Irish fantasy springs alive

by Lenise Willis

Photo by Gary Taylor

The famous high-powered fasttappers of Riverdance might have put Ireland on the theatrical map, but it’s only a portion of what “the isle of green” has to offer, and one ballet group is actively exploring its cultural richness.

Fifty-five dancers will expand on the country’s culture and traditions in Winston- Salem Festival Ballet’s production, Celtic Legends, which features leprechauns, fairies and creatures of Irish fantasy dancing, jigging and reeling on stage. The performance is broken into three very different acts that explore the various concepts of Irish culture, including its folklore, traditions and contemporary lifestyle.

“Each act is a different tableau and provides an exciting journey into the world of Irish culture,” said choreographer Gary Taylor about his latest original.

Each of the three acts provides a unique experience for the audience. The first act delves into Ireland’s mysterious and fantastical folklore. At the start of the production an ancient 15-foot tree stands center stage, anchoring the “beautiful and ethereal” focus on the Queen of the Fairies. She rules all the fairies and wood sprites below who are celebrating the beginning of spring.

“The costumes are brilliantly colored and flowing,” Taylor said.

“Wings adorn each character. The music is haunting and beautiful and calls upon the ancient creatures to come out to celebrate the spring festival.”

The second act is light-hearted, flirtatious and fun as it illustrates the tradition of an Irish countryside wedding. Everyone has played their part in bringing the couple together and are celebrating the results. The music is folksy and features North Carolina musicians with deep Irish roots.

The production ends with the music of contemporary Ireland and traditional Irish dance with a new-age approach. Taylor says it’s strong, pulsating and rhythmic.

So why did Taylor choreograph a theatrical dance so long after St. Patrick’s Day? Holiday aside, he actually drew his inspiration for the production and its theme after working with the traveling Irish show Spirit of the Dance, which toured in the Myrtle Beach area a few years ago. “It was an extraordinary experience,” he said. “I gained great respect for their training, culture and vibrancy in the way they celebrated and collaborated with current dance styles.”

It was the pure athleticism of the steps, as well as the music that caused Taylor to develop a real love for the performance style. And Celtic Legends is quite the performance itself. Not only is it made up of more than four-dozen talented dancers, but it also contains the theatrical elements of costumes, lighting, sound and set design to bring the entire production to life.

Helping to design the rich costumes for the production is Taylor’s wife of 28 years, Rita. “We work really well together,” Taylor said. “Each covers their area of preparation, design and rehearsal.” Taylor says that together, Rita Taylor, Christine Fowle and Sharon Bibby created beautiful costumes that truly capture and enhance the movement.

The whole production promises to be a rich and captivating experience. !


Winston-Salem Festival Ballet performs Celtic Legends Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Arts Council Theatre, 610 Coliseum Drive, Winston-Salem. Tickets are $20 for adults ($23 at door), $15 for students ($18 at door). For tickets or more information call 747-1414.