University of Limerick
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Imeall-Siúl: a choreographic exploration of expressive possibilities in Irish step dancing

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posted on 2022-12-14, 12:02 authored by Breandán de Gallaí
This thesis explores potential expressive possibilities in dance performance and choreography, with Irish step dance as its point of departure. The core data for this exploration derives from two newly choreographed ensemble works, Noċtú and Rite of Spring. The opening chapter introduces the work’s structure and provides a broad overview of its key approaches and paradigms. Chapter Two situates the research theoretically and methodologically within the framework of arts practice research. It introduces key research methods including but not limited to autoethnography and narrative inquiry as an approach to interacting with, and the documentation of practice. It also explores choreographic work-making methods employed in the studio-based strand of the investigation. Chapter Three provides a contextualization of Irish dance in terms of its history, stylistic features and its ongoing evolution with a particular focus on the impact of spectacle shows such as Riverdance. Philosophical, psychological and ethnochoreological contexts are also introduced, drawing on phenomenology, Lacanian psychoanalysis, performance studies and a number of practice theories. Chapters Four and Five introduce the two major works upon which this research is based. The works are presented and reflected upon, employing the researcher/practitioner’s voice, the voices of the dancers who embodied the work as well as the voices of the critics who viewed it. This thesis suggests an alternative approach to professional contemporary Irish dance ensemble work, highlighting the opportunities and challenges associated with navigating this relatively uncharted landscape for this particular idiom. The investigation produced evidence that despite a general expectation that Irish dance as a form tends to favour displays of virtuosity, which are meaning-loaded for both the Irish step dancer as well as the observer, there exists untapped expression. The research asserts that Irish step dance is an evolving tradition, and maintains that the aesthetic lens with which the choreographer engages with the dance landscape, and art in general, is a function of phenomenological and psychological factors. Additionally the investigation highlighted several dimensions that appeared to characterise the nature of the choreographed and performed experience, including subjective, relational, and transformational dimensions. Key also to the creative process and its expressive possibilities was the element of chance. The research builds on Irish dance scholarship, as well as dance studies in general. It contributes to the field of ethnochoreology, giving insights into how Irish step dancers behave in a creative environment that might be at variance with their expectation. Furthermore, it makes a case for practice-based research as a rich and rewarding approach to work-making as it straddles the disciplines of theory and practice opening up novel creative approaches and opportunities. The thesis argues that pushing boundaries within dance genres steeped in tradition is a precarious endeavour, but worth the risk when potentially new untapped expression can emanate from the tradition-holder. It posits that embodied within the tradition-holder is a potentially rich distinctive reimagining of said tradition.



  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Foley, Catherine E.





Department or School

  • Irish World Academy of Music & Dance

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