, she is set to teach at The Princeton Atelier.
Irish dance is no longer just ramrod straight arms and fancy footwork. It is vibrant, fluid and as Butler demonstrates – a duet can have just as much impact as a stage filled with dancers.