The Cunningham family (Brian, Irene, Ashline, Michael and Lorraine) of Sean Nós dancers from Connemara in County Galway have performed with many of Ireland’s greats; Sharon Shannon, De Dannan, Altan, The Chieftains to name just a few.
Recently they’ve been wowing audiences in Ireland with their own show, Fuaim Chonamara (Connemara Sound). This energetic show combining the ancient Sean Nós dance forms with more modern step dancing was presented at The MacRobert Centre in Stirling as part of the Stirling / Galway Sessions festival.
Although there were problems with sound, this show is undoubtedly a crowd pleaser with stirring music and dazzling dance routines.
The show makes the most of the talents of dancers and musicians alike, taking the form two or three numbers from the band, before the dancers take to the stage for a routine. At various times throughout the evening each band member would come forward for a solo spot, with some modern twists on classic Irish tunes and songs.
Don Stiffe, who played at Stirling Folk Club earlier in the week as part of the festival, joined the company on stage to sing a couple of his own well written songs. Simon O’Dwyer brought a truly ancient twist to the proceedings, it’s not often you’ll hear a 2800 year old Irish horn jamming with a modern band!
It’s a brave move to bring a show, fairly new and clearly aimed at pleasing visitors to their home area, to a new audience far from your comfort zone. The dancers are, of course, the stars of the show and when shoes are crashing against the floor there’s no doubt the atmosphere is lifted – the audience enliven, the band seems to become tighter and more focussed. The show could benefit from an MC to replace the voice-over at the start of each half and help the continuity of the show. The band occupy the rear of the stage and leave the fore stage free for the dancers; it’s hard for a band to relate to an audience when there’s twenty feet of stage between them, and an MC would provide a useful link.
It is, though, a highly enjoyable performance. The dancing is spectacular; the zeal with which the dancers approach their routines and the skill with which they execute them is impressive. This is not an attempt to copy the success of Riverdance. Fuaim Chonamara has more authenticity about it, despite the difficulties of presenting an inspirational dance form in a choreographed show.
Other than the dancing itself, what impressed most was the warmth of the company. Other artists taking part in the festival were there in the audience to provide some familiar encouragement and interaction with the enthusiastic audience was clearly important. And as the audience left the auditorium after the show, the company; dancers musicians and all, were there to greet them, a welcome, friendly touch.
The evening drew to a close with the whole company on stage for a rousing finale, joined by Don Stiffe, Simon O’Dwyed, and even festival director Mick Crehan was there with his tin whistle.
The Stirling / Galway session is a fine idea. An interchange of music, dance and art between two cities steeped in Celtic culture. When Fuaim Chonamara make their way home for the Irish leg of the festival, they can be proud of the slice of Galway they brought to Stirling.