There are many battlegrounds for tradition versus innovation, but few as picturesque as Siamsa Tíre’s theatre in southwest Ireland. Under Mount Brandon, Ireland’s second highest peak, the modern building’s design and materials draw on the rich archaeological pickings that surround it. Behind the ring-fort-inspired stone-clad exterior, a company of seven full-time and 130 community performers preserve music and dance by working with some of Ireland’s most innovative contemporary choreographers.
It’s a process largely unrecognised and commonly misunderstood, with the title of National Folk Theatre freighted with baggage. But Siamsa (the Irish word for entertainment pronounced “shee-am-sah”) is more than a tourist trap. The vision of founder Father Pat Ahern was not only to foster Irish folk culture but to open up the local Irish dance style to other influences. In the 1970s he invited choreographers to collaborate and early success brought the company’s work from the cultural blindspot of Kerry to the spotlight of the Dublin Theatre Festival.
The measure of achievement for dances that mixed idioms was a fusion of the smooth relaxed upper body of ballet and contemporary dance with the ...